A COMPLAINT under the Clergy Discipline Measure has been lodged against the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, by the Church of England’s interim director of national safeguarding, Sir Roger Singleton.
Dr Forster confirmed last week that he had delegated all safeguarding responsibilities to the Suffragan Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, “in response to recent comment into my handling of the Gordon Dickenson case in 2009”.
Earlier this month, Mr Dickenson, Vicar of Christ Church, Latchford, from 1968 to 1974, admitted eight counts of sexual assault in the 1970s (News, 15 March). He was sentenced to 27 months in prison.
The diocese of Chester issued an unreserved apology to the survivor, noting that “information brought to light to the diocese in 2009, if acted upon then, may have led to the police bringing a prosecution against Gordon Dickenson much sooner. . . A review will now be conducted into the handling of the case, to identify where any failures in procedures arose and what lessons can be learned.”
In 2017, when the police began investigating historic allegations against Bishop Victor Whitsey (News, 17 October 2017), the diocese discovered a letter from Dickenson, sent to them in 2009, in which he acknowledged that he had been accused of indecently assaulting a young boy, and stated that Bishop Whitsey had made him promise never to do it again. The letter was passed to the police.
Dickenson retained permission to officiate in the diocese until 2014, when he retired.
On Thursday of last week, Dr Forster said that he had asked Bishop Sinclair to “lead on all safeguarding arrangements in the diocese of Chester, and have formally delegated this responsibility to him with immediate effect. . .
“An independent review will seek to identify where any failures in procedures arose, and what lessons can be learned, and I look forward to contributing to the review and to giving a full account of my actions in relation to this matter.
“The diocese of Chester takes seriously its safeguarding responsibilities at every level. Whilst an independent review into my actions takes place, I recognise that I should not continue to lead the safeguarding arrangements in the diocese.
“I will continue in all other duties relating to my role of Bishop of Chester.”
A Church House spokeswoman confirmed on Monday that Sir Roger had lodged a complaint against Dr Forster under the Clergy Discipline Measure.
Last year, Sir Roger said that the Past Cases Review carried out by dioceses in 2007-2009 was “flawed”, and “failed to give a complete picture” (News, 29 June 2018). At the end of the review, it was announced that just 13 cases requiring further formal action had been identified (News, 26 February 2010).
Church House is expecting to announce further details of an independent review of the handling of allegations against Bishop Whitsey in the coming weeks.
Under the CDM process, a complaint against a bishop is made to the archbishop of the province — the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, in this case. The complaint is then referred to the registrar of the province for preliminary scrutiny, during which a decision is made whether there is enough substance to the complaint to justify proceeding with it.
Within 28 days of receiving the registrar’s report, the archbishop must decide how to proceed. Options include dismissing the complaint, taking no further action, imposing a conditional deferment (whereby the complaint is kept on file for up to five years), or imposing a penalty by consent. A penalty can range from a rebuke to prohibition for life. If the respondent does not consent to a proposed penalty, then a formal investigation must take place. In the case of a complaint against a bishop, this would be heard before a vicar general’s court.