Stephen Cottrell Archbishop York safeguarding George Carey
Church of England

Cottrell and Carey: why is some safeguarding secret, while others are thrown to the media?

It was announced yesterday that the Rt Rev’d Stephen Cottrell, who next week is to be formally installed as the 98th Archbishop of York, had been investigated over a past failure of safeguarding. The incident is a decade old, and concerned domestic abuse. “I am deeply distressed and extremely sorry,” he said in a contrite statement. He added: “ my new position as Archbishop of York it is absolutely essential that I am open and transparent about the need for the whole of our church to be scrupulously honest with each other about any failings in safeguarding.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a mild rebuke: “He clearly should have informed the authorities and made fuller notes of what he did in this case. He has shown humility in immediately admitting he failed to act as he should have done in this case, when the matter was raised with him by the NST this year.”

He was investigated by the National Safeguarding Team last year? Who knew?

The NST confirmed: “The concerns raised were about the action taken following allegations of domestic abuse perpetrated by a parish priest. At the time Bishop Stephen responded to the survivor, offered support and subsequently referred the allegation within the diocese, but did not ensure the matter was referred to the statutory authorities or directly to the diocesan safeguarding adviser.”

Stephen Cottrell was investigated along the lines suggested by Alex Carlile in his report following the sorry saga of Bishop of George Bell; that is, no publicity until resolution: “..alleged perpetrators, living or dead, should not be identified publicly unless or until the Core Group has (a) made adverse findings of fact, and (b) it has also been decided that making the identity public is required in the public interest.” This is quite obviously because the media (and especially social media [and especially the Twitter mob]) tends to convict on arrest; no smoke without fire, and all that. The psychological pressure and personal humiliation are profoundly traumatising – especially for those who are, in fact, innocent of the allegations and their families.

This is probably a proper outcome for Stephen Cottrell: the church has focused on restitution and relationship; it has been compassionate, understanding and sensitive. There has been respect and consideration, which has led to repentance and restoration. There is meekness and mercy. He has been treated correctly and respectfully throughout.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev’d George (Lord) Carey had his PTO (Permission to Officiate) summarily revoked a few weeks ago after “new information” came to light about his involvement in or knowledge of the ‘activities‘ of John Smyth at Iwerne. The Bishop of Oxford explained: “A Core Group was formed, according to House of Bishops Guidance, and it advised the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, to withdraw Lord Carey’s Permission to Officiate (PTO) while the matter is investigated.”

The first Lord Carey heard of this was via the media. He issued the following statement:

I am bewildered and dismayed to receive the news a short time ago that due to ‘concerns’ being raised during the review of John Smyth QC I have had my PTO revoked. I have been given no information on the nature of these ‘concerns’ and have no memory of meeting Mr Smyth. In 2018 the National Safeguarding Team and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury invited me to meet with them to arrange safeguarding training and facilitate a meeting with survivors of Peter Ball’s abuse. To my immense disappointment they have failed to deliver action on either of these matters which were the subject of a mutually agreed plan. As a result, I have little confidence in their ability to pursue a proper investigation. I understand from the testimony of victims and survivors of clerical abuse that this lack of confidence is widely shared.

This is neither just nor equitable: there is no compassion, understanding or sensitivity. There is no respect or consideration, and no apparent desire for relational restoration. There is callous disregard and harsh judgment. George Carey is being treated shabbily.

Why was Lord Carey not made aware of the new allegations in confidence? Why did the NST not interview him in camera, as they did Stephen Cottrell? Why do some have their PTOs suspended, while others may continue to minister?

The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, is also accused of failures of safeguarding. Far from being treated respectfully, compassionately and sensitively; and far from the NST investigating confidentially, he was thrown to the media by the church’s PR agency, Luther Pendragon.

What, then, are the criteria by which an NST investigation is kept confidential or released to the media? How does such unequal treatment inspire confidence in the process? Is it that some members of the clergy are more worth restoring than others? Is it that some are more worth the colossal investments of time and emotional energy, while others are simply dispensable? Is it not the responsibility of the shepherd to look after all the (allegedly) straying sheep, or are the (perceived) black ones just not worth the hassle?