Originally published by The Daily Telegraph
The longest-serving bishop in the Church of England is facing calls to resign after it emerged he knew about a paedophile priest in his diocese and did nothing.
The Bishop of Chester, Rt Rev Peter Forster, found out Rev Gordon Dickenson had become embroiled in a child abuse scandal decades earlier when the retired vicar wrote a letter about the affair in 2009.
Dickenson was convicted earlier this month of eight counts of sexual assault after pleading guilty to abusing a boy during the 1970s inside a church hall and even his vicarage.
But ten years ago, Dickenson had written to the Diocese of Chester which was conducting a review of past abuse cases admitting he been accused of the abuse during the 1970s and had promised the then Bishop of Chester he would “never do it again”.
Despite this admission, Bishop Forster failed to pass on the letter to the police or order an internal church inquiry.
Instead, Dickenson was given permission to continue acting as a retired priest for another five years, which allowed him to continue holding services in churches with the diocese’s blessing.
Andrew Graystone, a leading advocate for survivors of clerical abuse and a personal friend of Bishop Forster, has now demanded the bishop stand down.
In a letter to the bishop, he wrote: “It seems clear that Dickenson’s confession of guilt to the Diocese has been either wilfully or neglectfully ignored for at least ten years during which you have been bishop.
“I call upon you to resign with immediate effect.”
Chester Crown Court had earlier heard how Dickenson’s crimes had left his victim filled with shame and ultimately drove him into alcoholism. His ordeal only came to light when police stumbled across the case in 2017 while investigating a previous Bishop of Chester, Victor Whitsey, who had also been accused of abuse.
In a statement, the Diocese of Chester said it would soon launch an independent review into its handling of the case and offered an “unreserved apology to the survivor”.
“Information brought to light to the Diocese in 2009, if acted upon then, may have led to the police bringing a prosecution against Gordon Dickenson much sooner. The Diocese apologises for not acting on this information in 2009.”
Bishop Forster said: “I welcome the opportunity to contribute to a review into the handling of the case by the Diocese in 2009, and will do so to the appropriate authority in due course.”