THE Church of England faced continued criticism this week over its failure in 1990 to report to the police known incidents of child sexual abuse by a choirmaster from Hampshire. The choirmaster, Peter Halliday, was imprisoned on Thursday of last week, after admitting offences from that period.
Child-protection campaigners have accused the Church of protecting itself rather than the children involved. Church leaders have attempted to explain rather than excuse what happened, while expressing “deep sorrow” and calling for “penitence for the unacceptable face of the Church”.
In March, Peter Halliday pleaded guilty to ten counts of indecent assault between 1985 and 1990, on three boys who were in the choir at St Peter’s, Farnborough. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison at Winchester Crown Court last week, and ordered to pay each victim £2000.
The court heard that the first victim, then aged 11 or 12, told a camp leader of the abuse, who informed the Team Rector of St Peter’s, Canon Alan Boddington. He in turn consulted the Bishop of Dorking, the Rt Revd David Wilcox. Both are now retired.
Mr Halliday admitted the assaults, and was ordered to resign, not work with children again, and to receive counselling. The police were not informed. When he was interviewed after the sentencing, Bishop Wilcox said that they had sought to act in the best interests of everyone at the time, and that procedures were very different then.
The court was told how Mr Halliday, a married father of one, lured the boys to his home for sleepovers, fondled them at swimming pools, and told them to call him “daddy”.
One of his victims, who had been ten years old at the time of the incidents, told the BBC how Mr Halliday had abused him during individual tuition and also on choir trips. “It even happened when I was in dormitories with other boys,” he said. “I was horrified. When your first sexual experience is a 40-year-old man forcing himself on you, it’s pretty horrific.”
The case finally came to court after one of the victims reported the abuse to the police last year, with the full support of diocesan officials.
Janet Hind, Child Protection Adviser for Guildford diocese, in which Farnborough is situated , said on Tuesday that there had been no cover-up, but that those involved had misjudged the situation. “Church leaders at the time acted in what they considered was the best interest for all concerned: there was no deliberate cover-up. But what they failed to realise was that this man might go on to abuse others, and that is why the police should always be told. These sorts of procedures are in place now in a way they were not then.”
She said that dioceses did not introduce child-protection advisers until the mid-1990s, and organisations such as the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) were low- profile at that time.
After the sentencing, David Pearson, the chief executive of CCPAS, criticised the Church’s actions, saying it was well known at the time that all cases should be reported to the police, and that the CCPAS had been in operation since the 1980s. This week, he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, challenging the view that things were different in 1990, when the offences first came to light. “Having looked at numerous historic cases over time, it is quite clear to me that the dominating factor has been the desire to protect the interests of the Church; the needs of children have not properly or adequately been addressed.”
He called on Dr Williams to encourage all dioceses to “address this issue, specifically re-opening old files, re-examining any historic instances where cases of abuse have possibly been hushed up — and reporting such matters to the police as soon as practicable”.
Margaret Kennedy, who chairs Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, also criticised the Church’s defence of its actions. “To comment that they [the C of E] were ‘completely satisfied’, as what they did at the time was the practice at that time, suggests a complete unwillingness to admit their response was wrong and indefensible. By all criteria, even at that time, the Church of England failed in its duty of care to all children, not just the one victim reporting.”
Speaking on Tuesday, the Revd Pearl Luxon, Safeguarding Adviser for the C of E and the Methodist Church, said: I am in no doubt that those to whom this matter was disclosed should have gone to the police. However, it would have been unusual for such knowledge, and the training to carry it through, to be in place in many voluntary organisations, including the Church, at that time.”
Mr Halliday had also worked as a volunteer for the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) for many years, dealing directly with children. None of the offences, however, were related to his RSCM work. In a statement released on Monday, Professor John Harper, Director General of the RSCM, said that, had the organisations been aware of Mr Halliday’s offences, it would never have allowed him to work with children.
“I want to assure all members of the RSCM about how seriously we take our responsibilities to children and young people, and to reassure you about our integrity and high standards. In everything which the RSCM does, we place the safety and care of children and young people right at the top of our priorities whenever they are present. We do not believe in cover-up.”
Professor Harper said that, in the light of the case, all child-protection procedures had been reviewed.
Dr Williams issued a statement last Friday, expressing his deep sorrow over the suffering experienced in these cases. He described any situation in which the Church failed to prove itself a safe place for children as “deplorable”. He continued: “Since these sad events occurred, the Church — like other public bodies — has developed greater expertise and far more stringent procedures. This does not help victims of an earlier era, but the awareness of the cost they have borne is something that underlines the imperative need to keep all our procedures in the strictest working order.”
On Sunday, in a sermon at Guildford Cathedral, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, said: “This week’s tragic news in relation to the protection of, or rather failure to protect, children illustrates how the Church can exploit and abuse people.
“No matter how much more we know now about the tragic characteristics of paedophilia than 17 years ago, a mere procedural defence is wholly inadequate. Penitence for the unacceptable face of the Church — sorrow for human sin — must be our response.”
The Revd David Willey, the current Team Rector of St Peter’s, Farnborough, spoke this week of how his church had dealt with the conviction of its former choirmaster, who was remembered by the congregation. He said that the congregation was first informed publicly about the case a few weeks ago, when Mr Halliday pleaded guilty to the charges.
“In our announcement, we also reassured church members that systems, guidelines, and training were in place to ensure good practice and children’s protection. We encouraged church members to pray for all affected by the news. After the announcement at each of our services, we prayed ‘for those whose lives are damaged when it emerges that someone they love has a side to them which is unwholesome and has harmed others’.”
He said that after Mr Halliday’s sentencing on Thursday and all the media interest, “We made a further announcement in church, and prayed again for all who had been hurt.”
The Revd Mark Rudall, the director of communications for Guildford diocese, said this week: “The Peter Halliday case has raised a lot of issues, some of which, inevitably, have come out of the comments of pundits rather than from the facts of the case itself. Nothing I or anyone could say would be adequate to express sorrow that the lives of three young men should be blighted in this way, and so the criticism was made that those speaking for the Church sounded as if they were trying to defend the indefensible.”
He said that it was important to defend the integrity of those who dealt with the situation at the time, and that the needs of the child were paramount in their minds. There had been no cover-up, he said. “I’m sure those involved only wish they were as aware in 1990 of what all clergy are painfully aware of today.”
The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Jack Nicholls, who spoke at the launch of the House of Bishops’ child-protection document Protecting All God’s Children, when it was published three years ago, said on Tuesday that lessons must be learnt from the past, and that all churches must have strategies in place.
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