A damning image of ‘wilful blindness’ in historic cases of sexual abuse of children who were ‘terrified and silenced’ by clergy in Sussex has been set out at a public inquiry.
Fiona Scolding QC, lead counsel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said yesterday that abuse that left an ‘indelible scar’ on children was often ignored or forgiven.
In one segment, Miss Scolding described abuse by a Reverend Colin Pritchard, former vicar of St Barnabas’ Church in Bexhill and a church in Sedlescombe.
She said: “There have been suggestions about the culture of abuse operated by Reverend Pritchard and that Bishop Peter Ball turned a blind eye to that abuse.”
Pritchard was arrested in 1997 on suspicion of sexual offences, and again in 2007.
Miss Scolding said: “There were no restrictions upon his ability to attend church or be involved in ministry with children from his arrest until July 2007.
Reverend Pritchard, who was vicar of St Barnabas in Bexhill, pleaded guilty in 2008 to seven counts of sexual assault on two boys and was jailed for five years.
Pritchard – now known as Ifor Whittaker – was convicted last month of sex offences against a boy and jailed for 16 years. The crimes were when he worked in Sedlescombe, police said.
Speaking on behalf of the Diocese of Chichester and Archbishops’ Council for the Church of England, Nigel Giffin QC said the Church’s response to abuse in the last few decades was ‘not nearly good enough’.
The IICSA inquiry will look into how far institutions failed to protect children from sexual abuse within the Anglican Church. It focuses on abuse within the Diocese of Chichester, which covers all of Sussex, as a case study.
Miss Scolding said: “As a society we have over the past 10 years had to examine some uncomfortable truths about our wilful blindness to such abuse.”
Richard Scorer, speaking on behalf of many of the victims, said: “The Church of England claims to offer moral guidance to the country yet clerical sexual abuse cases powerfully undermine the claim. This leads to the cover-up of abuse.
“The question is whether the Church can be trusted to put its own house in order.”
In a statement, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “The failures that we have seen are deeply shaming and I personally find them a cause of horror and sadness.
“That children have been abused within the communities of the church is indeed shameful.”
The inquiry continues.