‘Apology is too light a word’ for child abuse

Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner
Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner

The Bishop of Chichester has said he is ‘profoundly ashamed’ of the church in Sussex following the publication of a report on the safeguarding of children in the diocese.

The report by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office comes after an internal inquiry prompted by the convictions of Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard who abused children in Diocese of Chichester in the 70s and 80s.

This year three other former priests were charged with child sex abuse offences, of which cases are still ongoing, and Lambeth Palace is now overseeing all clergy appointments in Sussex ‘until better practice can be assured’.

Dr Martin Warner, the new Bishop of Chichester, agreed with the report that there was ‘dysfunctionality’ in the structure of the Diocese of Chichester and said that all bishops needed to work together better and said he will seek reconciliation with all survivors.

Dr Warner, who was appointed in May will officially start his new ministry in November when he is sworn in by the Queen.

He said: “I am particularly grateful to the Commissaries for their suggestion that I meet with all known survivors of abuse and will seek to do this as soon as my public ministry begins.

“It is very clear that there is absolute determination in the Diocese of Chichester that we should engage fully and seriously with the recommendations that relate to us locally.

“I think as a Christian and as a minister of the gospel I have been profoundly ashamed that the church - and all of us have to take responsibility for this - has failed so, so signally in the care, proper care, of people in its charge.

“We have to register with them and for them our shame, apology is too light a word almost for that, and to recognise that there is a massive imperative on us now to ensure that we do everything we can in our power to prevent this happening in the future.”

Responding to a report on child abuse in the church, the Dr Warner said safeguarding young and vulnerable people is a priority.

“I shall ensure that our diocesan-wide policy of safeguarding is implemented rigorously and evenly across the diocese in all aspects of our life.

“This is vital if we are to recognise and sustain the invaluable contribution that Christians in the Diocese of Chichester make to enriching the lives of children and young people in many important and hugely valuable ways.

“The report acknowledges our safeguarding policies are ‘well-thought out and useful’ but goes on to say ‘There must be 100 per cent compliance throughout the diocese with its safeguarding policies’.

“The challenge is to ensure the implementation of the recommendations. I am determined that this is a diocese in which the vulnerable will feel safe and will be safe. A new era has begun; I welcome the Commissaries’ Initial Report as a mandate and encouragement for its growth.”