New archbishop of York sorry for response to domestic abuse allegations

Stephen Cottrell failed to ensure disclosure was properly documented and action taken

Stephen Cottrell will be confirmed as the Church of England???s second most senior cleric next week.
Stephen Cottrell will be confirmed as the Church of England???s second most senior cleric next week. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

The incoming archbishop of York has apologised for failing to take proper action relating to allegations of domestic abuse by a priest which were disclosed to him 10 years ago.

Stephen Cottrell, who will be confirmed as the Church of England???s second most senior cleric next week, failed to ensure that the disclosure had been properly documented and that further action had been taken.

???I am deeply distressed and extremely sorry,??? he said in a statement on Monday. He added: ???In my new position as archbishop of York it is absolutely essential that I am open and transparent about the need for the whole of our church to be scrupulously honest with each other about any failings in safeguarding.???

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said Cottrell ???clearly should have informed the authorities and made fuller notes of what he did in this case. He has shown humility in immediately admitting he failed to act as he should have done in this case.???

The disclosure of Cottrell???s shortcomings in the case is a blow to the C of E, which has worked to rebuild trust on safeguarding issues after decades of convictions and allegations of physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse, and their cover-up by church leaders.

Welby has repeatedly apologised to survivors for abuse carried out by clergy and has pledged to implement the recommendations of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse when it publishes its report on its investigations into the church, expected next year.

Concerns about the way Cottrell handled the abuse disclosure were raised with the church???s national safeguarding team (NST) this year. The NST investigated the matter, took independent legal advice and interviewed Cottrell.

In a statement, the NST said: ???The concerns raised were about the action taken following allegations of domestic abuse perpetrated by a parish priest. At the time Bishop Stephen responded to the survivor, offered support and subsequently referred the allegation within the diocese, but did not ensure the matter was referred to the statutory authorities or directly to the diocesan safeguarding adviser.???

Cottrell had ???shown insight and humility in accepting that he failed to act as he should have done in relation to a serious matter ??? The NST investigation concluded that he posed no current risk of not responding appropriately to safeguarding disclosures and that informal action was a reasonable and proportionate response to the case.???

Cottrell said: ???Ten years ago I was approached about a safeguarding allegation regarding a priest. I was able to see the survivor and begin to hear what was a difficult and harrowing story.

???However, I was moving between roles at the time and although I did speak with colleagues about the actions that needed to be taken, I failed to ensure that these were properly documented and followed through in the way I would expect. Now that I have discovered that this incident was not followed up as it should have been, I am deeply distressed and extremely sorry ???

???In the past, the Church of England has been too quick to protect its own reputation and slow to admit its failings. This must change. Those in public office should be subject to scrutiny.???

He said he was embarrassed at his shortcomings, but added: ???I want to go on the record about what has happened in order to demonstrate a new spirit of openness and transparency.???