Sunday, 17 February 2013

Bishop Wallace Benn cleared of misconduct charges

On Thursday, a retired priest, who had pleaded guilty last December to various sexual offences, was sentenced to prison, see these news reports:

Chichester Observer BREAKING NEWS: Former priest sentenced for child sex offences

Evening Standard Paedophile priest jailed for 1970s child abuse

BBC Retired priest Robert Coles jailed for sexually abusing boys

This prompted the following official statements:

Statements from the Diocese & Bishop of Chichester

Archbishop of Canterbury: Statement on the sentencing of Robert Coles

Yesterday, the following news report appeared:

BBC Retired Bishop of Lewes denies abuse cover-up

Today Anglican Mainstream has published Press Statement by Bishop Wallace Benn: “No ineptitude on my part and no cover up” originally issued on Friday.

This statement discloses that:

“the Complaint made against me personally under the Clergy Discipline Measure concerning Mr Coles has been dismissed on its merits…”

and the statement gives details of the process by which this happened:

…In March 2012, the Chairman of the Safeguarding Advisory Group, Mr Keith Akerman, and the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor, Mr Colin Perkins, sought to make a complaint against me under the Clergy Discipline Measure, on the basis that it was misconduct for me (1) not to inform the Police directly of what Robert Coles had said, or to direct Mr Reade to do so; and (2) not to inform the Police directly of what I had been told about Robert Coles by the clergyman in another Diocese.

On 18 October 2012, the Archbishop of York concluded, at the preliminary scrutiny stage, that both complaints against me in respect of Robert Coles should be dismissed on the ground that they lacked sufficient substance to proceed.

In reaching that decision in relation to the first complaint, the Archbishop of York emphasised:

The Diocesan Child Protection policy of 1997, which required “any allegation of abuse against a church worker, clerical or lay, or any relevant incident in any way to do with the life of the parish or church organisation, should immediately be referred to the Diocesan Child Protection Advisor.”

The absence of any evidence to show whether Mrs Janet Hind had considered whether the matter should be reported to the Police and, if so, by whom.

The absence of any evidence that I had disregarded advice from Mrs Janet Hind in this matter.

The Diocesan Child Protection policy of 1997 also stated that: “The Diocesan Advisor, if appropriate, will make sure that a referral has been made to the local social services office and will liaise with that department and the police during any child protection investigation.”

I understand that a similar complaint by the same complainants was made against the Right Reverend Nicholas Reade, the recently retired Bishop of Blackburn. I understand that it has also been dismissed.

In reaching his decision in relation to the second complaint, the Archbishop of York concluded that he was satisfied that I “had passed or discussed or shared” the letter from the clergyman in another Diocese with the Child Protection Advisor when I received it. He further concluded that there was no evidence that the Child Protection Advisor advised me to report the letter myself to the Police. The Archbishop of York dismissed the complaint against me on the ground that it lacked sufficient substance to proceed.

On 29 January 2013, the Right Honourable Lord Justice Mummery, sitting as President of Tribunals, dismissed an appeal by Mr Akerman and Mr Perkins against the dismissal of these complaints against me by the Archbishop of York…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 17 February 2013 at 12:37pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

From Wallace Benn's statement:

'It was my understanding at the time, based on the Diocesan Child Protection Policy of 1997, that the Diocesan Child Protection Advisor was the sole point of contact between the Diocese and external agencies, including the Police.'

'Mrs Janet Hind did not advise or instruct me to inform the Police of what we had been told by Mr Coles. Nor did the Bishop of Chichester. I fully expected that the matter would be reported to the Police by the Child Protection Advisor in the discharge of her duties and in accordance with the Diocesan Child Protection policy.'

'In accordance with the Diocesan Child Protection policy, it was for Mr Sellwood to liaise with external agencies, including the Police.'

The Archbishop of York and Wallace Benn have found a scape-goat. Considering the grave implications of not informing police, would any of us not feel bound by a duty of care towards victims of sexual abuse beyond the scope of policy wording?

Genesis 3:12: 'The man said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."' It's called passing the buck.

I feel enraged and sick to my stomach!

Posted by: David Shepherd on Sunday, 17 February 2013 at 2:13pm GMT

You may feel enraged and sick to your stomach - but what Bishop Benn has said is true. Having been in the UK at that time, as a Youth Minister, our Diocese based Child Protection policy strictly said that any suspicion of Child abuse was reported directly to the appointed person under the Child Protection policy - no-one else. That was a Church of England Diocese. What Benn did was correct.

Rev. AJ
Episcopal Priest USA

Posted by: Rev. AJ on Sunday, 17 February 2013 at 7:07pm GMT

The Bishop may very well be right that procedurally, he is technically in the clear. But if there was ambiguity in the Diocese over whether these pieces of information should be passed to the police or not, that indicates a failure of culture, and where does culture stem from if not the Bishop? Whether as a relatively new Bishop (the first incident) or longer established (the second), it seems likely that he allowed ambiguity to persist as to the right course of action. True leadership - dare I say, particularly true Christian leadership - would look at inner truths not legalistic defences. It seems to me the opportunity has been missed for the Bishop to show a really admirable model of Christian leadership.

Posted by: John S on Sunday, 17 February 2013 at 8:14pm GMT

As I read it, the judgement isn't so much that he was cleared as that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude he was culpable. I recognize that few jurisdictions outside of Scotland have a version of the "not proven" option, but that was what this read like to me. In other words, the charge has been disposed of, but that "cleared" may be overstating it a trifle.

Or am I parsing this a little too closely?

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Monday, 18 February 2013 at 4:48am GMT

At the very least it seems odd to me that in a case which was so serious the bishop didn't seem to have had a conversation at any point with the Child Protection Officer along the lines of "I wondered whether anything had come of the report I made to you about X?" She might or might not have been able to tell him anything, but she could have confirmed to him that she had passed it on to the police, and I would have thought that anyone in a position of leadership like this would have wanted to reassure himself that it was being dealt with. It sounds like "out of sight and out of mind" thinking to me.

Posted by: Anne on Monday, 18 February 2013 at 8:55am GMT

Since few of the contributors on this thread were actually there, it seems a little judgemental to be castigating +Wallace Benn for failures etc. It is easy, with hindsight, to apportion blame, but surely it is for the appropriate authorities to do that, which is what has happened.

Posted by: Benedict on Monday, 18 February 2013 at 11:08am GMT

We have received several comments noting that Mrs Janet Hind is the wife of the former Bishop of Chichester, John Hind, and commenting adversely on this connection.

She was Child Protection Adviser under his predecessor Eric Kemp, and she did not continue this role during her husband's period in office (with one very brief exception when she returned temporarily after the untimely death of her successor).

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 18 February 2013 at 12:05pm GMT

What a sorry mess - nobody emerges with credit from this one.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Monday, 18 February 2013 at 1:20pm GMT

Churches,Roman or Anglican that allowed abuse to happen to vulnerable children have a lot to answer for. There is a very poignant documentary available via Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC). Its titled "Mea Maxima Culpa". It documents abuse and cover up right up from parishes to bishops to the Vatican. The abuse scandal in Ireland is included in the subject matter. I have attached a link to the CBC website page where the program can be located. The window on the page as I see it here is on the centre right. The doc is only available for a limited number of days.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 18 February 2013 at 3:44pm GMT

As Benedict says, I wasn't there. As a result, my knowledge of the substance of the allegations made in the Safeguarding Advisory Group's complaint against Bishop Benn came solely from the reports on the BBC and in the Eastbourne Herald. But now I'm confused, because the allegations of which Bishop Benn has been cleared appear to bear no resemblance to the allegations which, according to those sources, were made by the Safeguarding Advisory Group in the first place. Can anyone explain?

Posted by: Feria on Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 11:54pm GMT

From what I hear/read it sounds like +Wallace followed the diocese policies in dealing with this - is this where the fault lies? Question - why is all the blame be aimed at him and not at the diocese CPO or the diocesan bishop (he,afterall, is only the suffragan)?

Posted by: Bob on Wednesday, 20 February 2013 at 8:53am GMT

If anyone believes that Diocesan policies and directives offer the complete package concerning child protection - please, please think again. When reporting concerns all Christians should make it clear to all church authorities that anxieties or evidence will be communicated directly to the Police Child Protection authorities. This also applies to adult protection in my experience. Sadly, it is wise to suppose that something may escape proper notice for all sorts of reasons, witting and unwitting. We answer to Christ first and everything else is secondary. Oh! and expect to suffer for Christ's sake.

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Wednesday, 20 February 2013 at 10:57am GMT

People on this web site may not like Wallace Benn's theology, but he is a decent and honourable man, and I can't believe he would do anything to facilitate sin like this.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Monday, 25 February 2013 at 5:32pm GMT

Robert - you have hit the nail on the head. Thank you.

Posted by: Bob on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 12:39pm GMT

By the word facilitation, I would infer the commission of some act that aids and abets. This has never been suggested.

In contrast to this, the complaint was one of failing to act.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 3:52pm GMT

I disagree David... not to intervene is to be complicit. I don't believe for one minute Bishop Benn knew the full facts or he would have intervened.You obviously do not know the man.

Posted by: robert Ian Williams on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 10:42pm GMT
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