THE Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, has said that he made an “error of judgement” by writing a character reference for the Revd Robert Bailey, a former parish priest in his diocese, who has now been convicted of the sexual abuse of two girls under the age of 13 in the 2010s.
The reference, which Bishop Newcome provided in April this year, was mentioned during Mr Bailey’s sentencing hearing at Swindon Crown Court last week, although it was not read out by the judge. Mr Bailey, aged 71, admitted molesting two girls while he was a Team Vicar in the Cannings and Redhorn Team Ministry in Salisbury diocese; a post he took up in 2013, after serving in Carlisle diocese as a Team Vicar in the Cartmel Penninsula Team Ministry from 1999 to 2011.
Last Friday, Bishop Newcome, who is being investigated by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team, said in a statement: “Robert Bailey was a vicar in the diocese of Carlisle from 1999 until his retirement to Salisbury in 2011 and is someone I have known for 18 years. In April of this year, and at his request, I agreed to provide a character reference to go before the courts.
“On reflection I considered this to have been an error of judgement on my part and asked that the reference be withdrawn.
“I’m truly sorry that the reference was submitted and understand the pain that this will have caused those who suffered as a result of Robert Bailey’s crimes. I offer them my heartfelt apology.
“I will, of course, co-operate fully with the national church safeguarding team and any subsequent investigation around this matter, as I seek to learn from this situation.”
Mr Bailey was sentenced last month to eight years and four months in prison.
In January 2018, Mr Bailey was offered the post of house-for-duty priest of Lorton and Loweswater with Buttermere, in Carlisle diocese. He withdrew his application, however, when he was questioned by the police about allegations of sexual assault.
His permission to officiate was revoked in April 2018, when Salisbury diocese became aware of the allegations.
A probation report said that Mr Bailey posed a high risk to girls and would be likely to reoffend.
A spokesperson for Carlisle diocese said in a statement on Monday: “It is a matter of deep shame and regret that Robert Bailey, formerly a priest who served in the diocese of Carlisle, has been sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for sexually assaulting children.
“There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place; abuse is a terrible crime and a grievous breach of trust, which has lifelong effects. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those who have been affected, particularly the victims and their family.
“We can confirm that the submission of a character reference for Mr Bailey by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, and which formed part of a pre-sentence report, is to be investigated further by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team.
“As part of the investigatory process, Bishop James has also voluntarily agreed to temporarily step back from his involvement in all diocesan safeguarding decision-making processes.
“He [Mr Bailey] cannot minister anywhere and the legal process of having him barred from ministry for the rest of his life is under way.
“No complaints were made against him during his time in ministry in the diocese of Carlisle and the offences for which he has been sentenced do not relate to his time in Cumbria. The diocese will continue to liaise with ministry teams in the parishes of Cartmel, and Lorton and Loweswater with Buttermere.
“We would stress that the safeguarding of all those in our churches remains an absolute priority for us as a diocese. We are committed to transparency and openness in all we do to protect the vulnerable within our church communities and beyond.”