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Retiring Dean of Lincoln paid too high a price in safeguarding debacle, says Bishop

31 January 2023

Lincoln Cathedral

The retiring Dean of Lincoln, the Very Revd Christine Wilson

The retiring Dean of Lincoln, the Very Revd Christine Wilson

THE Acting Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, has written an open letter to the diocese in which he suggests that the retiring Dean of Lincoln, the Very Revd Christine Wilson, 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).

Dean Wilson — who is due to preach her last sermon as Dean of Lincoln this week at Candlemas — was retiring with “our thanksgiving to God for her, and our gratitude and heartfelt thanks to her as our Dean”, the Bishop writes.

“I have had the privilege to participate in celebrations of the Eucharist and in the Divine Office where Dean Christine has presided, led prayers or preached. I have been struck by her grace, recollection and focus. She has modelled spiritual leadership of the community.”

But Bishop Conway suggests that what he calls “the safeguarding debacle” had overshadowed her many achievements as Dean, which include the opening of a visitor centre, the restoration of the West Front, and measures to strengthen the cathedral’s governance and finances.

“It is well-known that Dean Christine was caught up in the safeguarding debacle leading from allegations made against the Canon Chancellor. He was subsequently found not guilty; but both the Bishop of Lincoln and Dean Christine were disciplined for a reporting error with regard to the safeguarding breach,” the letter continues (News, 16 May 2019).

Whereas the Bishop, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, later received an apology from the national Church, Dean Wilson “received no corresponding recognition”, Bishop Conway writes. He suggests that the reason for this was “perhaps because the Dean’s situation was more informal and local”.

He continues: “A subsequent independent review of the case found that Dean Christine paid too high a price for her mistake, which she apologised publicly for on her return to work. The review, conducted by a senior and highly-esteemed barrister, also found that Christine was never a threat to children or vulnerable adults as had been asserted.”

It was right that the case was investigated, writes Bishop Conway, although the court finally determined that there was no case to answer. “The two senior leaders involved paid the price in the meantime. That price has been high and provides a media narrative which will linger for a long time.

“However, the whole matter can now be seen in perspective, and Dean Christine should in the years ahead be allowed to celebrate her many achievements in ministry under God, as I am celebrating today.”

Other community leaders have paid tribute to the departing Dean. Jasmit Kaur Phull JP, Sheriff of Lincoln, thanked her for her friendship. “Her massive contribution to Lincoln Cathedral and the community in Lincoln will be remembered for many years to come and we thank her for support to all faiths,” she said.

Tim Strawson, High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, said that Dean Wilson had been “a great asset” to the cathedral. “On a personal basis I really admire Christine’s ability to make people feel so welcome and at home in the Cathedral,” he said. “I will be very sorry to see her go.”

Canon Simon Jones, Chaplain and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, is to be Interim Dean until the end of the year (News, 20 January).

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