Protect children as top priority, says new church leader

(Photo: The Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral / Graham Lacdao)The Rev. Justin Welby delivers the blessing for the first time as Archbishop of Canterbury on Feb. 4, 2013.

The new leader of the Church of England has said protecting children and vulnerable adults should be the church's highest priority.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Justin Welby, issued a statement soon after a former priest was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for sexual offenses against children in the 1970s and 1980s.

Welby's statement came just more than one week after he was legally confirmed as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

His role also places him as the symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

On Tuesday retired Church of England priest Robert Coles, 71, was sentenced at Brighton Crown Court in the south of England, to eight years in jail for the crimes.

"The systems designed to protect the survivors clearly failed, their vulnerability was taken advantage of, and their lives have been deeply and in some cases permanently affected, as have the lives of those who love them," said Welby.

"I repeat what I have said before and, on behalf of the Church, apologize with deep grief for the betrayals and failings that occurred," he said.

In December, Coles , of Eastbourne, East Sussex, pleaded guilty to 11 offenses of sexual assault against three victims.

He denied seven similar charges and prosecutors said they had not pursued the charges after consultation with police and victims reported the Isle of Wight County Press. The cases may be pursued in the future.

The court heard Coles had told senior clergy that he had sexually abused one of the children but that this was not passed on to police, according to the Falmouth Packet.

"I believe that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults should be the highest priority of all parts of the Church, and that any failings in this area must be immediately reported to the police. There are no excuses for shortcomings," the Rev. Welby said.

He said he had the case sent to him by the Diocese of Chichester and the Commissaries who were appointed by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Rowan Williams.

Police said none of the charges are related to recent or current offending and that there was nothing to suggest children were currently at risk, the County Press said.

The Diocese of Chichester said it had worked closely with police throughout their investigations and co-operated in every way possible.

"Today's sentence marks another step on our path towards ensuring that all past cases of abuse are brought to light and that the perpetrators are brought to justice," the diocese said.

"This conclusion of the case against Robert Coles reinforces the determination of the Diocese to do all we can to ensure that children are safe and that there can be no repeat of these failures."

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News