THE diocese of Chichester is conducting an "exhaustive
investigation" into the extent to which a priest "illegally" led
acts of worship after being investigated by police for child-abuse
Robert Coles, a former parish priest, aged 71, from Upperton
Road, Eastbourne, was sentenced last month to eight years in
prison, after pleading guilty to 11 sex offences against three
young boys, committed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in West
Sussex (News, 22 February).
Chichester diocese issued a statement on Monday, saying that it
was investigating "the extent to which Coles functioned illegally
as a priest at St Luke's, Stone Cross, after his retirement in
The diocese had been made aware that Mr Coles "assumed the role
of priest on well over a hundred occasions between 1997 and early
2003 without the legally required 'Permission to Officiate'
The interim report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's
Commissaries, who investigated the operation of child-protection
policies in the diocese last year (News, 7 September), had "made
clear" that it was an "ecclesiastical offence" to "invite or permit
a cleric to officiate without a proper licence or permission to
officiate", the statement said.
It continued: "If any of the relev-ant persons who allowed the
situation . . . to happen were still ministering in the diocese,
and if they turned a blind eye in any way, they will face
"The fact that Mr Coles illegally exercised a priestly ministry
after he was investigated by Sussex Police for offences of child
abuse, and after he made a partial admission as to the truth of
those allegations in 1997 to diocesan authorities, shows that the
processes followed at the time were seriously flawed."
Chichester diocese said that "very strict procedures" were now
in place "to prevent such failures".