A retired bishop and a retired priest have been arrested by British police on suspicion of sexual offences
The pair are understood to have worked alongside each other in the Chichester Diocese
Police say the Church of England is co-operating fully with them
Sussex Police insists that there are "no allegations of recent or current offending"
A retired bishop and a retired priest have been arrested by British police on suspicion of sexual offences against boys and young men – one as young as 12 – in the 1980s and 1990s.
The 80-year-old former Church of England bishop, from Somerset in south-west England, was questioned in connection with eight alleged offences before being released on medical advice.
Police say the man – the highest-ranking church official to be arrested on abuse allegations – will be questioned again at a later date.
His former colleague, a 67-year old retired priest from West Sussex, in southern England, was questioned over two alleged offences before being released on bail pending further inquiries.
The pair are understood to have worked alongside each other in the Chichester Diocese, but police say the allegations are being treated separately, and that there is no suggestion that the men acted together.
The latest sexual abuse scandal to hit the UK – this one rocking the Anglican Church – comes after two other British institutions, the BBC and the NHS, were caught up in the case of Jimmy Savile, a British TV presenter accused of assaulting vulnerable teenagers.
Peter Saunders, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), told CNN his organization had been inundated with reports of abuse since the Savile allegations came to light: “We’ve had four or five times as many calls to our support line and emails and messages… just in these last few weeks – it is overwhelming. I think what’s happening is that we are recognizing, as a country, the huge extent of the problem of child abuse.”
Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes of Sussex Police, who is leading the investigation, known as Operation Dunhill, said the Church of England was co-operating fully with police.
“The force will always take seriously any allegations of historic sexual offending, and every possible step will be taken to investigate whenever appropriate,” he said in a statement. “Allegations of historic offences are treated just as seriously as any more recent offences.”
The Right Reverend Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and Chair of the Churches National Safeguarding Committee said in a statement: “The Church of England takes any allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to being a safe place for all.
“We have robust procedures and policies in place, but we can never be complacent. We would like to urge any victims or those with information to feel free to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.”
Butler said the CofE – which wanted its churches to be “places of safety and joy, righteousness and justice” – had offered support to those involved in Operation Dunhill.
One of the alleged victims in the case told CNN he was grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for instigating the review which had led to police investigating the abuse allegations, but said he wanted the Church of England to issue an official apology.
Sussex Police insists that there are “no allegations of recent or current offending” and that there is nothing to suggest any young people are currently at risk.