Controversial Church of England bishop to address Dublin conference

Accused of mishandling clerical child sex abuse allegations in his Sussex diocese

Bray-born Bishop Wallace Benn is scheduled to be guest speaker in June at the Irish College of Preachers conference in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/PA.

Bray-born Bishop Wallace Benn is scheduled to be guest speaker in June at the Irish College of Preachers conference in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/PA.

 

An Irish-born Church of England bishop, who has faced serious questions over his handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the UK, has had his offer to withdraw as guest speaker from a Dublin conference next June declined.

It followed queries about the appropriateness of the invitation being extended to Bray-born Bishop Wallace Benn, who retired as Bishop of Lewes in 2012. Last March he was questioned at the UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

His offer to withdraw from the June conference in Dublin was declined by organisers pending the relevant IICSA report, due at the end of this month.

Bishop Benn is scheduled to be guest speaker at the Irish College of Preachers conference in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin, which takes place from June 12th to 14th next.

His address there will be on Preaching that Gets Through: a look at the essential ingredients for effective preaching. The conference is being organised by Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh Rt Rev Ferran Glenfield.

A spokeswoman for the Church of Ireland said the Theological Institute was satisfied that Bishop Benn remained in good standing with the Church of England and, so, it had no objection him speaking there.

Permission to officiate

Bishop Glenfield told The Irish Times that last November Bishop Benn had been granted a permission to officiate (PTO) by the Church of England for a further five years.

He added however that were Bishop Benn “found culpable” of mishandling clerical child sex abuse allegations in the IICSA report later this month, it would “in no way be acceptable” for him to speak at the June conference in Dublin but that “hopefully, he will be exonerated”.

Bishop Benn, he said, had offered to withdraw as guest speaker but that this had been declined.

Born in 1947, Bishop Benn attended St Andrew’s College in Dublin’s Booterstown and UCD before training for ministry in Bristol. He was ordained in 1973 and appointed Bishop of Lewes in 1997, a suffragan bishop of Chichester diocese in Sussex.

He retired in 2012 amid criticisms of the diocese’s child protection policies and conduct of its priests, which had led to calls for his resignation.

Child sex abuse

In 2012 alone three Sussex Church of England priests were charged with child sex abuse offences while a third, Canon Gordon Rideout, was charged with 38 offences of sexual abuse, including sexual assault and attempted rape against 18 children between 1962 and 1973. He was jailed for 10 years.

In March of last year the IICSA looked at the Diocese of Chichester. In his evidence to the inquiry, Bishop Benn denied responsibility for the safeguarding failures in the diocese during his tenure, saying the handling of these issues was not under his delegation at the time.