28 July 2021, The Tablet

Mishandled abuse claims led to Ordinariate priest’s suicide

Mishandled abuse claims led to Ordinariate priest’s suicide

Keith Newton Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

The Catholic Church and the Church of England have both been heavily criticised by a coroner over the death of an Ordinariate priest who killed himself after a mishandled inquiry into child sexual abuse allegations. 

Fr Alan Griffin hanged himself in November 2020 after over a year of being under suspicion. During that time no allegations were ever set out to him. 

Coroner Mary Hassall said that the allegations were supported by “no complainant, no witness and no accuser”, and the situation was exacerbated by the Catholic Church failing to properly scrutinize the Church of England’s claims which they were sent because Fr Griffin left Anglican ministry to join the Ordinariate in 2012. 

Ms Hassall wrote a Prevention of Deaths report – a step that indicates the grave seriousness of the situation surrounding a death – following the inquest and has requested responses from both the Church of England and the Catholic Church. They have until 3 September to explain what steps they will each take to prevent further deaths. 

She wrote: "Fr Griffin did not abuse children. He did not have sex with young people under the age of 18. He did not visit prostitutes. He did not endanger the lives of others by having sex with people whilst an HIV risk. There was no evidence that he did any of these things."

As Fr Griffin had been received into the Catholic Church and joined the Ordinariate seven years before the Church of England began its inquiry, the Church of England sent a short summary of allegations to the Diocese of Westminster, which is responsible for Ordinariate priests serving within its bounderies. This turned out, said the coroner, to include inaccuracies and also failed to mention that Fr Griffin had previously attempted suicide when he had been given an HIV Positive diagnosis. 

The Church of England investigation first began  when the head of operations in the Diocese of London was retiring in 2019 and told his archdeacon that he would provide a “brain dump” of information accumulated during the previous 20 years. This led to information about Fr Griffin being passed on and the start of an inquiry which, said the coroner, had “no overarching, coherent strategy”. 

During the inquest it emerged that the head of operations had used the term “rent boys” to colleagues regarding visits to adult male prostitutes, although he also acknowledged at the inquest that Fr Griffin never admitted to paying for sex. It was this phrase, said the coroner’s report, that led to the later claim that Fr Griffin abused children, as did a phrase about “concerns of possible child exploitation”, mistakenly copied from another document. These terms led to allegations about him being passed to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster’s safeguarding department, although the Anglican safeguarding adviser who did so thought the issue was more a welfare matter regarding a vulnerable man. 

In her report to Nazir Afzal, chair of the Catholic Standards Safeguarding Agency (CSSA), Ms Hassall wrote that the safeguarding team in Westminster Diocese “did not show sufficient professional scrutiny” of the allegations received from the Church of England, and refused to share them with Fr Griffin, on the grounds that they were not theirs to give. Westminster’s safeguarding office first heard about Fr Griffin in October 2019 but did not see him until June 2020, a delay for which it has apologised. 

Westminster Diocese has said that it acknowledges the coroner’s conclusions and that it is cooperating fully with the CSSA. 

Mgr Keith Newton, the ordinary of the Ordinariate, said that the death of Fr Griffin was “an absolute tragedy”. 

“I sincerely regret our failure to provide him with greater pastoral support”, he said. 

Mgr Newton said that he had never been consulted by the Church of England regarding Fr Griffin, but had been contacted by Westminster Diocese’s safeguarding team, although under safeguarding guidelines he himself had had to step back. He had not been given any details of the source of the allegations, he said. 

Mgr Newton said that given Fr Alan “was my priest” he hoped that the CSSA would consult him while preparing its response to the coroner. 

The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mulally, has said that following the inquest the diocese has commissioned a ‘Lessons Learned review’ “so that we can fully reflect upon the diocese’s actions”.

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