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Ex-Archbishop of York steps down from ministry over handling of abuse case

The former Archbishop of York has been told to step down from active ministry after a review found he failed to act on a victim’s disclosure of historic child sex abuse by a priest.

Lord Sentamu has stood back from his role as an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Newcastle “until both the findings and his response can be explored further”.

He rejected the findings of a review which found he failed to act when Rev Matthew Ineson told him he had been abused by the late Rev Trevor Devamanikkam in Bradford in the 1980s.

Mr Ineson, who was 16 at the time of the abuse and later became a vicar, told the church about it 10 years ago.

He has waived his legal right to anonymity.

Bishop Joanne Grenfell, safeguarding lead for the House of Bishops, said it “should be ashamed” that it let down a vulnerable child in its care who was abused by someone in a position of trust.

In a statement released on Saturday, the diocese of Newcastle said the findings “required Lord Sentamu, honorary assistant bishop in Newcastle diocese, to step back from active ministry until both the findings and his response can be explored further.”

It added: “The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, is fully supportive of this decision.

“The diocese of Newcastle remains committed to the highest standards of safeguarding which seeks always to place victims and survivors at the heart of this vital work.”

Devamanikkam was charged with six serious sexual offences in May 2017, all relating to the survivor.

He was found dead at his flat after killing himself before he was due to appear in court.

While he was not convicted, reviewer Jane Humphreys, a senior social care consultant, said she “can confirm the survivor was sexually abused by Trevor Devamanikkam”.

The review, commissioned by the national safeguarding team of the Church of England, said clergy “failed to act” on the victim’s disclosures and he was “not supported to refer the disclosures to the police, nor provided with pastoral care and support at the time”.

It found Rev Ineson had sent a June 2013 letter to the then Bishop of Sheffield in which he disclosed the historical abuse he had suffered, and copied it to the then Archbishop of York.

In it, the victim said he had already disclosed the abuse twice to the Bishop of Sheffield but the bishop had not acted on this.

The review said the then Archbishop of York had replied to acknowledge the communication, adding: “Please be assured of my prayers and best wishes during this testing time.”

It found the then Archbishop of York should have sought advice from his diocesan safeguarding adviser at the time on how to proceed with the letter he had received.

The then Archbishop of York said he had believed he had “no authority” to act on the matter and the letter was not a disclosure to him as he was only copied in.

But the reviewer said “no Church law excuses the responsibility of individuals not to act on matters of a safeguarding nature”.

Lord Sentamu rejected the findings, insisting there had been a “fundamental misunderstanding on (the reviewer’s) part of the jurisdictional, pastoral and legal responsibilities of diocesan bishops and archbishops in the Church of England.”

He added that the safeguarding matter had been in the Diocese of Sheffield “and therefore not for the diocesan safeguarding adviser for York diocese.”

Lord Sentamu said he had told the review what he told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) when it considered the matter – “namely that the action following a disclosure to the bishop of Sheffield was his and his alone in line with established safeguarding procedures and guidelines.”

He added: “I acted within the agreed procedures, rules and practice guidance on safeguarding, set by the House of Bishops and the clergy discipline measure.

“Safeguarding is very important but it does not trump Church Law (which is part of the Common Law of England).

“The law is not susceptible to be used as an excuse for exercising the role given to an archbishop.

“Church Law sets the boundaries for diocesan bishops and archbishops.”

Lord Sentamu has been contacted for comment since stepping down.