Child abuse inquiry: Diocese had 'major issue'

BBC News
The diocese of Chichester is being investigated by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse

The diocese of Chichester had a "major issue" with priests carrying out abuse, an inquiry has heard.

Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Rev Martin Warner, made the claim when giving evidence to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

Dr Warner said there had been a "breakdown of trust" between the Church of England and the local council.

He also said he was warned by a senior Church of England official that the area was considered "a basket case".

The bishop claimed Caroline Boddington, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury's appointments secretary, made the remark when he was appointed in 2012.

Dr Warner said there was a "damaged relationship" between two bishops in office at the time - his predecessor John Hind and a junior bishop in the diocese Wallace Benn.

Both have been accused of not responding properly to reports of abuse.

Dr Warner claimed officials at East Sussex County Council had urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to sack Bishop Benn - the Bishop of Lewes - and that he had held talks with colleagues about a "dignified exit" for the bishop soon after he moved to the diocese.

There were also issues with parishioners, with Dr Warner describing a "hostile" response over the church's treatment of Bishop Peter Ball - who was convicted of abusing children.

"I was kind of persona non grata with them because they believed the church had mistreated him and was continuing to mistreat him badly, and that was a shock to me," he said.

'Pride and arrogance'

The bishop said there was an atmosphere of "defensiveness and pride" at the diocese's headquarters in Hove, along with a fear of the media.

"It wasn't clear who was going to say what to them when they were asking legitimate and pressing questions and nobody knew quite where the answer was due to come from," said Dr Warner.

"There was a fear of making an answer which would be taken, particularly by Bishop Wallace Benn, to be a slur on his character."

He added: "Pride and arrogance sometimes stems from a genuine commitment to the church, and there are aspects of that which are positive. But it can also bind us to its real failings."

But he rejected calls by some survivors that it should be an offence not to report a disclosure of sexual abuse.

Dr Warner said: "I'm not sure that mandatory reporting is necessarily the way that we are going to achieve best protection for children."

Ending his evidence, he repeated his apology to survivors, saying he "grieved for the loss of access to faith that this has often resulted in".

The inquiry continues.