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Bishop Conway apologises for ‘careless language’ in defence of retiring Dean of Lincoln

09 March 2023


Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral

THE Acting Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, has issued an apology to the people of the diocese, saying that he used “careless language” in a letter issued in January to mark the retirement of the Very Revd Christine Wilson, the Dean of Lincoln (News, 31 January).

In the original letter — no longer available on the diocesan website — Bishop Conway praised Dean Wilson’s ministry at length, and suggested that she had paid an unfairly high price for the safeguarding investigation that saw her step back from duties for a year (News, 26 April 2019, 20 March 2020).

The apology, published on Friday of last week, says that, as well as thanking the departing Dean, the January letter had addressed what he describes as “a serious and very complex” safeguarding matter.

“However, my careless language also meant that an inaccurate narrative was presented,” Bishop Conway writes now. “This put across factual inaccuracies and downplayed the severity of the experiences had by a number of individuals and the formality of the process that was followed. For this, I am truly sorry. I seek to give no excuses and offer instead transparency and an unreserved apology, not just for the misinformation but for the impact it has had . . .

“I stand by the need to have a positive safeguarding culture which puts vulnerable adults and children at the centre of our consideration. I have confidence in the safeguarding teams in both the Cathedral and Diocese to ensure we are a safe space for disclosures and respond well in all instances.”

In parallel with his apology, Bishop Conway has published a revised version of his original letter. Once again, he expresses thanks and appreciation of Dean Wilson’s ministry, but the reference to the safeguarding matter is more nuanced.

“It is well known that there were a number of high-profile safeguarding cases leading from an allegation made against the Canon Chancellor,” he writes. “Following due process, he was found not guilty of a criminal charge by the Crown Court. However, both Bishop Christopher, the then Bishop of Lincoln, and Dean Christine were rightly disciplined under the Clergy Discipline Measure for their procedural failure to report the matter in line with House of Bishops’ guidance; this is already within the public sphere.”

The Dean voluntarily stepped away from her duties, the letter says, but later returned to her role “with dedication”.

Bishop Conway writes: “A subsequent review into specific complaints by Dean Christine was commissioned and independently carried out by a senior and highly-esteemed barrister. The resulting report found that procedural mistakes were made that caused undue stress to Dean Christine. This does not exonerate the Dean from her own procedural failure, for which she apologised publicly.”

Bishop Conway emphasises that an audit, completed by the Social Care Institute for Excellence in late 2021, subsequently recognised the strong operational and strategic leadership at the Cathedral.

He points out that the not-guilty verdict delivered by the jury in the case of the allegations against the Canon Chancellor was “inconsequential” to the CDM outcomes of the two senior leaders, and adds that both the Bishop and Dean had paid a “significant” price for their errors.

He concludes the new letter with the same wish expressed in the original letter that “the whole matter can now be seen in perspective” and that the Dean should now be allowed to celebrate “her many achievements in ministry under God”.

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