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Call to suspend Bishop of Oxford from House of Lords for alleged breach of Parliamentary code over abuse review findings

by Donna Birrell

A member of the Church of England's General Synod has called for the Bishop of Oxford to be suspended from the House of Lords. It follows a recent review which found Rt Rev Steven Croft had failed to act on a disclosure of abuse.

Martin Sewell, who is also a former child protection lawyer, has written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards alleging the Bishop's behaviour wasn't ethical and that by continuing to sit on the benches he erodes confidence in the Second Chamber.

Martin Sewell told Premier why he’s chosen to make the complaint now:

“Certain bishops of the Church of England enjoy the role of Lord Spiritual and it's part of our Constitution. They are there because they are supposed to lead the nation in terms of moral guidance and to have a moral compass and to guide those in Parliament as to right and wrong. Therefore, if one has serious questions about such a leader, I think it's only right to put it to the independent person who is the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for the House of Lords.”

In May the Humphreys Review into the case of the late vicar Trevor Devamanikkam who raped a 16 year old boy in his care, found that Rt Rev Steven Croft did not act upon information after the incident was reported to him.

In response, the victim Matthew Ineson (who has waived his legal right to remain anonymous) called for the Bishop of Oxford to resign from his post.  Bishop Croft issued an apology for his “mistake” in a letter sent to all licensed clergy in the Oxford diocese last month (read Bishop Croft's letter here).  The Diocese of Oxford stated that the bishop “will not be standing down on this matter.”

The former Archbishop of York John Sentamu who was also found to have failed to act on an abuse disclosure, criticised the review findings and was told to 'step back’ from active ministry in the Diocese of Newcastle where he is an Honorary Assistant Bishop.

Martin Sewell claims the former President of Tribunals Sir Andrew McFarlane originally dismissed Ineson’s case against the bishop, because he failed to bring it within the 12-month time limit. However, the Tribunal did confirm that if the Bishop were found to have committed the alleged misconduct, it could only be described as “serious”.

Mr Sewell said that after the Humphreys Review ruled the events had happened, “it therefore inevitably follows that the Bishop of Oxford is guilty of serious misconduct, but he escaped from being held to account for it because of a loophole, technicality, immunity - call it what you like - but he was not held to account. So we have a member of the House of Lords and Lord Spiritual, who would appear on the face of their documentary evidence to be guilty of misconduct and who has not been stood back.”

Sewell told Premier that making the complaint is "not about being vindictive,” but that he wants the Church of England to introduce "proper process" when it comes to taking action against serving bishops.  He claims that “when they’re retired they are fair game, but in position, the church defends them to the hilt in every way possible.

“They're always looking for the loophole for the bishops and that, I’m afraid, is outrageous.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of Oxford told Premier: "The NST have confirmed in writing to the Bishop of Oxford that his safeguarding practice meets current standards and it is clear that he has learnt from his handling of the Trevor Devamanikkam case ten years ago, as evidenced by the bishop's statement to his clergy in May. 

"The Bishop of Oxford is not aware of any new complaint but if a complaint about a bishop sitting in the Lords were to be passed to the Lords Commissioners for Standards, then their remit is to investigate potential breaches of the House of Lords code of conduct, which are generally confined to actions in capacity as a Member of the Lords, not to other areas."

The Church of England has told Premier its National Safeguarding Team is looking at the documents and "if there is any new information it will be responded to according to House of Bishops guidance."

 

 

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