In the wake of the conviction of a choirmaster from Hampshire, who was able to continue committing sex offences against boys because a church let him go with a warning 17 years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued what is effectively an apology for its past mistakes.
Dr Rowan Williams today spoke of his "deep sorrow" over the suffering experienced not just in the case involving Peter Halliday, aged 61, but in other child abuse cases connected to the Church.
The leader of the Church of England confirmed that the Church had developed much greater awareness and expertise since the late 1980s, and now had stringent procedures in place. But he added that continuing vigilance was crucial.
Dr Williams declared: “Any case in which the Church has failed to prove itself a safe place for children is deplorable. This is one such case, and we can only express our keen awareness of the damage and deep sorrow for the suffering caused.”
He continued: “The principle that the welfare of the child must always take priority has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that a child should not be put through the distress of public legal procedures. It appears to me that this misunderstanding may have been involved in this instance."
Concluded the Archbishop: “Since these sad events occurred, the Church - like other public bodies – has developed greater expertise and far more stringent procedures. This does not help victims of an earlier era, but the awareness of the cost they have borne is something that underlines the imperative need to keep all our procedures in the strictest working order.”
Dr Williams' strong statement is the most forthright comment to come from the Church of England since the publicity surrounding Halliday, and a continuing case against a vicar in Bristol.