Bishop of Lincoln ‘bewildered’ by his safeguarding suspension

16 May 2019

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson

THE Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, has been suspended over a safeguarding issue.

A statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury, released on Thursday afternoon, said that the move was based on information provided by the police. “If these matters are found to be proven I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people.”

Bishop Lowson, in the same statement, is quoted as saying that he is “bewildered” by the suspension.

It was just over a month ago, on Palm Sunday, that the Dean of Lincoln, the Very Revd Christine Wilson, and the Canon Chancellor, the Revd Dr Paul Overend, had taken leave while a non-recent safeguarding incident was investigated. Bishop Lowson took over Easter services at the cathedral (News, 26 April).

Bishop Lowson has been Bishop of Lincoln since his consecration in September 2011. Before then, he was director of the Ministry Division for the Archbishops’ Council (2006-11), having served as a vicar in Eltham (1983-91) and Petersfield (1991-99), before becoming Archdeacon of Portsdown (1996-2006).

There is no indication that this latest suspension is related to the moves in the cathedral. But last month, the BBC Panorama programme focused on “Operation Redstone”, an ongoing investigation by Lincoln police of the diocese’s handling of past safeguarding issues. In 2015, the diocese handed over a list of 53 clergy and diocesan staff, many of whom had been known for some years to be the subject of allegations (News, 30 April).

The police have since investigated 25 of them, and there have been three convictions.

The Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Chamberlain, told the BBC: “The diocese of Lincoln wishes to acknowledge that past matters have not been handled well. The diocese is committed to learn from its mistakes.”

In his statement, Archbishop Welby, who says that he consulted two senior bishops in the province, writes: “I would like to make it absolutely clear that there has been no allegation that Bishop Christopher has committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult. . .

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“It should be noted that suspension is a neutral act and nothing further can be said at this stage while matters are investigated.” He asks for prayers “for all affected by this matter”.

The Suffragan Bishop of Grimsby, Dr David Court, will assume the duties of the diocesan during the investigation.

Bishops are under increasing scrutiny over their handling of safeguarding allegations. At the end of March, the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, removed himself from all safeguarding responsibilities in his diocese after criticism of his treatment of Gordon Dickenson, who had admitted sexual abuse to a predecessor (News, 1 April).

A joint Ad Clerum from Dr Court and the Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Revd Nicholas Chamberlain, to the diocese of Lincoln, says: “We realise that this announcement will come as a shock. We also realise that it follows earlier announcements to do with safeguarding issues in the diocese. We wish to assure you of our confidence in our safeguarding team and of the commitment by us all to making the Diocese of Lincoln as safe as it can possibly be for everyone.

“You will understand that we are unable to make any further comment at this stage. Our focus, therefore, is on victims and survivors, and on you, the people of the diocese and Greater Lincolnshire and our colleagues in ministry.

“Bishop David is Acting Diocesan Bishop and Bishop Nicholas will work closely with him and continue to have responsibility for safeguarding. We continue to offer to walk alongside all who have a lived experience of abuse, and stand ready to provide professional and pastoral care and support.”

A Lincolnshire Police spokesman said: “We are aware of the decision today of the Archbishop of Canterbury to suspend the Bishop of Lincoln from office and it would not be appropriate for us to comment on that decision.

“We are committed to ensuring the safeguarding of victims and continue to work with the full co-operation of the Lincoln Diocese.

“Phase 2 of the investigation is continuing into wider safeguarding issues and management decisions within the diocese. Because it is a live investigation and we do not want to jeopardise the outcome, we do not intend to make any further comment.

“We are committed to ensuring the safeguarding of victims and continue to work with the full co-operation of the Lincoln Diocese.

“There is an absolute multi-agency commitment to a transparent, survivor-focused and diligent investigation of every matter raised with the team. Anyone wanting to make contact in complete confidence can do so to the Diocese Safeguarding Adviser, Debbie Johnson who can be contacted on 01522 504081.”

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme: “It is not something that is done lightly. The Archbishop . . . is required to consult the two longest-serving diocesan bishops in his province before he makes such a decision, so clearly the Archbishop feels that this is the right decision after taking that advice from colleagues.

“It does indicate without getting into the merits of the case itself, which I know nothing about that safeguarding is very much at the top of our priorities now as the Church of England and that we don’t take these matters lightly, even if they have an impact on ourselves.”

Dr Walker was on the programme to speak about the second anniversary of the Manchester bomb attack, which falls this week.

 

The news release from Lambeth Palace reads:
 

“Archbishop of Canterbury statement on Bishop of Lincoln

“‘Following information provided by the police, I have suspended the Bishop of Lincoln Christopher Lowson from office, having obtained the consent of the Bishops of Birmingham and Worcester (the two longest serving bishops in the Province of Canterbury). If these matters are found to be proven I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people. I would like to make it absolutely clear that there has been no allegation that Bishop Christopher has committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult. The Bishop of Grimsby, David Court, will take on episcopal leadership of the diocese. It should be noted that suspension is a neutral act and nothing further can be said at this stage while matters are investigated. I ask for prayers for all affected by this matter.’

“Commenting today the Bishop of Lincoln said: ‘I am bewildered by the suspension and will fully cooperate in this matter. For the sake of the diocese and the wider Church I would like this to be investigated as quickly as possible to bring the matter to a swift conclusion.’”

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