Bishop of Carlisle facing call to quit over reference
A CUMBRIAN activist fighting for victims of church related child abuse has called for the resignation of The Bishop of Carlisle after he wrote – but later withdrew – a character reference for a paedophile priest.
Former Carlisle Cathedral canon Robert Bailey, 71, was this week jailed after he admitted four sexual assaults against two young girls. One told a court that his abuse –committed after he left Cumbria – had ruined her life.
When his case came to the crown court for sentencing, it was revealed that the current Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend James Newcome, had written a character reference for Bailey, though he later withdrew it and issued a ‘heartfelt’ apology to the priest’s two victims.
The Church of England is now investigating why the Bishop wrote the reference.
The issue became public in the week that the influential Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse’ released its report into the Church’s handling of child sexual abuse. The inquiry’s damning report concluded that the Church of England failed to protect children from sexual abuse.
It said the church created a culture where abusers “could hide”, with perpetrators often given more support than victims.
Reacting to the investigation of the Bishop of Carlisle’s retracted character reference, activist Antonia Sobocki, 46, a mum-of-three who campaigns with the charity End Clerical Abuse Global Justice Project, said he should resign.
She told The Cumberland News she was “horrified” by the Bishop’s mistake.
“There’s not a shred of doubt,” said Mrs Sobocki.
“He should go. It would send a message loud and clear to the rest of the church hierarchy and the Anglican church and the Roman Catholic Church that even so much as offering any form of succour or support to people who abuse children is absolutely unconscionable.
“It cannot happen.”
She called for root-and- branch reform of the church, so clergy focus on theology and governance is handled by professionally trained people who are not clergy.
Turn to page 3Only in this way will there be transparency and accountability, she said.
Mrs Sobocki, who has organised an event at St Peter’s Church in Kirkbampton to let people show solidarity with victims, added: “Parishioners from all denominations need to get together to try to counter what’s happening with all these different sets of clergy. The entire hierarchical structure of the church needs to be completely reformed.”
A victim of Ronald Johns, another former Carlisle priest jailed for child sex crimes, added: “I’ve forgiven my abuser - but the Anglican church must learn the lessons from what’s happened. The Bishop of Carlisle is not a bad person but he is in a position to make things change.”
He said he wanted an apology from a person higher in the church than the Bishop of Carlisle.
In a statement this week, The Bishop of Carlisle’s spokesman said: “It is a matter of deep shame and regret that the Rev Robert Bailey, formerly a priest who served in the Diocese of Carlisle, has been sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for sexually assaulting children.
“There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place; abuse is a terrible crime and a grievous breach of trust, which has lifelong effects.
“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those who have been affected, particularly the victims and their family.
“We can confirm that the submission of a character reference for Bailey by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, and which formed part of a pre-sentence report, is to be investigated further by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team.”
The Bishop said he was truly sorry for writing a reference for Bailey, somebody he had known for 18 years.
He added: “I will, of course, co-operate fully with the national church safeguarding team and any subsequent investigation around this matter, as I seek to learn from this situation.”
As part of the investigatory process, the Bishop has agreed to temporarily step back from his involvement in all diocesan safeguarding decision-making processes.
Bailey was also an Honorary Canon of Carlisle Cathedral from 2005 to 2011.
In December 2017 he applied for the post of House for Duty Priest in the Benefice of Lorton and Loweswater with Buttermere. In January 2018, he was offered the position, subject to all the necessary safeguarding checks and protocols being completed. He withdrew his application after being questioned by police after allegations of sexual assault were made against him.
He returned to live in Cumbria shortly before Christmas 2019 but had no permission to officiate or pastoral responsibility in this diocese. A legal process is underway to have him barred from ministry.
No complaints were made against him during his time in ministry in the Diocese of Carlisle and the offences for which he has been sentenced do not relate to his time in Cumbria. The Diocese will continue to liaise with ministry teams in the parishes of Cartmel and Lorton and Loweswater with Buttermere.
A spokesman for the Bishop added: “We would stress that the safeguarding of all those in our churches remains an absolute priority for us as a diocese. We are committed to transparency and openness in all we do to protect the vulnerable within our church communi...