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Leader comment: Lord Sentamu fails to tick safeguarding box

by
19 May 2023

THE Parole Board has an information booklet for victims which answers the question: “What if the offender maintains that they are innocent?” The answer mentions the Board’s responsibility to assess the risk to the public, and continues: “The Parole Board does not treat such offenders any differently or more leniently. . . Denial of guilt is not a lawful reason by itself for the Board to refuse to release an offender.” On the publication of the lessons-learnt review of the case of the Revd Trevor Devamanikkam, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, demonstrated the appropriate contrition, writing to the clergy in his diocese that he had not taken sufficient action in 2012 when told of the abuse suffered by the Revd Matt Ineson in the 1980s at the age of 16. Dr Croft showed his firm grasp of safeguarding principles: “The key takeaway for me is to be reminded (once again) that it is essential to act on every safeguarding disclosure.”

Lord Sentamu’s response last week was less astute. A former lawyer, he cited church law and maintained his innocence in the face of the reviewer’s criticism, thus leaving the contrition box unticked. It is hard to see his suspension “until both the findings and his response can be explored further” as anything other than a punishment. That is certainly how he sees it.

Were the Newcastle diocese to follow the Parole Board’s practice, it would assess the risk to the public from Lord Sentamu and conclude, contrition aside, that it is no greater than the risk from Dr Croft. (If the risk is that Lord Sentamu would mishandle a future safeguarding allegation, he would presumably argue that the very church law and order that, he says, prevented his interfering in a diocesan matter would prompt him to report the allegation through the correct channels.) Martin Sewell this week encouraged his fellow General Synod members to press for the suspension of Dr Croft, arguing largely on the grounds of consistency. That argument, though, could be reversed: because Dr Croft has not been suspended (at the time of writing), neither should Lord Sentamu be. When another former archbishop, Lord Carey, was suspended in 2020 — by Dr Croft — it took seven months and further training before his permission to officiate was restored. He continues “respectfully [to] disagree” with his treatment. Nothing was gained by his suspension or lost by his reinstatement.

The Devamanikkam reviewer was hamstrung by her inability to cross-examine either of the two key figures, Mr Devamanikkam because he had taken his own life, and Mr Ineson because he declined to participate, as was his right. Much was therefore unsubstantiated, but two failings stand out, both of them pastoral. Mr Devamanikkam should have been monitored and his mental-health issues addressed; and Mr Ineson should have found ready, effective, and sympathetic support.

We have no objection to box-ticking. It is useful to ensure that all that can be done is done. But the danger is that it becomes just another means of protecting the institution. If the aim of safeguarding is to prevent harm, there needs to be a much greater investment in the prompt, professional, and generous pastoral support that might prevent the recurrence of such a hurtful mess.

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