Sentamu Suspended After Safeguarding Failures Identified

Sentamu Suspended After Safeguarding Failures Identified

The former Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has been required to step back from ministry after his failure to act on a disclosure of child sexual abuse. The long-delayed review into the abuse perpetrated by the late Revd Trevor Devamanikkam concluded that Lord Sentamu, Archbishop from 2005 to 2020, failed to act following these disclosures of historic abuse in his province.  

The review was commissioned by the National Safeguarding Team (NST) and conducted by Jane Humphreys, a Senior Social Care Consultant and a previous Director of Children’s and Adult Services. Her report gives a detailed timeline of what had happened, and of disclosures made by the Revd Matthew Ineson to church leaders during the past decade: verbal disclosures to bishops between 2012 and 2013, and a written letter to Lord Sentamu in 2013. 

Matthew Ineson, who was ordained in 2000 and has since retired, was abused by Devamanikkam in 1984. He was then sixteen years old. He had been staying with the cleric at St Aidan’s Vicarage, Bradford for “a period of respite” organised by his grandmother, who had asked the Church for help with family issues. He has waived his right to anonymity to speak publicly about the issue.

Devamanikkam was charged with six serious sexual offences in May 2017, but killed himself before he was due to appear in court.  Matthew Ineson informed senior church figures of this historic abuse. He wrote to then Bishop of Sheffield, Steven Croft (now the Bishop of Oxford), copying in Lord Sentamu, reporting how he had “suffered sexual abuse as a youth by a priest”. 

Bishop Steven Croft wrote about the review in a letter to the clergy in Oxford Diocese: “I know that on this occasion I didn’t get everything right and I could have done more to support the survivor… I did not act sufficiently on the disclosures in 2012. There are several other observations, but the key takeaway for me is to be reminded (once again) that it is essential to act on every safeguarding disclosure, regardless of what else is going on.”

However, in a BBC interview on 3rd November 2016, Dr Croft said he followed up the allegations [relating to Devamanikkam] and those concerned were “properly supported”.  

Regarding Lord Sentamu, the review states: “The Archbishop of York should have sought advice from his Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser at the time as to how to proceed with the letter sent from the survivor.  

“The survivor’s allegation that he disclosed his abuse to the Archbishop of York, and he did not act on this, is substantiated.”  

However Lord Sentamu fought back, claiming to have followed Church law. He insisted that, by responding to the letter with prayers and assurances, he had not failed to act. He claimed that the reviewer had shown a “fundamental misunderstanding” about the responsibilities of bishops and archbishops. As the safeguarding matter related to the Diocese of Sheffield, he argued, it was therefore not a matter for the Diocese of York, which was under his direct oversight.  

Lord Sentamu, a former advocate of the High Court of Uganda, gave this pronouncement:  “safeguarding is very important, but it does not trump Church Law”.  

The report had stated: “No Church law excuses the responsibility of individuals not to act on matters of a safeguarding nature.”   

The Revd Matthew Ineson described Lord Sentamu as an “arrogant bully”. He told the Daily Telegraph that Sentamu “ignored disclosure of rape and abuse, failed to consult his safeguarding advisor, failed to take action against Steven Croft, blamed everyone else for his failures, has consistently attempted to bully me into silence, refused to apologise for his actions and now criticises the ‘reviewer’ for not getting it right.

“The man is an arrogant bully. His Permission to Officiate should be withdrawn and he should be barred from ever entering ministry again.”  

On 12th May, Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley of Newcastle required Lord Sentamu, who is an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese, to step back from active ministry until both the findings and his response can be explored further. This decision was fully supported by the current Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell. 

Lord Sentamu criticised his suspension: “They have besmirched my name and I have been made a public example. Those who believe that suspension is a neutral act, its effect on me is more devastating than they will ever imagine.”

Among the review’s recommendations were: a formal apology to the Revd Matthew Ineson; that the Church and NST should ensure all diocesan safeguarding advisers know how to escalate concerns if clergy are ignoring advice; and that they should remind all staff and clergy of the importance of documenting all disclosures of abuse.  

The Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, Dr Joanne Grenfell, said, “the Church should be ashamed that a vulnerable 16-year-old in its care was let down by the Church and abused by someone in a position of trust. We are truly sorry for the abuse he suffered and for our failure to respond well. It is important that we now learn from this review.”