The Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, has been suspended from office in an unprecedented move following alleged failures to adequately safeguard children and vulnerable people.
The Archbishop of Canterbury suspended him after being passed information by Lincolnshire Police. This marks the first time that such sanctions have been imposed on a bishop since Elizabethan times.
In a statement released yesterday the Most Rev Justin Welby said that the Bishop had been suspended having obtained the consent of the Bishops of Birmingham and Worcester, the two longest serving bishops in the Province of Canterbury.
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He added: If these matters are found to be proven I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people.
The Archbishop also stressed that there had been no allegation that Bishop Lowson has committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult and that his suspension is a neutral act. He added that nothing further could be said while matters are investigated as he called for prayers for everyone affected.
Bishop Lowson, who has been in his role since 2011, said that he has been left bewildered by the suspension.
Last month it emerged that the first female Dean of Lincoln Cathedral had taken a leave of absence, amid an investigation believed to be linked to failures to protect vulnerable adults.
She was one of two of Lincoln Cathedrals most senior clergy who stepped aside – without disclosing their reasons why – in a move which left the congregation shocked and baffled.
The Very Reverend Christine Wilson – whose appointment in October 2016 was approved by The Queen – took a leave of absence from her position for personal reasons. At the same time, the Chancellor Reverend Canon Dr Paul Overend abandoned his post after just 14 months in the job.
Just a few days later a BBC Panorama investigation found that two former Bishops of Lincoln failed to act at the time when informed of alleged abuse.
The investigation revealed the names of 53 Lincoln Diocese clergy and staff were passed to police amid concerns over the handling of historic allegations of abuse years after they could have been. The resultant police investigation led to three people being convicted.
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford told The Telegraph that the only time I can think of that a bishop was suspended was hundreds of years ago.
Edmund Grindal, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, was suspended from his office by Queen Elizabeth I in the summer of 1577. The dispute dragged on until his death in 1583.
His suspension came following a disagreement between the monarch and the archbishop regarding policies on the clergy.
Grindal had enforced public debates of the clergy which had become fashionable among Puritans and could be seen to propagate discontent with the Church. The Queen wanted Grindal to discourage preaching and he refused, sparking his suspension.
The Bishop of Lincoln is also now the first diocesan bishop to be suspended under new church rules passed at Synod three-years-ago, known as the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016.
The legislation states that a member of the clergy can be suspended if information is provided by a local authority or police force that a priest or deacon holding any preferment in the diocese presents a significant risk of harm.
He added: 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."
A Lincolnshire Police spokeswoman said that they could not comment on the suspension as there is an ongoing investigation. The force set up Operation Redstone to investigate historic abuse in the diocese in 2015.
She added: We are committed to ensuring the safeguarding of victims and continue to work with the full cooperation of the Lincoln Diocese.
There is an absolute multi-agency commitment to a transparent, survivor–focussed and diligent investigation of every matter raised with the team. Anyone wanting to make contact in complete confidence can do so to the Diocese Safeguarding Adviser, Debbie Johnson who can be contacted on 01522 504081.
Christopher Lowson, the bishop of Lincoln, was suspended on Thursday by Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, following information provided by the police, a statement said.
In a statement, Welby said that if matters being investigated by police were found to be proven, I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people.
Welby added: I would like to make it absolutely clear that there has been no allegation that Bishop Christopher has committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult … It should be noted that suspension is a neutral act and nothing further can be said at this stage while matters are investigated.
Lowson said: I am bewildered by the suspension and will fully cooperate in this matter. 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.
Last month, the church confirmed it was investigating a non-recent safeguarding matter reported in the diocese of Lincoln. It described the matter as very serious and said it had passed information to the police.
Lincolnshire police are conducting an ongoing investigation codenamed Operation Redstone. Three men have been convicted on abuse charges.
Lowsons suspension comes soon after the dean of Lincoln Cathedral, Christine Wilson, and the chancellor, Paul Overend, took leave of absence while a historic safeguarding matter thought to involve vulnerable adults was investigated.
On 29 April, BBC Panorama reported that the diocese had failed to act properly in relation to past allegations and concerns about abuse, some involving children.
A list of 53 clergy and staff was referred to the police in 2015 after the diocese realised it had not handled past claims properly, Panorama said. Some of the names could have been referred to the C of Es past cases review in 2007-9.
The C of E has struggled to get on top of its past failures on the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. Survivors have said cover-up and collusion by the church has compounded damage caused by abuse.
Last year, Welby told the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse that he was appalled and ashamed of the churchs failures. There had been an extraordinary and atrocious willingness to turn a blind eye to things going very seriously wrong, he said.
Apologies are fine, but you have got to find ways of making it different and we have got to do it as soon as possible.