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Coercive husband no defence against lifelong ban for priest

15 June 2023

The Revd Helen Greenham told a disciplinary tribunal that she kept silent because she, too, was a victim of her husband’s abuse

West Midlands Police

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins

A PRIEST who was barred from ministry for life for failing to disclose her husband’s sexual abuse of children (News, 17 March) told a disciplinary tribunal that she kept silent because she, too, was a victim of his abuse.

In her evidence to the hearing in March, the priest, the Revd Helen Greenham, told the panel: “The 27 years of our marriage, whilst outwardly settled and happy, was largely characterized by [his] coercion, mental, sexual, and physical abuse of me. I consider this to be fundamental to understanding the reason why I did not disclose what I knew about his abuse sooner.” She did not leave her husband because she feared her mental state was such she could not look after her own children.

Ms Greenham, who had been Team Vicar in Solihull, in the West Midlands, since 2011, had admitted not telling Birmingham diocese that her husband, Peter Jenkins, had a previous history of child abuse. She was suspended after his offending came to light in 2019. Last August, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison after admitting 15 offences, including rape, committed between 1984 and 2005.

The penalty hearing of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal in Birmingham ordered that she be removed from public office, and imposed a Prohibition from Ministry for Life Order, which, the panel said, reflected “the severity of the misconduct”.

Mr Jenkins had worked with a youth group at St Helen’s, but there was no evidence of any criminal behaviour connected to the church. The couple separated in 2019.

His victims were four young girls — one of whom became pregnant at 13 and underwent an abortion.

In a full statement of the tribunal’s findings, published on Tuesday, the panel said that Ms Greenham had accepted that a prohibition from ministry would be appropriate, but asked that it be for a limited period.

They found, however, that the seriousness of the charges meant that a rebuke or a conditional deferment would not be suitable. They could see no prospect of her securing the confidence of the congregation, and there was “no realistic prospect of her being ‘rehabilitated’ into the ministry. The word rehabilitated means the restoration of something damaged or deteriorated to a prior good condition. In terms of the Respondent’s ministry, there never appears to have been a point in time when her ministry was sound.”

A report by a clinical psychologist disclosed that Ms Greenham suffered post-traumatic stress-like symptoms; had experienced mental-health problems for 20 years; and had consulted a psychiatrist at the age of only 11 after an incident of sexual abuse.

The panel observed: “It is clear that the Respondent has a long way to go before she can begin to live anything like a balanced life. Her past medical history records levels of depression and on occasion threats of suicide.”

It had to consider whether there was a “realistic” prospect that she could return as a functional priest. “The call to ministry is a demanding one. A minister in the Church is someone whom the community can expect to trust and provide a moral lead. Ministers frequently have to care for the well-being of those who are vulnerable and who themselves have mental difficulties. Having regard to her age we see no prospect that the Respondent will ever be regarded as suitable to return to the ministry.”

In a statement issued this week, the Bishop of Aston, who is currently Acting Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd Anne Hollinghurst, said: “The very serious misconduct of Helen Greenham, which placed others at risk over a considerable period of time, makes it inconceivable that Helen should return to minister in the Church of England.

“The Church of England Birmingham and I are deeply grateful for the courage of those who came forward in relation to events that led to formal complaints being investigated. We are profoundly saddened by the serious subversion of trust her misconduct displayed.”

She praised the diocesan safeguarding team whose work led to the investigation and conviction of Ms Greenham’s husband, and acknowledged the “acute distress” suffered by those affected. Pastoral support continues to be offered to Ms Greenham’s former parishioners in Solihull.

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