Church to investigate suspended priest’s services

Robert Coles, 71, of Upperton Road, Eastbourne.'PICTURE SUPPLIED BY SUSSEX POLICE
Robert Coles, 71, of Upperton Road, Eastbourne.'PICTURE SUPPLIED BY SUSSEX POLICE

A PROBE has been launched into a convicted priest who carried on practising - without proper permission.

The Diocese of Chichester has initiated investigations into acts of worship which were led without proper permission by former priest Robert Coles, who was imprisoned last month.

A spokeswoman said it would conduct an ‘exhaustive investigation’ into how much Coles had continued his work as a priest at St Luke’s, in Stone Cross, East Sussex, after his retirement in December 1997.

“The Diocese has been made aware by several sources Coles assumed the role of priest on well over 100 occasions between 1997 and early 2003 without the legally required ‘Permission to Officiate’ status,” she said.

“As has already been made clear in the Interim Report of the Archiepiscopal Visitation into the Diocese of Chichester, to invite or permit a cleric to officiate without a proper licence or permission to officiate is an ecclesiastical offence.

“If any of the relevant persons who allowed the situation described above to happen were still ministering in the Diocese, and if they turned a blind eye in any way, they will face disciplinary proceedings.

“The fact that Mr Coles illegally exercised a priestly ministry after he was investigated by Sussex Police for offences of child abuse, and after he made a partial admission as to the truth of those allegations in 1997 to Diocesan authorities, shows that the processes followed at the time were seriously flawed.

“Both the Bishop of Chichester and the Archbishop of Canterbury made clear on the day of sentencing how seriously these failures are viewed.”

She reassured the public steps had been taken to make sure the incident would not be repeated.

“The Diocese of Chichester wishes to reassure the public and our churchgoers very strict procedures are now in place to prevent such failures from recurring. No priest is granted Permission to Officiate without a satisfactory Disclosure and Barring Service (CRB) check, and it has been made clear across the Diocese that disciplinary action will be taken against any priest who seeks to exercise ministry without the correct permissions, or who permits another priest to do so.

“We continue to deplore the abuse of young and vulnerable people. Where the Diocese bears responsibility for clergy who have perpetrated these crimes we are ashamed and continue to offer apology and whatever support is appropriate.

“In the light of exploring every avenue of investigation, we encourage anyone still burdened with not having spoken about such an experience to come forward in the knowledge that they will be heard, understood and supported.”