Photo Credit: Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament
The Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, has been suspended from office, following information passed to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the police. In a statement, Archbishop Justin Welby stressed that “there has been no allegation that Bishop Christopher has committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult.” But he said that if the information provided to him was proven, “I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people”, Archbishop Justin said.
The authority to suspend a bishop is set out in section 37 of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 – English law made by the Church of England’s General Synod and approved by the UK Parliament. It says that before suspending a bishop, the Archbishop must seek the consent of the two most senior diocesan bishops in the province. In his statement, Archbishop Justin confirms that consent was received by the Bishops of Birmingham and Worcester.
“It should be noted that suspension is a neutral act and nothing further can be said at this stage while matters are investigated”, Archbishop Justin said. “I ask for prayers for all affected by this matter.”
The Bishop of Grimsby, David Court, will take on episcopal leadership of the diocese during the suspension.
Bishop Christopher said that he was “bewildered” by the suspension, and said he would fully cooperate. “For the sake of the diocese and the wider Church I would like this to be investigated as quickly as possible to bring the matter to a swift conclusion”, he said.
The reason for the suspension and the nature of the information provided by the police have not been made public. Last month, the BBC’s Panorama news and current affairs programme broadcast a report detailing failings in the Diocese of Lincoln’s handling of safeguarding matters.
Last week the official statutory independent public inquiry in child abuse in England and Wales, IICSA, published its first report into its “Anglican Church” investigation. Its case study into the Diocese of Chichester concluded that “the Church’s response to claims of child sexual abuse was marked by secrecy, prevarication and avoidance of reporting alleged crimes.”
The Church of England’s lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, said last week: “We thank the Inquiry for the report and note the findings and recommendations which we will now study in full.
"The report states that the Church of England should have been a place which protected all children and supported victims and survivors and the Inquiry’s summary recognises that it failed to do this. It is absolutely right that the Church at all levels should learn lessons from the issues raised in this report.”
Today, Bishop Peter joined three others: the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler; the Bishop of Newcastle, Bishop Christine Hardman; and the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally; in a joint statement following this week’s meeting of the Church of England’s House of Bishops, where the IICSA report was discussed.
Writing on behalf of the whole House of Bishops, the four said that “We recognise that the publication of [IICSA’s] report causes most hurt and concern to survivors themselves. It reopens wounds.
“At this week’s meeting of the House of Bishops, Archbishop Justin asked every one of us to read and study the full report in detail and we are absolutely committed to this.
“The Church has failed survivors and the report is very clear that the Church should have been a place which protected all children and supported victims and survivors. We are ashamed of our past failures, have been working for change but recognise the deep cultural change needed takes longer than we would like to achieve.
“We welcome the recommendations.
“The report will now go to the National Safeguarding Steering Group next month so the Church can formulate a detailed response to the findings and recommendations as we approach IICSA’s wider Church hearing in July. The lead bishop for safeguarding has been asked to report back to the House and to General Synod.”
Earlier this month, the international Anglican Consultative Council agreed new global safeguarding guidelines and commended them to the 40 member churches of the Anglican Communion.