Canterbury Cathedral, seat of the Church of England
More than a million pages of documents on child sex abuse have been found at just three of the Church of England’s 42 dioceses.
Exaro has learnt that the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse (CSA) demanded last month that the CoE hand over all relevant documents in its possession within 14 days, according to well-placed sources.
It wanted the documents in time for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday on the inquiry’s investigation into the Anglican churches.
The head of Pope Francis’ commission on child abuse has reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment to act on it.
But the CoE protested that the demand was unreasonable. One source told Exaro that the CoE and inquiry would be “overwhelmed” by the huge amount of material, and that neither “could cope anyway”.
The disclosure issue may be raised at Wednesday’s hearing.
The large volume of documents held by the CoE suggests that child sex abuse has plagued it on a far greater scale than so far realised.
Two of the CoE’s 42 dioceses cover Europe and the Isle of Man, but the other 40 are potentially within the scope of the CSA inquiry.
Sources close to each side told Exaro that clashes between them began as the inquiry prepared to announce last November its first phase of investigations, which included the CoE, the Church in Wales and other Anglican churches.
Welby had pressed Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge who is chairing the inquiry, to investigate the CoE as a matter of priority.
Ben Emmerson, counsel to the inquiry, advised that it would be overwhelmed if it tried to investigate all sexual abuse of children within the CoE, according to a source close to the barrister.
As a result, Malcolm Evans, the member of the inquiry panel who is leading investigations in education and religion, asked the CoE to choose a specimen diocese to be included in the inquiry’s scope.
But the CoE refused, telling the inquiry that it should select what it wants to investigate.
Goddard said in November that she welcomed Welby’s invitation to prioritise a CSA investigation into the CoE, and continued: “As a case study, we will consider the experience of the diocese of Chichester, a diocese that has been beset by allegations of sexual abuse, and subject to numerous investigations, reviews and inquiries.
The inquiry’s investigation may also cover the case of George Bell, the late bishop of Chichester, following the CoE’s settlement of a compensation claim last October from a woman who said that he had sexually abused her as a girl more than 60 years ago.
Critics have accused the CoE of “sacrificing” Bell’s reputation in an act of self-protection.
Goddard said that the inquiry would also examine whether an array of prominent people attempted to interfere in the case of Peter Ball, former bishop of Lewes and then Gloucester, who was jailed last October for sexual offences against 18 young men over 15 years.
An impasse between the inquiry and the CoE over the scope of the investigation came to a head at a fraught meeting last month between representatives of the two sides. It led to the demand by inquiry officials that the CoE hand over all relevant documents in its possession within 14 days.
A CoE spokeswoman refused to comment on the number of documents that had been found, but said: “There has certainly been no falling out, and we are working constructively and collaboratively with the national inquiry.”
“We are planning to give the inquiry all the documentation that it needs.”
She added. “A significant volume of documentation has already been provided to the Inquiry, and a great deal more material is being assembled.”
An inquiry spokeswoman declined to comment.
The first preliminary hearing, last Wednesday, concerned the inquiry’s investigation into Lord Janner, the late Labour peer and former MP who is alleged to have sexually abused boys from 1955 to 1984.
The inquiry expects to investigate the BBC later, despite last month’s publication of a comprehensive review of sexual attacks by two of its former stars, the late Sir Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall.