Bishop Martin Warner apologised for ths historic abuse of children in the Diocese of Chichester when he gave evidence at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse today.
When he was appointed in 2012, the diocese was reeling from revelation after revelation of child abuse.
Bishop Warner said: “It is clear there had been an historic bias in favour of adults in positions of power.
“This led to unwillingness to take allegations of sexual assault made by children or adults sufficiently seriously.”
The inquiry began last week and is looking at how far institutions failed to protect children from sexual abuse within the Anglican Church.
Bishop Warner said there was a lot of good work going on when he started as bishop, but people felt ‘powerless and depressed’ by the Church’s safeguarding failures.
Bishop Warner said: “People were depressed about the fact that there seemed to be no capacity to grip the situation.”
He said he was faced with unfit data systems that could not tell him how many clergy he had and how many retired priests with permission to officiate (PTO) there were.
The lack of oversight of retired clergy with PTO has been a theme of the inquiry.
Bishop Warner said there are now better systems to keep track of clergy, including automatic alerts when a priest’s DBS background check is due for renewal.
“We recently had a situation where in spite of reminders a DBS expired and we had to say you will not be able to function until you have made an application and it has been returned and it is clear.”
But he said resistance to background checks remains.
“For a number of people the requirement to take a DBS check is interpreted as ‘are you accusing me of abusing children?’.”
Clergy who do not stay up to date with safeguarding training can be hauled before disciplinary tribunals, Bishop Warner added.
He said: ““While apologies can begin to sound formulaic, I do want to register my sorrow and apology for the sexual abuse of children that has taken place in the Diocese of Chichesrer and for the ways in which it has been mishandled in the past.
“I also want to say I grieve for the loss of access to faith that this has often resulted in.
“That has sustained my energies in wanting to make sure the diocese reforms and never allows itself to fall into the failure we have done in the past.”
If you have been affected by what you have read about the inquiry, or are a survivor and wish to receive support, please contact the Truth Project which has been set up by the inquiry.
The project can provide confidential support and guidance. For details visit www.truthproject.org.uk or call 0800 917 1000.
The inquiry continues