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Lord Sentamu suspended from active ministry

15 May 2023

Former Archbishop of York rejects church safeguarding review in which his handling of an abuse disclosure was criticised


Lord Sentamu in 2019

Lord Sentamu in 2019

THE former Archbishop of York, Lord Sentamu, has been suspended from active ministry in the diocese of Newcastle, where he is an honorary assistant bishop, after he rejected the finding of a church safeguarding review that he had failed to act on a non-recent disclosure of abuse while he was at Bishopthorpe.

The independent review, commissioned by the Church of England in 2017 and published on Thursday (News, 11 May), concerned the abuse perpetrated by a priest, the late Trevor Devamanikkam. Devamanikkam raped the Revd Matthew Ineson when he was 16, in Bradford in 1984 (News, 29 July 2016). Mr Ineson brought the original allegation of abuse against Devamanikkam, but he did not contribute to the review.

After disclosing the abuse to the then Bishop of Sheffield (now the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft) in 2012, Mr Ineson wrote to Lord Sentamu about this and other disclosures.

The reviewer, a former director of adults’ and children’s services, Jane Humphreys, writes that, as the survivor had said “clearly” in his letter that he had already disclosed to the Bishop of Sheffield and that the Bishop had not acted on this, she “cannot see how the Archbishop of York could have believed the Bishop of Sheffield would act on the survivor’s disclosures of abuse, given he had not previously”.

She continues: “The Archbishop of York should have sought advice from his Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser at the time as to how to proceed with the letter sent from the survivor. The survivor’s allegation that he disclosed his abuse to the Archbishop of York, and he did not act on this, is substantiated.”

In his written response, Lord Sentamu rejects these last points outright. He writes that safeguarding was solely the responsibility of the diocesan bishop and safeguarding officer, and that, by responding to the letter with prayers and assurances, he had not failed to act.

Lord Sentamu gave the same evidence to IICSA [Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse), he writes, and this was also the conclusion of the internal investigation carried out by the National Safeguarding Team.

Ms Humphrey’s conclusion that “No church law excuses the responsibility of individuals not to act on matters of a safeguarding nature” is described by Lord Sentamu as “odd and troubling”.

He writes: “I am saddened that a report that rightly seeks to review the workings of the Church in order to learn lessons has demonstrated a lack of necessary understanding regarding the operation of dispersed authority in the Church of England.”

Lord Sentamu concludes: “Safeguarding is very important but it does not trump Church Law (which is part of the Common Law of England). And the Law is not susceptible to be used as an excuse for exercising the role given to an Archbishop.”

On Saturday, a statement released on behalf of the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, said that “having taken appropriate advice”, she had on Friday “required Lord Sentamu, Honorary Assistant Bishop in Newcastle Diocese, to step back from active ministry until both the findings and his response can be explored further”. This was “following the publication of the . . . review . . . and the response of those criticised”.

The statement said that the decision was “fully supported” by the current Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell.

Lord Sentamu told The Sunday Times that this decision was “devastating”. “They have besmirched my name and I have been made a public example,” he said. “Those who believe that suspension is a neutral act, its effect on me is more devastating than they will ever imagine.”

Mr Ineson, a C of E priest who resigned his incumbency in 2013 after disclosing his ordeal to several bishops, has since called for the suspension of Dr Croft, too. Mr Ineson told The Times: “I lost my home, living, vocation, pension and near sanity. If Croft had any decency he would step down. You cannot ignore disclosures of rape by a priest and do nothing.”

In a letter sent to 700 clergy in the diocese of Oxford in response to the review, Dr Croft writes: “I did not act sufficiently on the disclosures in 2012. . . the key takeaway for me is to be reminded (once again) that it is essential to act on every safeguarding disclosure, regardless of what else is going on.”

The review notes that, in 2013, Mr Ineson was himself the subject of a complaint brought under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) by the Archdeacon of Rotherham and the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser. Under church guidance at the time, his then diocesan Bishop (of Sheffield) was unable to provide pastoral support or guidance because of his need to be impartial about the ongoing CDM — this support would have been the responsibility of the Bishop’s chaplain.

The review also notes that the CDM was the main subject of the two letters sent by Mr Ineson to the Bishop of Sheffield that year, and that his disclosure of his own abuse within the letters did not name Devamanikkam. The Church Times understands that the CDM against Mr Ineson concerned a “serious” safeguarding matter, but that Mr Ineson was not being accused of abuse.

A spokesman for the diocese of Oxford told The Times that, as is noted in the review, the letters written in 2013 were copied to multiple people, “so the mistake Bishop [Croft] made . . . was to consider that others were dealing with the matter at the time”, the spokesman said.

He continued: “Steven Croft has apologised to Matthew multiple times for an error, and it was an error. There’s nothing malicious in that. He’s not the abuser of Matthew. Of course the bishop will not be standing down on this matter. There was an awful lot going on with Matthew. It is a mistake, but that’s it.”

In his letter to clergy, Dr Croft describes the verbal disclosures to him in 2012 as “a passing reference in the context of a pastoral phone call” and said that he had, at the time, arranged for a colleague to offer support to Mr Ineson until he himself could visit. This visit did not happen because of the CDM complaint brought against Mr Ineson.

Dr Croft also states that the subsequent investigations of his handling of the matter “did not reach the threshold of a complaint or part of complaint being upheld, charges brought or other penalty. This meant that the work to conduct a Learning Lessons Review could begin.”

The lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, said in her responding statement to the Devamanikkam review that “the Church should be ashamed that a vulnerable 16-year-old in its care was let down by the Church and abused by someone in a position of trust.”

She later told Radio 4’s Sunday that she welcomed Dr Hartley’s decision to suspend Lord Sentamu. “It is what we would do with any retired priest whose stance on safeguarding needs some further explanation and conversation.”

She understood “the distinction that Lord Sentamu is trying to make” between his legal responsibilities at the time, “but . . . we all have a bigger moral duty now when it comes to a safeguarding matter to look at it, refer it, to ask questions, to hold each other to account, to be curious about how things have concluded.

“Because of that moral imperative . . . all of us today would know that, with good training, we need to act differently.” On Lord Sentamu’s conclusion that safeguarding did not “trump” Canon law, she said that the culture of the Church — “attitude and behaviour” — on every level needed to change.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, who is the Church’s deputy safeguarding lead, also supported the decision to suspend Lord Sentamu. She wrote on Twitter: “We bishops continue to fail and must change. We must be accountable.”

So, too, did the Church of England’s national safeguarding director, Alexander Kubeyinje. He said of the review: “What happened in this case makes for incredibly harrowing reading and I apologise for the hurt and harm caused to the survivor. The review was to highlight failures and how the Church can and must learn from its past mistakes.

“If we are to be true to our words that we want change then there is a responsibility that senior leaders would want and need assurances that lessons are learnt.”

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