The Church of England has come under fire for allegedly dismissing or ignoring a number of serious complaints about clergy.
According to an investigation by The Daily Telegraph, the Church turned a blind eye to the revelations of misconduct, even when it was reported to officials by the wives of the accused priests.
One woman, who accused her husband of rape and marital violence said that the church was "turning a blind eye to abuse and immorality in its own ranks".
She added: "They have absolutely been ignoring abuse. The clergy just want to protect themselves. They cover for each other and it comes from the top down."
Women who reported abuse told the Telegraph that when their complaints were put through the Church's disciplinary process, they encountered problems because it imposes time limits on claims and places significant emphasis on complainants to prove their case. On Friday, the Church of
England said it would be engaging in a large-scale review of its disciplinary processes.
Most of the wives who lodged complaints had done so after a marital breakdown, meaning the spouse faced the prospect of being expelled from their husband's clergy home.
Broken Rites, a support group for former clergy spouses, said the issue was only expanding, with more clergy spouses complaining of abusive marriages.
Rev Dr Margaret Wilkinson, spokesperson for Broken Rites, said: "This is a systemic problem. As with the children who were sexually abused by the clergy, we too have not been listened to."
Two cases uncovered by the Telegraph investigation include a woman who claimed husband her emotionally, physically and sexually, and another who accused her priest husband of raping and threatening to kill her. Another wife said that her husband remained in his post despite conducting an extramarital affair with a parishioner.
Last year a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse called the Church of England's 'Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM)' "flawed" and "an inappropriate means by which to address safeguarding concerns".
Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that the CDM is "not fit for purpose".
One of the former wives said it was time for the system to be overhauled. "I think the way forward is to put in place an independent complaints body, similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission," she explained.
Bishop Chris Goldsmith, The Church of England's Director of Ministry, said: "The welfare of clergy spouses and partners, particularly when relationships break down, is taken very seriously by the Church.
"I am truly sorry if there are cases where spouses or partners feel they have been let down and not supported."