WHEN Dr Martin Warner became Bishop of Chichester last year, he inherited a diocese torn apart by sexual scandal.

In the past few years, the church in Sussex has been rocked by claims of institutional abuse stretching back decades.

Bill Gardner asked the bishop how he plans to lead the diocese back into the light.


Q: Why is it that priests seem to find it so much harder to resist sexual temptation than almost any other profession?

A: I think it comes down to power.

As a priest part of the responsibility and part of the privilege is that we encounter people in a range of situations where they are often vulnerable and looking to us for help.

That would include people going through dramas in terms of their personal life, their job or their relationships.

But simply being a child is also an example of that vulnerability.

For a priest, it’s very easy for that power to become severely misused.


Q: But police officers and teachers deal with vulnerable people too. They don’t seem to be abusing children in the way many members of the clergy have done.

A: In broad terms I think I want to stress that the vast majority of the clergy are doing a fantastic job.

But the difference between a priest and a teacher is that our relationship is based on something which is voluntary.

The church is not a statutory organisation. That’s both a strength and a weakness.

A priest lives in often tough places where no other professional person would live – but that’s part of our character.

However it’s that voluntary quality which means the nature of our engagement with people is very different.


Q: Last month you wrote to Gary Johnson, a victim, apologising for the covering up of sexual crimes that went on in the Chichester diocese for decades. Does one letter make up for years of abuse?

A: I was trying to convey something of the sense of shame that the church and I both feel.

I was also trying to show that the church is beginning to understand how survivors feel and what their treatment has been in terms of not being listened to.

They were treated in ways that were inappropriate and unacceptable. The letter was about trying to show we understood that.


Q: Did he accept your apology?

A: He has been very gracious. He has been willing to let his name go public, as it were, and that has shown people that it is possible to come forward – and that they will be listened to.

Abuse is a burden that some people carry for years and he has helped many victims lighten their load.


Q: Are there any more skeletons in the closet? Can we expect more victims to come forward?

A: We know that there are continuing police enquiries and we are co-operating fully with them. There may well be further investigations, to which we will respond.

We have been through all the files but we can’t say that more people will not come forward. Ultimately, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Whatever happens, we will be open and transparent.


Q: So you would urge any other victims of priests in your diocese to speak out?

A: Of course I would urge any victim of abuse to come forward, whether from a priest or anyone else.

The climate of opinion in society generally recognises how damaging this can be and how important it is for victims to speak out.

The Church is beginning to take these reports seriously. But it must be remembered that priests aren’t the only people that have abused people in their care.


Q: Earlier this year, it emerged that former organist Michael Mytton had been re-employed by the diocese even after his conviction for assaulting a 12-year-old boy. He then went on to commit more offences – yet a diocese spokeswoman said there was in fact “no issue” for the diocese to answer. Would you support re-employing known sex offenders?

A: I can’t comment on Michael Mytton because I don’t know what exchanges took place. I simply don’t have those details in front of me.

Certainly I can’t see how anyone who has a previous conviction could be appointed to any post within the Church.

But I can say to you that our processes of inquiry and investigation, and our record keeping of those who have offended, are much more thorough and rigorous.


Q: How can that be true when last year an inquiry by the Archbishop of Canterbury's office found there were 138 clergy in the diocese without up-to-date criminal checks?

A: That was an administrative fault between two members of staff. One left and there was a gap before the next member of staff took up their post. That has been put right.


Q: So there are no clergy working in the |diocese of Chichester without a full CRB check?

A: As I said, that has been put right.


Q: You have been brought in to put this diocese’s house in order. Aren’t you more of a chief executive than a bishop?

A: I’d certainly resist the chief executive title – but there are certainly systemic and structural issues here which I must address.

The word shepherd means someone who takes care of their flock, just like parent is in charge of a household.

Anyone who is in charge of a household has these same responsibilities. It’s not unusual to have to deal with these political issues but any household knows that.

But my job has to be based on pastoral care, sensitivity and service to Jesus Christ. These must be the founding principles.


Q: It’s a huge job though, isn’t it?

A: It’s a mammoth job but it’s mostly about teamwork. The team here have been working on this for the last two years.

Nationally the Church of England has been putting its house in order too.

It’s also about asking for help from our |partner statutory agencies. They have been remarkably positive. They set standards for us to follow.


Q: Do you agree with the scale of government cuts to frontline services?

A: For priests, their priority is their work, particularly in areas around deprivation and |need.

They see first hand what the impact is of government policy in the areas of benefits and support services.

Often they are there to pick up the pieces.

They have been flagging up the ways in which the government cuts do not fall evenly across society because those who are most vulnerable are feeling the greatest impact.

It is severe here in parts, but the greatest |suffering is happening in the northern parts of the country.


Q: Earlier this year it emerged that Brighton was the most godless city in the country. Has God abandoned the city?

A: I would challenge the description of Brighton as godless.

It might be that many people have given up on institutional religion. But that doesn’t mean that God has given up on them.

I remain convinced that Brighton is very much loved by God.

Brighton reveals a huge thirst for humanity which is endowed with dignity and self-confidence.

It is a supremely creative place, which takes us close to a core Christian message.

I’m certain God has not abandoned Brighton.