Bishop of Lincoln to return to post following 20-month suspension

The Bishop of Lincoln is set to resume his ministry following a suspension pending an investigation into alleged failings in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people.

Christopher Lowson was suspended in May 2019 following allegations he had failed to act when concerns over abuse were raised.

A list of 53 clergy and staff from the Lincoln Diocese was referred to police in 2015 over allegations of abuse, resulting in 25 people being investigated and three being convicted.

But a BBC Panorama investigation aired in April 2019 alleged church leaders had “turned a blind eye” when concerns were raised.

The programme said some of the names could have been referred years earlier as part of the Church of England’s national Past Cases Review.

The review examined tens of thousands of church records in 2008 and 2009 to discover whether abuse cases had slipped through the net.

The programme claimed two former Lincoln Diocese bishops were made aware of abuse concerns at the time but failed to act.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said at the time suspending Bishop Lowson was a “neutral act”.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

But he added: “If these matters are found to be proven, I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people.”

The archbishop emphasised there was no allegation that Bishop Lowson had committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult.

The Church of England said that at the conclusion of the clergy disciplinary process, Bishop Lowson had accepted a penalty for misconduct in relation to the management of one safeguarding issue.

A spokeswoman said on Monday evening that he had met with the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss the “next steps” to returning to his diocese.

The Archbishop said: “I am very sorry that Bishop Christopher and his wife Susan have had to endure such an ordeal over the last 20 months.

“I have expressed my regret to Christopher and am very grateful to him for the gracious way he has responded.

“I want to make it clear that I am fully supportive of Christopher returning to ministry as the Bishop of Lincoln.”

He added: “We have both agreed that there are many lessons we and the Church need to learn from this very difficult season, as we also continue to learn lessons from the scrutiny of the Independent Child Sexual Abuse (ICSA) inquiry which highlighted our poor response to survivors.”

Bishop Lowson said: “I offer an unreserved apology for my error of judgment in the way I handled a disclosure about a member of clergy in the Lincoln diocese in early 2019.

“I regret the way I handled the matter, not least because I have always sought to take safeguarding matters extremely seriously.”

But he said that the length of the disciplinary procedure “has not benefitted anyone”, adding: “I hope that some constructive reflection on this experience might help to improve the Church’s safeguarding and disciplinary procedures.”

Bishop Lowson thanked David Court, the Bishop of Grimsby, for leading the diocese during his suspension.

The Church of England’s national safeguarding team said: “While we are aware the process has taken far too long and apologise for the effect this has had on all involved, when safeguarding matters are raised with the Church it is absolutely right that we respond.

“The concerns raised about Bishop Christopher have now been fully dealt with but we are continuing to look at separate issues raised during the course of this process, which to be clear do not relate to Bishop Christopher and predate his time in the diocese.

“This has been a difficult period for all in the diocese and support is being offered as we continue to work towards making the Church a safer place for all.”