THE former Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings, Bishop Nicholas Reade, has said that he believed the professed innocence of the abusive priest Roy Cotton in 1997, because the idea of ordained ministers lying to their seniors had “horrified” him at the time.
Bishop Reade, who went on to become the Bishop of Blackburn, was giving evidence on Thursday morning to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) on the case of the late Cotton, who sexually abused several teenage boys over decades, but who died in 2006 before he could be held to account.
The public hearing on the extent to which the Anglican Church has failed to protect children from sexual abuse, 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.
Cotton was ordained in 1966, more than ten years after he was convicted of exposing himself to a teenage chorister in the organ loft of a church in Sussex in 1954.
Bishop Reade confirmed that he had been informed of the incident by Cotton — but not of the conviction — upon his appointment to the diocese in 1997, two years before the police investigated the case. The case was dropped in 1999.
“I take priests at their word,” he told the lead Counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC. “I know I’ve had to change my view, but priests are part of the College of Presbyters. They are yoked to their bishop. The idea of a priest telling lies to the bishop just horrifies me — horrifies me. However, I’m afraid I did learn that this had happened.”
Asked his opinion of his senior at the time, the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, who was also appointed in 1997, Bishop Reade said: “Being an Irishman, Bishop Wallace did describe one or two people, I think, as villains. The only thing I would say is that I always felt a little uneasy about him [Cotton]. It was a question of looking for proof.”
He said that he had spoken to Bishop Benn about granting Cotton permission to officiate (PTO) upon his retirement in 1999. “The police had completed their enquiry by now. They were not pursuing the matter. We could not think of any good reason why Roy could not legally have PTO. . .
“The Church functions by trust. If a priest has a licence, or if he is beneficed, we trust him to get on with the job. You know, we can’t possibly monitor every move. The number of clergy that I had in the Lewes and Hastings archdeaconry was just colossal.”
He was another of the senior clergy in the diocese who was denied access to the “blue files”, containing sensitive clergy information, including safeguarding concerns, he said.
“What was so sad, really, over the whole thing, is that this conviction was on a file in Chichester, and I think the fact that senior staff had — did not have access, except under special conditions, to the blue files was very wrong.”
He went on: “I appreciate that Bishop Eric was the only one who had knowledge of the 1954 conviction,” he said. “I think Bishop Eric saw that, like the police, as a spent conviction. . . I cannot believe that Bishop Eric would have been putting Roy Cotton into a parish knowing that he was a risk.”
Bishop Reade said that he had been “speechless” when Cotton publicly admitted in 2001 to his previous conviction. Bishop Wallace was also “horror-struck”.
“We both felt that we had been lied to, we had had our time wasted, and — well, as I say, we were virtually speechless.”
MS SCOLDING then questioned Bishop Reade on his relationship with Bishop Kemp’s successor Dr John Hind. She read out a section of Bishop Reade’s written statement recounting their first meeting on Dr Hind’s arrival in 2001: “He mentioned child protection either first or second on his list. I was still, at that point, surprised and queried whether it would be such a dominant issue.”
Asked why this was a surprise, he said: “I thought that there were just a number in the pipeline that needed . . . that were going to be swept up. I did not believe that this was going to be an ongoing issue.
“I was completely wrong; totally and utterly wrong; perhaps naïve. But I thought that there were just these few cases that were lingering around, and that they would be, as I say, swept up; and so I was surprised that John had said that.
“This was a huge learning point for me, because we talked it through, and I then began to realise that this was not going to be something that was just going to affect these years of my ministry, but would be with me probably dealing with these throughout the whole of my ministry.”
He maintained that safeguarding had been “very high” on Dr Hind’s agenda. “A lot of people — I mean, the clergy — often said: ‘Oh, well, it’s because his wife [Janet Hind] is the child-protection adviser.’ But, no, John did take this very seriously, and he made sure that we had proper training. . . He would always ask if the public authorities had been notified.”
BISHOP READE was also questioned about the case of Robert Coles, who was arrested on suspicion of child abuse shortly before Archdeacon Reade arrived in 1997, pending a police investigation.
In a meeting at that time, Cole informed Bishop Reade that he had had a sexual encounter with a 15 or 16-year-old male. “Of course, I considered it serious,” Bishop Reade said, “and when I went in, I said to him straight away, I said that I was pretty sure what he was going to tell me, and I said that if it is serious, I want to make it quite clear that this is not under the seal of the confessional.”
He informed Bishop Kemp, and advised that Coles be represented by a solicitor, he said. “Frankly, if one of your clergy, whatever he’s done or she’s done, is going to be interviewed by the police — they’re part of your family, as the bishop.
“You have a duty to see that they are properly represented. That’s not for one second to say that we were not concerned about the victim. Of course we were. But we hadn’t known the victim.”
He did not disclose the matter to the police, he said, because he had already informed his diocesan bishop, and Mrs Hind, and had not been advised by her to do so. Mrs Hind, however, said in her evidence that she had not been informed of the disclosure for another four months.
“I am afraid that I am the kind of person that, if the bishop — no, I’m not afraid, I mean, I’m pleased, because in the Church it runs by people being obedient to the bishop — if the bishop said to me, ‘Jump’, I would say, ‘How high?’ . . .
“That’s who I am. I just couldn’t conceive of not getting on to Janet Hind over something so serious. Equally, I can’t understand why the diocesan bishop didn’t get on to her.”
Asked whether his attitude to homosexuality affected his response to the allegations at the time, Bishop Reade said: “He [Coles] never told us he was a homosexual, and, let me make it absolutely clear that, in any diocese, homosexuals are part of the diocese.
“We don’t have any difficulty with homosexuals. I mean, obviously, there is a difficulty about expressing their love, because they have to live by House of Bishops’ guidelines, but I know of no diocese where homosexuals are, as it were, put on the rack metaphorically.”
IN HIS evidence, Colin Perkins, the current diocesan safeguarding officer in Chichester, who was on the diocesan safeguarding panel during a flurry of allegations, civil claims, and convictions, in 2010, was also asked about homosexuality.
Mr Perkins responded by asking the panel to imagine, “a gay priest in 1975, for instance, a young gay man who wanted to follow his calling, but didn’t want to live a life of isolation and celibacy. Most of us from the perspective of 2018 could have a lot of sympathy with that priest’s need for secrecy with regards to his sexuality and his sexual behaviour.
“If that happens within a cultural context, like Anglo Catholicism, you may then arrive at a sort of an overt conservatism and a covert liberalism, which will generate a lot of secrecy. I don’t think there is any connection between homosexuality and child abuse; there is a massive connection between secrecy and child abuse.”
Mr Perkins confirmed that tensions were rising, on his arrival, between senior clergy and laity over safeguarding, and said that there had been a “fear” of safeguarding among the clergy: “Defensiveness and some shame as well, I should say.” He had struggled to established a good relationship with Bishop Benn, he said, but had a positive relationship with Dr Hind.
He continued his evidence on Friday morning.