More clergy suicides possible if unfounded allegations continue


A priest who committed suicide after being investigated over unfounded allegations of child sex abuse may be just the first unless action isn’t taken to improve safeguarding procedures, a British coroner is warning.

The coroner, Mary Hassell, who investigated Anglican priest Alan Griffin’s death, says she received submissions from the Church of England (C of E) when she was investigating Griffin’s death.

The submissions urged her not to include “concerns that may be taken as a criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegations”.

She notes this in her report, along with comments about “the breadth of the systemic and individual failings that have come to light during the course of this inquest”.

London-based Griffin, who converted to Catholicism in 2012, died in November 2020 while he was being investigated over unfounded allegations of child abuse.

In an official Prevention of Future Deaths report sent to both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the chair of the Catholic Standards Safeguarding Agency last Friday, Hassell records a death of suicide.

Griffin “killed himself because he could not cope with an investigation into his conduct, the detail of and the source for which he had never been told,” she wrote.

“The investigation had been ongoing for over a year and was being conducted by his former Church of England diocese and subsequently also by his current Roman Catholic diocese (to whom the Church of England had passed a short, written summary of allegations that contained inaccuracies and omitted mention of Father Griffin’s earlier suicide attempt on learning of his HIV status).”

The diocese of London’s investigation into Griffin began in 2019.

A long-standing C of E official provided the Archdeacon of London a “brain dump” of safeguarding concerns from the past 20 years before he retired from his post.

The information from this meeting became the Two Cities audit report, which names 42 priests in the London diocese, including Griffin.

The meetings were “akin to a description of the disclosures of a victim, rather than the recollections of a twenty-year career by a retiree”, and therefore the source and accuracy of these disclosures remained unclear, says Hassell.

“I am unable to convey the breadth of the systemic and individual failings that have come to light during the course of this inquest without such a level of detail, and I am worried that if I do not include this detail then learning will be lost.”

Martin Sewell, a retired child-protection lawyer, says the tragedy of Griffin’s death demonstrates “the deep systemic problems” and lack of expertise within church safeguarding.

“Worse, the coroner remarks that nobody took responsibility for steering the case from start to finish. We see this time and again.

The Church has evolved a successful strategy of learned helplessness. . . Worse still, some unknown senior church person tried to dissuade the coroner from making this plain in her report. She puts that attempt into the public domain. There need to be resignations.

“Alan Griffin’s case was plainly never a safeguarding concern, but its mishandling foreseeably led to his death. Safeguarding needs to be preserved for the clear, serious cases,” he concluded.


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