THE “prevailing culture” with regard to women in the diocese of Chichester might have had “a significant influence” on safeguarding practice, the Inquiry Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) was told on Thursday.
On the third day of IICSA’s three-week public hearing on the Anglican Church conducted, Roger Meekings, the author of a report in 2009 on the cases of the known sexual abusers of children Colin Pritchard and the late Roy Cotton, was questioned by the Counsel to the Inquiry, Nikita McNeill QC.
Ms McNeill referred to Mr Meekings’s written statement to IICSA, which states: “I believe that over a period of many years a culture or climate has developed in the diocese of Chichester that has allowed the introduction or appointment to parishes and other positions of people, priests, whose records would elsewhere I hope have attracted more careful scrutiny and weeding out. Sometimes such people have managed to move to work or live close by others with similar outlooks, as in the cases of Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard. . .
“The dominant or prevailing culture of the Diocese of Chichester with regard to women may have had a significant influence in this regard.”
Giving evidence on Tuesday, the former diocesan safeguarding officer Shirley Hosgood suggested that safeguarding in the diocese had been impeded in part by tensions over authority arising between senior male clergy and female lay church officers, including herself.
When asked whether this culture had impeded safeguarding at the time, Mr Meekings said: “A number of people would probably say that the view of Chichester diocese with regard to the ordination of women is a factor in that and not supporting it, to my understanding. . . It is a view I have reached myself.
“I would also tend to take the view in retrospect, [with] benefit of hindsight, that Shirley’s uphill struggle was possibly born out of that kind of issue and problem, really. It was a very male-oriented environment. . .
“Faced with a female safeguarding officer who was working to a degree of authority, because she was aware of the law and was not prepared to accept less than appropriate action, provided a challenge to male authority in some ways.”
Mr Meekings also stood by the criticisms and recommendations that he had made in his review of the diocese in 2009, and said that his report should not have been kept from abuse survivors, although he admitted that he had not intended to make it more widely available at that time.
“By this stage, we had had a number of court cases where it was very clear that there were major issues for the diocese and ongoing investigations as well. I felt that there was a real need for openness and transparency rather than a tightening up and closing down.”
He confirmed that he saw the delegation, by the Bishop of Chichester at that time, Dr John Hind, of the implementation of its recommendations to the then Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings, the Ven. Philip Jones, as a conflict of interest.
“From a public perception point of view, if you have a bishop who is . . . being heavily criticised and those [safeguarding] cases going on in that part of the world; and you have the diocese appointing the archdeacon [to safeguarding], it will be regarded by the general public that that archdeacon is accountable in some way to his local bishop. That seems like a conflict of interests.”
Giving evidence before Mr Meekings on Thursday, Archdeacon Jones denied that safeguarding failures in the diocese had been caused in part by a lack of respect for female lay church officers.
“The church would fall down without the involvement of lay women at every level, doing every kind of work,” he said, “some of which relates to safeguarding and some doesn’t. There has never been any hesitation, as far as I’m concerned, in that happening.”
Archdeacon Jones said that it was due to training and selection. “My worry, and I have seen one or two particular cases, which I have dealt with over the years, where I know that, in fact, the wrong approach was taken, or no approach was taken, to assessing characteristics fully and properly in that particular instance.”
He later pointed to his written statement, in which he referred to the Bishop of Lewes at the time of the Meekings report, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, as a conservative Evangelical.
“His aim always was for forgiveness and reconciliation and a transformed life,” Archdeacon Jones said. “Therefore, anyone who had, in inverted commas, ‘done wrong’ needed to seek forgiveness, be restored, be reconciled, but also move towards a completely transformed life in a Christian sense. Therefore, when he was faced with anyone who had done anything wrong, disciplinary or not, that’s what he expected.”
The former Bishop’s Chaplain to Dr Hind (2004 to 2013), Canon Ian Gibson, in his evidence, denied that the diocesan safeguarding officers had been “managed” by the senior clergy.
“Safeguarding advisers were in their own position, and they held that position responsible to both the Bishop, on one hand, but also to the diocesan secretary, who was their line manager. So it was the liaison rather than any form of management.”
He agreed, however, with the conclusion of the Bishop’s Visitation at the time: that “there was a dysfunctionality within the diocese” between Bishop Benn, who was threatening libel action, Dr Hind, Ms Hosgood, Archdeacon Jones, and the diocesan secretary.
Canon Gibson concluded his evidence with a criticism of the lack of management-trained senior clergy in the Church of England. If it had not been so, he said, this could have improved the handling of safeguarding at the time.
“In the past and probably now, presently, a lot of our bishops are academically qualified, very much so. When we thrust people into senior positions such as diocesan bishops, very few of them — and that’s a generalisation, I admit — but very few of them have actually had first-class management experience or training.
“Before anybody in a commercial environment or in an industrial environment can take on a senior management position, they usually go through either stages of management process or at least management training, and ongoing management training in terms of continuing professional development. The majority of bishops, and especially the bishops that we had in the diocese, they hadn’t had that background.”
Giving evidence on Friday morning, Janet Hind, Dr Hind’s wife and the diocesan child-protection and safeguarding officer in Chichester from 1999 to 2001, said: “I was seen as an adviser rather than as someone whose advice had to be taken; this was because this was a new role. I was probably a bit slow to realise I wasn’t being involved with senior staff in quite the same way.”