Bishop of Chichester admits child abuse ‘cover-up’

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner
The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner
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The Bishop of Chichester has said there has been “deception and cover-up” at his scandal-hit diocese which has been at the centre of historic clerical sex scandals.

In a personal letter of apology to a child abuse victim, Dr Martin Warner also conceded there has been “ineptitude and irresponsible lack of professionalism” at the Diocese of Chichester in West Sussex.

The diocese has faced a slew of historic child abuse claims and its child protection policies are the subject of an official inquiry set up by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

Dr Warner wrote the letter earlier this month to a victim who suffered abuse as a boy in the 1970s and 1980s at the hands of paedophile Anglican clergyman Roy Cotton who died in 2006.

The victim, former choirboy Gary Johnson, who now lives in the United States, has previously waived his right to anonymity to fight for justice and to highlight failings within the church to protect children.

In the letter, revealed by BBC South East Today, Dr Warner said there had been an “arrogance of institutional pride” and an unwillingness to admit failures.

Dr Warner, who became Bishop of Chichester last year, told the programme that the “cover-up” had not been perpetrated by recent or current senior members of clergy.

In his letter, he wrote to Mr Johnson: “I am deeply ashamed of the way that you have been treated by us.

“The violation of your dignity in a gross act of betrayal is in itself a terrible crime.

“The failures on our part to own up to the seriousness of what happened - to look you in the eye and admit the truth - have compounded the first by a series of subsequent betrayals over a prolonged period of your life.”

Dr Warner said it was “not enough to say sorry” and added: “However, it is a start and I hope that even at this late stage, you will accept this letter as a genuine statement of apology.

“It comes from the bottom of my heart as a human being, and more formally from me as bishop of this diocese. There has been deception and cover-up here; there has also been ineptitude and irresponsible lack of professionalism.

“Nor have we always been willing to admit these failures; indeed, the arrogance of institutional pride has made things much worse.”

Dr Warner said he was committed to “listening and learning, taking action that is appropriate and nurturing change in the life and culture” of parishes and congregations.

The letter was received by Mr Johnson following a personal meeting he had with Dr Warner during a visit to Britain earlier this month.

Dr Warner told BBC South East Today: “By cover-up I mean that a person in authority who has information (and) deliberately knowingly ignores the information, does not pass it on.

“Allows somebody who is a perpetrator of abuse to move from one post to another, allows somebody who is a perpetrator of abuse not to be challenged, brought to account.”

Mr Johnson applauded the bishop for his frank and open remarks and hoped the meeting and letter will mark a positive step towards the diocese and the church acknowledging past failings.

“One letter isn’t going to undo all of the wrongs,” Mr Johnson told the Press Association.

“People really need to understand that treating victims as liars who are out for money is not right.

“The treatment from the church has re-traumatised victims and has meant many people haven’t come forward to this day to seek help.

“But I genuinely hope and believe that this signals genuine change. I got that impression from Martin Warner during our meeting and I applaud him for saying it in the letter.”

The Diocese of Chichester has been buffeted by historic child abuse claims in recent times. In 2011, Dr Rowan Williams set up an official inquiry into the diocese’s child protection policies which has yet to publicly report its findings.

He appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to conduct the inquiry, launched “in response to concerns within the diocese”.

Before his enthronement as Archbishop earlier this year, Justin Welby said the diocese was in the midst of a “new era” under Dr Warner.

Speaking about the letter to Mr Johnson, a spokesman for the Bishop of Chichester said: “Dr Warner receives hundreds of important letters every month and responds to all of them. It is not our policy to disclose details of such correspondence.

“He is committed to providing a safe and secure place for everyone within the Diocese of Chichester. He and his team are working continuously to ensure that such an environment exists.”

In a personal letter of apology to a child abuse victim, Dr Martin Warner also conceded there has been “ineptitude and irresponsible lack of professionalism” at the Diocese of Chichester in West Sussex.

The diocese has faced a slew of historic child abuse claims and its child protection policies are the subject of an official inquiry set up by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

Dr Warner wrote the letter earlier this month to a victim who suffered abuse as a boy in the 1970s and 1980s at the hands of paedophile Anglican clergyman Roy Cotton who died in 2006.

The victim, former choirboy Gary Johnson, who now lives in the United States, has previously waived his right to anonymity to fight for justice and to highlight failings within the church to protect children.

In the letter, revealed by BBC South East Today, Dr Warner said there had been an “arrogance of institutional pride” and an unwillingness to admit failures.

Dr Warner, who became Bishop of Chichester last year, told the programme that the “cover-up” had not been perpetrated by recent or current senior members of clergy.

In his letter, he wrote to Mr Johnson: “I am deeply ashamed of the way that you have been treated by us.

“The violation of your dignity in a gross act of betrayal is in itself a terrible crime.

“The failures on our part to own up to the seriousness of what happened - to look you in the eye and admit the truth - have compounded the first by a series of subsequent betrayals over a prolonged period of your life.”

Dr Warner said it was “not enough to say sorry” and added: “However, it is a start and I hope that even at this late stage, you will accept this letter as a genuine statement of apology.

“It comes from the bottom of my heart as a human being, and more formally from me as bishop of this diocese. There has been deception and cover-up here; there has also been ineptitude and irresponsible lack of professionalism.

“Nor have we always been willing to admit these failures; indeed, the arrogance of institutional pride has made things much worse.”

Dr Warner said he was committed to “listening and learning, taking action that is appropriate and nurturing change in the life and culture” of parishes and congregations.

The letter was received by Mr Johnson following a personal meeting he had with Dr Warner during a visit to Britain earlier this month.

Dr Warner told BBC South East Today: “By cover-up I mean that a person in authority who has information (and) deliberately knowingly ignores the information, does not pass it on.

“Allows somebody who is a perpetrator of abuse to move from one post to another, allows somebody who is a perpetrator of abuse not to be challenged, brought to account.”

Mr Johnson applauded the bishop for his frank and open remarks and hoped the meeting and letter will mark a positive step towards the diocese and the church acknowledging past failings.

“One letter isn’t going to undo all of the wrongs,” Mr Johnson told the Press Association.

“People really need to understand that treating victims as liars who are out for money is not right.

“The treatment from the church has re-traumatised victims and has meant many people haven’t come forward to this day to seek help.

“But I genuinely hope and believe that this signals genuine change. I got that impression from Martin Warner during our meeting and I applaud him for saying it in the letter.”

The Diocese of Chichester has been buffeted by historic child abuse claims in recent times. In 2011, Dr Rowan Williams set up an official inquiry into the diocese’s child protection policies which has yet to publicly report its findings.

He appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to conduct the inquiry, launched “in response to concerns within the diocese”.

Before his enthronement as Archbishop earlier this year, Justin Welby said the diocese was in the midst of a “new era” under Dr Warner.

Speaking about the letter to Mr Johnson, a spokesman for the Bishop of Chichester said: “Dr Warner receives hundreds of important letters every month and responds to all of them. It is not our policy to disclose details of such correspondence.

“He is committed to providing a safe and secure place for everyone within the Diocese of Chichester. He and his team are working continuously to ensure that such an environment exists.”