THE Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd Robert Innes, has apologised on behalf of his diocese for an abusive approach made to a young curate by a former Bishop, the Rt Revd John Satterthwaite.
The priest, who has asked to remain anonymous, first made the allegations in 2006. They related to an incident in the late 1970s, when the priest was a 26-year-old assistant curate. A diocesan statement describes him as “vulnerable” at the time.
He says that Bishop Satterthwaite invited him to his home on the understanding that there was to be a discussion about a post in the diocese, plied him with alcohol, made inappropriate comments to him, embraced him, and kissed him.
After the allegations were made, a series of meetings and an exchange of letters took place, but the matter was referred to the national safeguarding team only in 2014, when Bishop Innes took over.
He commissioned two independent safeguarding advisers to examine the case. They found Bishop Satterthwaite “had acted inappropriately and in a wholly unbecoming manner to one of his priests in the late 1970s”.
The diocesan statement goes on: “The facts showed that in the light of the vulnerability of the priest and the imbalance of power between the bishop and the priest, the behaviour was abusive.
"The facts also showed that the policy of the Church of England had not been followed, for although the priest was treated with care and compassion, the issues raised were not treated as safeguarding matters.”
The diocese has made a full apology to the priest. The statement says that “the Church of England and the diocese in Europe are now working closely with him and his family to provide support as appropriate.”
Bishop Satterthwaite died in May last year, aged 88. (A worker at the care home where he lived was later jailed for slapping him and forcing him to shower in cold water.)
He was, therefore, unable to speak to the inquiry; but the two advisers, having interviewed the complainant and others, concluded that the allegations were true. Further allegations had been made against Bishop Satterthwaite by another priest, who is also no longer alive.
Bishop Innes said this week: “I have apologised to the priest who has raised these issues for the hurt and suffering that he has felt as a result of the abusive behaviour of the late Bishop Satterthwaite. I have also apologised for the failure to see the issues he raised as safeguarding matters.
“It is a matter of shame and deep regret that any member of the clergy should exhibit abusive behaviour of this kind; it is especially shameful when that member of the clergy is a bishop.
"Across the Church of England, we are adamant that any abuse of a safeguarding nature affecting a child or a vulnerable adult will not be tolerated, and that there is no room in the Church for those seeking to perpetrate their abuse.”
On Tuesday, Bishop Innes reported that the victim had responded to the apology with gratitude and relief. There has been no financial settlement. In the Bishop’s view, the delay in reaching a resolution had been caused by “good and well-meaning people who were not aware of how to do the right thing”, trying to deal with the matter in pastoral and legal ways.
The diocese had gone public, the Bishop said, to be open and transparent, to emphasise that such behaviour was “completely unacceptable”, and to encourage others to come forward. “It can often be difficult, especially when the person concerned is a respected bishop.”