ALL complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure against a
former Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, have been
dismissed, it was announced on Tuesday.
In a statement, Bishop Benn denounced the "misconceived and
unjustified" efforts by the safeguarding advisory group of the
diocese of Chichester to bring complaints against him. He had been
the victim of a "one-sided and unjust process of trial by media . .
. orchestrated by unknown people with, it seems, no interest in the
truth or the ministry of the Church".
In November 2011, the diocese of Chichester confirmed that the
diocesan independent safeguarding advisory group had made a
complaint to the Archbishop of Canterbury concerning Bishop Benn (
News, 17 November, 2011). When Bishop Benn retired in 2012, the
charges were unresolved (
News, 26 October).
The complaints from the safeguarding advisory group related to
the handling of the case of Robert Coles, a former parish priest
who in February was sentenced to eight years in prison after
pleading guilty to 11 sex offences, committed in the late 1970s and
early 1980s, against three young boys in West Sussex. The
complainants argued that Bishop Benn should have passed information
that he possessed about Mr Coles's conduct to the police. Bishop
Benn has maintained that this was the responsibility of the
diocesan child-protection adviser (
News, 22 February).
On Tuesday, Bishop Benn said: "As of 10 May 2013, all complaints
against me under the Clergy Discipline Measure have come to an end
without any misconduct of any kind having been established. No
complaint against me has been allowed to proceed beyond the
preliminary stages of the process."
The complaints had been considered by the Archbishop of York and
the President of Tribunals, Lord Justice Mummery. Some of the
complaints had been dismissed on their merits, and the rest on the
basis that "they have been made outside the time allowed under the
Clergy Discipline Measure and where no good grounds exist for any
extension of time".
Bishop Benn's statement is largely devoted to rebuking "attempts
which have been made to cast me in the role of a scape-goat".
Noting that, after receiving advice, he had declined to comment in
the press, he said that it was a "matter of deep regret" that
information about the complaints against him, "much of it partial
and inaccurate", had been "repeatedly" leaked. This had led to
"repeatedly unfair media reporting".
He quoted from a letter from Lord Justice Mummery, dated 29
January, addressed to the complainants, in which the judge referred
to a "one-sided and unjust process of trial in the media by the
dissemination of unproven, possibly unfounded, allegations".
Bishop Benn referred to a private letter from the Bishop of
Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, to a survivor of child abuse, in
which the Bishop spoke of "deception and cover-up" and "ineptitude
and irresponsible lack of professionalism" in the Church's handling
of Roy Cotton, a convicted paedophile who held several posts as a
cleric, despite complaints made to the diocese (
News, 26 April).
Bishop Benn said that this was a "matter of great regret" but
that Dr Warner had confirmed that he was not referring to "me or
any conduct on my part".
The case of Roy Cotton was one of the issues explored by
Baroness Butler-Sloss in a report on the handling of child-abuse
allegations in the diocese of Chichester (News,
27 May, 2011). The report concluded that, across the diocese,
there had been "a lack of understanding of the seriousness of
historic child abuse". It said that senior clergy, including
bishops, "were slow to act on the information available to them and
to assess the potential risk to children in the diocese".
In 2011, Bishop Benn and the then Bishop of Chichester, Dr John
Hind, apologised for "any past mistakes which may have left
children vulnerable and which may have more recently made victims
feel that they have not been taken seriously". They also apologised
for "weaknesses in our procedures".
Bishop Benn said on Tuesday: "The actions of clergy who have
engaged in the abuse of children appal me, and the ongoing effect
on survivors is of the highest concern to me. Throughout my time as
Bishop of Lewes, I have at all times tried to assist the diocese to
deal appropriately with safeguarding issues. I have also welcomed
and given my full support to the efforts made and being made to
improve the practices and procedures within the diocese for
safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
"But none of what has happened in the past can justify the
attempts which have been made to cast me in the role of a scapegoat
without regard to where the truth lies and where the blame ought to