Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out after Bishop of Lewes’ resignation

Wallace Benn
Wallace Benn

The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted the church has made mistakes in the past and that it needs to change on the day that the Bishop of Lewes has announced he is to retire.

The Right Reverend Wallace Benn revealed yesterday that he will retire at the end of October.

His announcement comes at a time when the church in Sussex, and Bishop Benn in particular, have come under enormous pressure over its child protection policies and the conduct of its priests.

Three Sussex priests have been charged with child sex offences this year, and today (Friday) retired Eastbourne priest, Canon Gordon Rideout, was due to appear at Lewes Crown Court charged with 38 offences of sexual abuse, including sexual assault and attempted rape against 18 children between 1962 and 1973. As a result, there had been calls for Bishop Benn’s resignaton earlier this year.

The Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Dr Martin Warner, will appoint a successor to Bishop Benn, who lives in Eastbourne.

However, in response to the bishop’s resignation, Lambeth Palace has issued a statement pointing out that the diocese now has a clear path to change its attitude and practices towards the safety of children.

The statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “The issues around safeguarding in the Diocese of Chichester have been the result of longstanding problems with working arrangements and communications, and a costly failure to reflect best current practice in the policies and procedures established by the diocese.

“Those in senior leadership in the diocese, including Bishop Wallace Benn, whose retirement is announced today, have already acknowledged a shared responsibility and made unreserved apologies to those who have suffered because of past errors.”

The statement added: “They have been clear about mistakes made in the past and the need to change attitudes and practices in the diocese so as to guarantee that churches offer as safe an environment for children as humanly possible.”

The Sussex diocese is currently the subject of an inquiry into its child protection policies.

In a statement announcing his retirement, Bishop Benn said: “These have been difficult days, not only for me, but also for many people, including survivors, compounded by inaccurate reporting and false allegations.

“We have been deeply moved and encouraged by the hundreds of letters of support and kind wishes that we have received during this time from the clergy and people of East Sussex.”