The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised to victims who suffered abuse at the hands of the Church of England in Sussex.

Dr Rowan Williamson spoke today (August 30) after an interim report into an investigation into the operation of child protection policies in the Diocese of Chichester was published.

The Archbishop said he will continue supervising protection of children and vulnerable adults in the diocese after investigators concluded that safeguarding had fallen "woefully short" of what should be expected.

Dr Williams, who set up an inquiry into child protection policies in the diocese , said the interim report "confirms that there have been many and longstanding failures in implementing a robust and credible safeguarding policy in the Diocese of Chichester".

Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC were appointed by Dr Williams as commissaries to conduct the inquiry in the wake of child abuse scandals – the first such appointments for more than 100 years.

In May last year, a review found serious failings in the senior clergy after two priests were allowed to continue working despite being accused of serious child abuse offences.

Colin Pritchard was the vicar of St Barnabas in Bexhill, until 2007, despite having been first reported to police over sex offences ten years earlier. He was later jailed for sexually abusing two young boys.

One of the boys was also abused by Roy Cotton , who worked as a parish priest in Brede, near Rye, but prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to charge him before he died in September 2006.

Dr Williams said: "I am very grateful to those who have been conducting the Visitation in the Diocese of Chichester and to all who have co-operated with this process - not least those survivors of abuse who have shared their experience.

"The abiding hurt and damage done to them is something that none of us in the Church can ignore, and I am deeply sorry that they should have been let down by those they ought to have been able to trust.

"I hope they will believe that we take their experience seriously: we owe them not only our words of apology but our best efforts to make sure that in the future our churches will be safe places for children and vulnerable people of all ages."

The commissaries wrote: "It has been particularly distressing to us to have met people whose lives have been deeply wounded by the abuse they have suffered at the hands of clergy and of lay people holding positions of responsibility in the Church. Sadly, these wounds often refuse to heal."

Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, added: “This interim report reinforces for all who read it how the damage caused to each survivor is unique and intensely personal. Let us never forget that. Nor can we ever imagine that words of apology, deep and sincere though they might be, take away the damage and wicked shamefulness that survivors of abuse carry as a destructive burden.”