OXFORD (UNITED KINGDOM)
The Herald Series [Oxford, England]
May 12, 2023
By Miranda Norris
The Bishop of Oxford said he “could have done more” to support a child who disclosed he was being sexually abused by a Church of England priest.
The church has apologised to Rev Matthew Ineson, who was aged 16 when he was abused and later went on to become a vicar.
A review into the actions of John Sentamu – then the Archbishop of York – concluded that he failed to act on the victim’s allegation of the abuse.
Lord Sentamu has rejected the review findings of the review which was published on Thursday.
Dr Steven Croft, now the Bishop of Oxford, was the Bishop of Sheffield at the time of the disclosures.
In a letter to clergy following the review’s publication, he said: “I have always sought to ensure that allegations are followed up, and that complainants and respondents are properly supported, but I know that on this occasion I didn’t get everything right and I could have done more to support the survivor.”
He sent a letter to his 700 clergy in the Diocese of Oxford yesterday explaining: “A little over 10 years ago I made a mistake in my safeguarding practice.
“That mistake was costly for the survivor and for this I am very sorry.”
The independent review into the church’s handling of allegations found that Rev Ineson had been sexually abused by the late Rev Trevor Devamanikkam in the 1980s in Bradford.
Devamanikkam was charged with six serious sexual offences in May 2017, all relating to the survivor, but he was found dead at his flat having killed himself before he was due to appear in court.
The report said while he was not convicted, the reviewer “for the benefit of doubt, can confirm the survivor was sexually abused by Trevor Devamanikkam”.
A decade ago Rev Ineson told some senior clergy members including John Sentamu – then the Archbishop of York – about his abuse.
But the review, commissioned by the National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England, said clergy “failed to act on his disclosures” and he was “not supported to refer the disclosures to the police, nor provided with pastoral care and support at the time”.
Responding to the the review, Bishop Joanne Grenfell, safeguarding lead for the House of Bishops, said: “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.
“We are truly sorry for the abuse he suffered and for our failure to respond well.”
The review, by senior social care consultant Jane Humphreys, found that Rev Ineson had sent a June 2013 letter to the then Bishop of Sheffield in which he disclosed the historical abuse he had suffered, and copied it to the then Archbishop of York.
In it, the victim said he had already disclosed twice to the Bishop of Sheffield his non-recent abuse but the bishop had not acted on this.
The review said the then Archbishop of York had replied to acknowledge the communication, adding: “Please be assured of my prayers and best wishes during this testing time.”
Ms Humphreys concluded that the Archbishop of York should have sought advice from his diocesan safeguarding adviser at the time on how to proceed with the letter he had received.
She said: “The survivor’s allegation that he disclosed his abuse to the Archbishop of York, and he did not act on this, is substantiated.”
She added that the Archbishop of York said he had believed he had “no authority” to act on the matter and the letter was not a disclosure to him as he was only copied in.
But the reviewer said “no Church law excuses the responsibility of individuals not to act on matters of a safeguarding nature”.
Lord Sentamu rejected the reviewer’s findings, insisting there had been a “fundamental misunderstanding on her part of the jurisdictional, pastoral and legal responsibilities of diocesan bishops and archbishops in the Church of England”.
He added that the safeguarding matter had been in the Diocese of Sheffield “and therefore not for the diocesan safeguarding adviser for York Diocese”.
Lord Sentamu said he had told the review what he told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) when it considered the matter – “namely that the action following a disclosure to the bishop of Sheffield was his and his alone in line with established safeguarding procedures and guidelines”.
He added: “I acted within the agreed procedures, rules and practice guidance on safeguarding, set by the House of Bishops and the Clergy Discipline Measure.
“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. Church Law sets the boundaries for diocesan bishops and archbishops.”
Rev Ineson, who is now retired as a vicar and consented to be named as an abuse survivor, said he had not engaged with the review as it did not give a “full or independent picture of what happened in my case”.
He said he had wanted a “fully independent process to get to the truth” but that the reviewer had been “hand-picked by the Church”, the terms of reference were “inadequate” and a “huge amount of evidence” was not explored.
In a statement issued through his solicitor he said: “All I’ve ever wanted is for the church to find out what went wrong in my case so others don’t have to go through in the future.
“The church suffers from wanting to protect itself against awful allegations such as the ones I made. I was raped repeatedly by a vicar in Bradford in 1984 and 1985.
“The church needs to acknowledge independent oversight is going to be painful and commit to it. Until then it continues to cover up the whole truth in cases like mine.”
Among the review’s recommendations were a formal apology to Rev Ineson and that the church and national safeguarding team “should assure themselves that current diocesan safeguarding advisers know how, and who, to escalate concerns to if clergy are ignoring their advice”.
It also stated that they should remind all staff and clergy “of the importance of recording and documenting all disclosures of abuse and advice given”.
Current Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said he echoed Ms Grenfell’s comments and that he had “made personal contact with the survivor”.
He added: “While safeguarding in the church has improved enormously in the past 10 years, we can never be complacent and today’s report is a reminder that we still need to learn from how to respond well to those who come forward always being mindful that the effects of abuse are lifelong.”