The Archbishop of York and four serving bishops have been accused of misconduct by a Church of England priest who claims they failed to act on allegations he was repeatedly raped by another vicar when he was 16.
The priest says none of the five senior clergy properly responded to his disclosures, made verbally and in writing, of the rapes which he alleged took place in 1984.
“Michael” – whose identity is known to the Guardian, but who wishes to remain anonymous – filed the complaints under the C of E’s clergy disciplinary measure (CDM) against John Sentamu, the archbishop of York and second highest-ranking figure in the church; Peter Burrows, the bishop of Doncaster; Steven Croft, a former bishop of Sheffield, and now bishop of Oxford; Martyn Snow, the bishop of Leicester; and Glyn Webster, the bishop of Beverley.
All five have contested the complaints because they were made after the church’s required one-year limit.
Spokespersons for Sentamu and the four bishops said they could not comment on a matter that was the subject of an internal church process and a police investigation.
Sentamu has previously said he was “deeply ashamed” that the church failed “both to watch and to act, where children were at serious risk” in a separate abuse case concerning a C of E dean.
Michael has made a further complaint against Roy Williamson, a former bishop of Bradford, for failing to take action to bring the alleged perpetrator to justice at the time of the abuse.
He has also filed a misconduct complaint against the alleged rapist, who is currently the subject of a police investigation into Michael’s claims. He continued to work as a C of E priest for at least a decade after the alleged offences. Although now retired, he is still licensed to officiate as a priest.
A West Yorkshire police spokesperson confirmed the force was investigating a report of a historical serious sexual offence and that a 69-year-old man had been interviewed.
Cases of sexual abuse that have emerged in recent years have prompted claims that the Anglican church has a track record of ignoring or covering up sex crimes committed by its clergy. The most high profile case concerned Peter Ball, the former bishop of Lewes, who was jailed last October, 22 years after the church became aware of allegations against him. The church commissioned an independent inquiry into how it dealt with the case.
This week, the inquiry by Dame Lowell Goddard into child sex abuse will hold a preliminary hearing into the way the C of E has handled allegations of abuse by its clergy.
According to Michael’s account and the complaint papers he has submitted to the C of E, he first disclosed the rapes to Burrows, the bishop of Doncaster, in July 2012 following a meeting about an unconnected child sex abuse allegation in Michael’s parish.
It was the first time in 28 years that Michael had told anyone about the repeated rapes he said he endured over a period of weeks as a vulnerable teenager. He says he was silent because he feared he would not be believed and was ashamed.
But a plea for help from the mother of two boys who said they were being abused by a member of staff at a C of E school led Michael to seek a meeting with Burrows. He told the bishop he believed abuse at the school was being covered up or ignored.
At the end of the meeting, he disclosed the allegations of his own abuse to Burrows. “That bishop did nothing,” said Michael. “Nothing.”
He later told other church figures about the alleged abuse, and reported the alleged crimes to the police.
In December 2012, Michael told Croft, the bishop of Sheffield, about the alleged offences. In February 2013, he repeated the disclosure to Croft and, separately, to Snow, who was then an archdeacon but now the bishop of Leicester. Neither acted on the information, according to Michael.
Soon after, Snow made a complaint against Michael for his failure to inform the diocese that he had given shelter to a newly released prisoner for three nights. The man had been convicted of child pornography offences and was on the sex offender register.
The bishop of Sheffield decided to take no action on the complaint. By then Michael had resigned as a vicar.
After his resignation, Michael wrote to Croft in June 2013 to comment on his decision not to proceed with the complaint. In the letter, Michael referred again to the alleged rapes.
He said: “You will never know of the courage it took me to tell you both [Croft and Burrows] and you will never know of the hurt and stress it has caused me that you have both failed to support me in any way.
“It is obvious to me that … the abuse I suffered at the hands of a priest when I was a youngster [is] of no interest to you and sweeping it under the carpet or covering it up is much more important.”
The letter was copied to Sentamu and Webster. Only Sentamu acknowledged receipt with a four-line response, saying he had read the letter. “Please be assured I will keep you in my prayers through this testing time for you,” Sentamu wrote.
No action was taken to offer Michael support, nor was Michael advised to report an alleged crime.
A spokesperson for the archbishop told the Guardian that Sentamu had simply acknowledged a copy of a letter addressed to someone else. “The original recipient of the letter had a duty to respond and not the archbishop,” the spokesperson said.
The archbishop could not take any action “without consent … to do anything without their consent would be abusive”.
According to Michael, “not one of them did anything to support me. Not one of them even said they were sorry it happened”.
Last year, Michael formally reported the alleged rapes to the police. Earlier this year, he instructed David Greenwood, a lawyer specialising in child abuse, to make a claim against the C of E. In May, he filed his formal CDM complaints.
However, under the CDM procedure, complaints must be brought within a year of the alleged misconduct. As Michael’s complaints fall outside this period, the church must first rule whether the complaints can be considered.
The archbishop of York and the four serving bishops have contested Michael’s request to make a complaint out of time. Williamson, the retired bishop, and the alleged rapist have not contested the request, so these complaints will be considered.
Michael, whose case is being put forward to the Goddard inquiry by his solicitor, said he was disgusted with what he describes as continued attempts by the church to cover up abuse and discredit survivors. “I feel like I’ve been abused all over again,” he said.
In an interview with the Guardian, he recalled being repeatedly raped as an “immature and naive” teenager who was placed in the care of a vicar following family difficulties. He says he suffered both physical injuries and long-term psychological damage that meant he could not be intimate with anyone.
“I feel extremely ill, exhausted all the time, physically in pain, I can’t sit still, I can’t sleep. I’m very cautious about who I trust,” he said. “I’ve never had a proper relationship in my life.”
Michael rejected the church’s claims that it had put in place proper safeguarding procedures. “They’re lying. How many times have they said that? And nothing changes.”
A spokesperson for the four bishops said they were unable to comment on the specifics but added: “If this complaint goes forward, our bishops will make a full response to the various allegations made in due course. In the meantime, we continue to hold all victims of sexual abuse and exploitation in our prayers.”
A spokesperson for the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, where Williamson is now an honorary assistant bishop, said: “The diocese places great emphasis on the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults and is committed to making church a safe place for everyone.
“We cannot comment during a live investigation except to say that if approached by the authorities we will offer them every cooperation. We continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse.”