Calls for Bishop of Oxford to Resign

Calls for Bishop of Oxford to Resign 

Bishop’s Son Suspended in Separate Safeguarding Case

Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft is under pressure to step down in the wake of safeguarding failures documented in the Devamanikkam Review. In an unrelated case, the Bishop’s son, the Revd Andy Croft, has been asked to withdraw from ministry by the Bishop of St Albans.

Soul Survivor Watford has suspended Croft, its senior pastor, and Ali Martin, the assistant pastor following allegations about Canon Mike Pilavachi. The Church website stated: “After receiving new information from the National Safeguarding Team (NST) investigation into Mike Pilavachi, the non-staff trustees of Soul Survivor Watford have decided to suspend two members of staff under HR processes: Senior Pastor, Andy Croft and Assistant Pastor, Ali Martin. The information submitted to the investigation relates to concerns over the handling of allegations that were raised before the NST investigation began.”

The suspended Assistant Pastor, Ali Martin, is currently training for ordination. The Revd Andy Croft was ordained in 2013 and served as a member of the Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group.

This suspension has put further pressure on Bishop Croft, who has been facing calls to resign over his handling of safeguarding disclosures. The published review into the Church’s conduct in relation to the late Revd Trevor Devamanikkam found that there had been safeguarding failings on Croft’s part when he was Bishop of Sheffield. Critics have wondered why Croft Junior has been suspended for his inadequate response to safeguarding allegations while his father remains in post despite similar failures having been identified.

“Double standards and dangerous” was the verdict of the Revd Matthew Ineson, who had reported Devamanikkam’s abuse to Bishop Croft over a decade ago. Mr Ineson, who was ordained in 2000 and has since retired from ordained ministry, has waived his right to anonymity.

The Devamanikkam Review investigated the abuse committed in 1984 by the cleric, who subsequently killed himself on the eve of trial. Matthew Ineson was sixteen at the time and later made the abuse known to a number of senior Church figures including then-Archbishop of York John Sentamu and Bishop Croft. Despite this, no effective action was taken and Devamanikkam continued in parish ministry.

The now-retired Archbishop Sentamu has already been suspended from ministry in the Diocese of Newcastle after the Devamanikkam Review found he had failed to provide a proper response to disclosures made to him. Dr Sentamu has subsequently resigned as a trustee of Christian Aid. It is understood that an invitation for him to speak at the Greenbelt Festival has been rescinded.

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 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. 

Responding to the report, Bishop Croft wrote 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 that those concerned were “properly supported”. Moreover, recent statements from the Diocese of Oxford have been condemned as an attempt at “victim-shaming”

In his letter to clergy, Bishop Croft had disclosed, “separate and unrelated complaints were brought against him [Ineson] under the Clergy Discipline Measure… The situation at the time was complex. The survivor resigned his living during this period and there were a  number of issues within the parish he was leaving. My mistake was to prioritise my role in the CDM process and assume that someone else in the chain was dealing with the safeguarding.”

A diocesan spokesperson explained that the bishop was not intending to step down: “Steven Croft has apologised to Matthew multiple times for an error, and it was an error. There’s nothing malicious in that. He’s not the abuser of Matthew. Of course the bishop will not be standing down on this matter. There was an awful lot going on with Matthew. It is a mistake, but that’s it.”

The ‘awful lot going on’ is understood to be a reference to a complaint brought against former CofE vicar Ineson under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) in 2013. The Times (15th May) reported, “A spokesman for the Diocese of Oxford said the situation surrounding Ineson’s reports of abuse ten years ago had been complicated because the vicar was facing disciplinary procedures.”

Given this CDM complaint was ill-founded and was dismissed by Bishop Croft himself, commentators have queried why it was necessary to mention it. Some have viewed it as a form of ‘victim-shaming’ on the part of diocesan authorities. Mr Ineson called it a “breach of [his] personal data.”

When Steven Croft moved from Sheffield to become Bishop of Oxford, the Revd Matthew Ineson led a low-key protest outside the Cathedral at his enthronement. This was dismissed by figures inside Christ Church Cathedral as being a “Families need Fathers” demonstration and therefore nothing really to do with the Church.

In June 2020 Bishop Croft revoked retired Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey’s Permission to Officiate (PTO) in the Oxford church where he worships. In the course of Keith Makin’s investigation into John Smyth’s abuse at Iwerne boys’ camps. Two letters were passed on to the National Safeguarding Team suggesting that Carey had seen a report about Smyth’s abuse in the early 1980s. This was when Carey was principal of Trinity College Bristol, a decade before he became Archbishop. Carey denied ever seeing the letters and his PTO was restored by Croft seven months later.

Last year the Archbishop Cranmer blog raised concerns about the safeguarding culture in the Diocese of Oxford. Bishop Croft responded by threatening defamation proceedings.

The Revd Matthew Ineson called for Bishop Croft’s resignation: “Steven Croft has admitted on several occasions that I disclosed my abuse to him in the media over the past 16 months. I have pursued the complaint against Steven Croft’s failures several times with the church who have blocked any attempt at investigation into his failures. The National Safeguarding team now acknowledge those failures and I call on Steven Croft to resign with immediate effect.

“Once again I call for the immediate resignations of John Sentamu and Steven Croft for breaching safeguarding procedures which they are required to do by virtue of the public office they each respectively hold as bishops of the established church. If they refuse to do so, and the church refuses to hold them to account, we once again have the Church of England complicit and colluding with the abuse of children and the vulnerable and taking no action to prevent it.”

If Dr Sentamu was suspended for his failure to deal with the reports, why should the Bishop Croft not be treated the same, as his involvement was demonstrably greater, argue critics.If even retired Archbishops of Canterbury and of York can be ‘suspended’ pending an investigation into poor complaint handling, should it not also happen to the Bishop of Oxford, still in active ministry?

In 2018 Archbishop Justin Welby gave this testimony to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: “Nobody can say it is not my fault. It is so absurd, To say, ‘I have heard about a problem but it was someone else’s job to report it’, that is not an acceptable human response, let alone a leadership response.”