SAFEGUARDING in the diocese of Chichester has been hampered by a culture of “pride and arrogance”, which is taking time and vision to reverse, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, has said.
Dr Warner was giving evidence on Wednesday to the public hearing conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), in London, on the extent to which the Anglican Church has failed to protect children from sexual abuse.
The investigation, in its second of three weeks, is using Chichester as a case study. The diocese has been the subject of several high-profile sex abuse cases and abuse inquiries.
Dr Warner said in his witness statement that the diocese had fostered “a culture of deferring unduly to those in power, and a culture, in effect, of deference and defensiveness”. He told IICSA that this culture had been compounded by “thoughtlessness, pride, and arrogance as an institution”.
On his appointment to the diocese in 2012, Dr Warner had been “shocked”, he said, to be faced with hostility — for example, over the case of the disgraced former Bishop of Lewes, later Gloucester, Peter Ball.
He had encountered, he said, “several people in East Sussex who were very firm and hostile to me at that point about our treatment of Bishop Ball, and that sense that he was held in huge respect and affection. . . They believed that the Church had mistreated him and continued to mistreat him, and that was a shock to me.”
Dr Warner continued: “The pride and arrogance sometimes stems from a genuine commitment to the Church but it can also blind us to its failings.” He suggested that this attitude had been seen in the evidence given by the former Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn (News, 9 March).
“In meeting survivors, it was very clear to me that this was how it felt for them, and one of the things we have been bad about,” Dr Warner said, “and seems to me to be essential, is what it has felt like for those who have been abused to have been met with a response that is completely unacceptable and wrong.”
Communication with the media had also been damaged by this defensive attitude, he said. “Before I had arrived in the diocese, there had been some serious conflict between Bishop Benn and the BBC journalist Colin Campbell.
“I sensed in Church House, Hove, that there was a fear of the media, because it was not clear where answers to questions would come from. . . There was a fear of giving an answer that would be made to be a slur on his [Bishop Benn’s] character.”
IICSAThe IICSA panel
The lead Counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, also questioned Dr Warner on whether he thought that attitudes to the ordination of women and human sexuality were part of this culture, and had therefore impacted safeguarding.
“It is a very difficult issue to assess, and I am not sure how one would identify the evidence to say yes or no; but there are factors to disentangle: we are dealing with questions of misogyny, sexism, and then with theological principle. If the theological principle is based on misogyny or sexism, it is not a valid principle.
“The resistance to women’s ordination has meant that those underlying trends of sexism which are unexplored and unchallenged have not been challenged by seeing women ordained and in senior posts hitherto, but it is something which we are working very hard to redress.
“[But] I don’t think that the theological issue is what creates the deference because I think that, across the spectrum, women and men would both have a similar theological view on the nature of priesthood.”
On homosexuality, he said: “My concern is that if we are confused because we think that gay men are likely to abuse children, the danger is that we will fail to retain the openness to the fact that this can happen in a wide variety of contexts, and nobody can be excluded from that possibility. . .
“There has been contribution by the Church on this [confusion], but it is also social. . . One can see where a culture of secrecy, and cover up, and denial, begins to emerge, and the Church is part of that, because we inhabit the cultural context in which we live.”
He accepted the perception that Anglo-Catholicism had been attractive to gay men, and had even encouraged a closeted culture, even after the decriminalisation of homosexuality. “It would be wrong to say there is no truth in that.” He referred to his witness statement in which he says the Church needs to explore a more “open attitude to sexual desire” and consider the impact of the repression of sexual desire.
Dr Warner was also questioned by Ms Scolding on the improvements he had made to safeguarding practices in the diocese since his appointment.
These included stripping down and rebuilding the administrative diocesan team in Church House, Hove; a new and fuller diocesan safeguarding team with a specific person of contact for survivors; and a dramatic increase in funding, including a budget for training and financial compensation for claimants.
The diocesan safeguarding team, led by Colin Perkins, now had full, unfettered access to the blue files on clerics in the diocese, as did the diocesan secretary, he confirmed. It would not be “filleted” in preparation from the forthcoming GDPR, as had been the case after the Data Protection Act 2001 (News, 9 March).
All clergy records and CRB checks were now held centrally online.
A diocesan safeguarding group of statutory representatives, including from the police, health, and education sectors, but not including Dr Warner or other senior clergy, had also been established to advise senior clerics and hold the diocese to account.
Upon his arrival, one of his first moves, Dr Warner said, was to scrap the diocesan area scheme, which had been created by one of his predecessors, Dr Eric Kemp, and criticised by his immediate predecessor, Dr John Hind.
“It had become something that was effectively three dioceses running in tandem, where the lack of communication meant that the diocese was not functioning well as a single entity,” Dr Warner said. “Three different bishops doing different things meant that there was no coherent vision.”
He had set out his own vision during his initial episcopal visitation of all incumbents over 18 months, which led to a process of consultation (News, 3 May 2013). Each incumbent had been given a questionnaire and was required to concentrate on a new diocesan-wide strategy to improve safeguarding, growth, and giving.
Dr Warner also addressed questions on the difficulties of monitoring the 400 retired clergy in the diocese. Permission to officiate (PTO) cannot now be granted, he said, unless the cleric in question submits a supporting letter from their rural dean or archdeacon. This must be supported by regular and up-to-date CRB checks and national safeguarding training.
Dr Warner was also questioned on the conclusions of Lord Carlile’s report into the Church’s handling of allegations against Bishop George Bell. Dr Warner confirmed that he had been part of the core internal group formed to respond to the allegations, and which was heavily criticised in the Carlile report as being “unmethodical and unplanned”.
“These are stringent and harsh observations which largely we accept. We were breaking new ground. . . Failures of consistency and sense of purpose are valid, but I don’t think that means we were cavalier about our responsibility.”
Dr Warner concluded his evidence with an apology to survivors. “While apologies can begin to sound formulaic, I do want to register my sorrow and apology for the sexual abuse of children that has taken place in the diocese of Chichester, and for the ways in which it has been mishandled in the past.
“This comes from the bottom of my heart as a human being, but also more formally from me as the Bishop of this diocese. I also grieve for the loss of access to faith that this has often resulted in: a terrible realisation, and it is that which has sustained my efforts in ensuring that the diocese of Chichester reforms.”