Vol I No. 7

Church of England News 2 : Shocking Coroner's Report on suicide of falsely accused former priest

by sinetortus

The Coroner’s Report determined that the former priest of the Diocese of London (who later became a Roman Catholic) on 8th November, 2020,  “killed himself because he could not cope with an investigation into his conduct, the detail of and the source for which he had never been told”  and which turned out to be unsupported by evidence, yet it proceeded despite there being “no complainant, no witness and no accuser” (para 10, p 6).

The Coroner adds that, “nobody took responsibility for steering the direction of the process from start to finish and for making coherent, reasoned, evidence based decisions that made sense in the context of the information that was available” (para.5, ) This led led to the conclusion that    “During the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concern.” and that “In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”. (para. 5, p. 2)

In explaining further why such an exceptional kind of report was necessary, the Coroner notes that while,

“It is often the case that organisations have already themselves recognised their errors and have undertaken meaningful attempts at improvement by the time of the inquest. This was not the case here….” and that “With the notable exception of the safeguarding advisor who was finally tasked with the investigation into Father Griffin, I found in the main that a lack of appropriately meaningful reflection had been undertaken by the witnesses from the Church of England.”  Moreover when submissions were received, “… on behalf of the Church of England regarding any prevention of future deaths report. These submissions impressed upon me that referrals to child protection and safeguarding professionals must not be reduced and urged me not to include any concerns that may be taken as a criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegations.” (emphasis here added) and adds that, “It seems to me that a duty of care and competence in a situation such as this one is not in any way incompatible with the moral duty we all have, and the legal duty that bodies such as the church have, to try to keep children and the vulnerable safe”. (p.7)

This very sad saga is rather shocking and is likely to bring scandal on several levels and it highlights the inadequacies of the current safeguarding procedures in the Church of England  which takes up allegations on the basis that they must not be questioned — even where, as in this case,  there is no actual evidence submitted in support of them –with potentially disastrous results.   Thus, the investigation had been continuing for over a year and was being conducted by his former Church of England diocese and subsequently also by his current Roman Catholic diocese, despite the facts which the coroner determined, namely that “Father Griffin did not abuse children. He did not have sex with young people under the age of 18. He did not visit prostitutes.”  Nonetheless, at the time of his suicide, the “investigation seems to have been neither advancing nor concluding despite the want of any evidence at all in support of the allegations made –which were themselves never set out to Fr. Griffin who could therefore not even attempt to advance any rebuttal or defence while having to endure the shadow cast for over a year with no end in sight.”

The Prevention of Future Deaths Report arising from this case can be read in full via this link (but it is important to warn that it is disturbing to read –not least in regard to the kinds of behaviours senior diocesan staff felt free to associate with, and attribute to clergy).


New mistakes in seeking to address past wrongs ?

This case will furnish further support for the concern among clergy that the  proper requirements of natural justice and due process in the handling of abuse allegations are not being met in regard to those who face such allegations.  Thus responses to past horrors are now creating new wrongs.

It is clearly of the greatest importance that real abuse be stopped and perpetrators discovered and removed and dealt with appropriately.  But, grave perils attend  a situation that is close to the stage where accusations alone are deemed sufficient to establish guilt without regard to  evidence —  something further illustrated in other cases aside from this instance. One priest  has reportedly  not been been permitted to tell anyone even that a complaint against him has been concluded; and has been suspended from the ministry for over two years although there is no proper evidence against him,  Evidently this priest at one point received a response stating that

 “..it is difficult in these cases to determine the truth, and we have to make an assessment of the potential risk and what measures would be required on the basis that the allegation could be true, and X has reiterated  that our role is not to seek the truth but to believe X.”

As Martin Sewell, in reporting this other case goes on to point out, “Leaving aside the problem of how one begins to calibrates a risk without making a finding of fact (no court ever does), it seems we are still steeped in the culture of ‘no smoke without fire’ and guilt by denunciation. This is Soviet jurisprudence: ‘Show me the man and I will show you the crime’, as NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria asserted.”  (See Martin Sewell: “Institutional bullying in the Church of England: it’s time to face the liturgical music”, archbishopcranmer.org)

It cannot be right to interpret the need to take allegations seriously (which is not at all in question) as entailing that all allegations are true,  regardless of whether there is adequate evidence in support of them. Guilt cannot be presumed, neither can it be right to to leave the subject of allegations and investigations ignorant of them. Mistreatment of those facing allegations is of no assistance to real victims and only creates new wrongs.