Bishop claims he was 'scapegoated' over child sex abuse allegations

The former bishop of Lewes has said he was 'scapegoated' and 'traduced' by fellow senior clergy as the damning extent of dysfunctionality and chaos in the diocese of Chichester was laid bare at the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse today.

In one case 'priestly ministry was considered, in effect, to be more important than the safeguarding and welfare of children', the inquiry heard.

Wallace Been was the bishop of Lewes in the diocese of Chichester from 1997 until he retired in 2012.IICSA

Wallace Benn, the former bishop of Lewes, described his colleagues as 'paralysed' by allegations of child sexual abuse against priests and said he was 'abandoned' and left as 'collateral damage' amid a 'perfect storm' of abuse complaints and press attention.

'I was hugely offended,' he said of allegations that he knew a paedophile priest had been convicted of child abuse and failed to report it.

'I am horrified by the innuendo, by the ill-founded accusation and scapegoating of me personally,' he said in a letter at the time to his senior, the bishop of Chichester, John Hinds.

'I feel I have been seriously misrepresented, falsely accused, and at best misunderstood.'

Benn said he inherited a 'paedophile ring' of priests in his area of East Sussex but denies any 'mismanagement' on his part that allowed the abuse to go on.

However he faces multiple allegations that he knew of child abuse carried out by priests under his watch but failed to report them to the police. He denied wrongdoing and said the Church of England's guidance stated it was not his responsibility to report abuse against minors to the police.

'I informed the DSA [diocesan safeguarding adviser],' he told the inquiry, which is holding three weeks of hearings in the diocese of Chichester as a case study for the wider Church.

'That was the protocol of the time. It wasn't for me to write the protocol but to live by it. In fact to undermine the protocol would have just caused chaos.'

But the inquiry heard that both the safeguarding team and Benn's fellow bishops in Chichester gradually lost trust in his ability to handle allegations of abuse after a series of failings under his watch.

'There was a professional relationship between members of the senior staff team,' he said. 'There was no personal agro but there it was very very difficult. It was professional but strained.'

He admitted there were several cases in which he could have 'done things better'.

'Honestly I would walk over hot coals to do it better if I could,' he said.

The hearings continue.

The former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is due to give evidence on Wednesday this week and the current archbishop, Justin Welby, will give evidence next Wednesday, March 21.