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Inquiry into cover-up claim over sex abuse priest John Norman
THE Archbishop of York’s Office is investigating claims of a Church cover-up after a retired York vicar admitted sexually assaulting boys.
York Minster Canon Emeritus John Norman, who died in 2005, was cautioned and placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register in 2004 – but not prosecuted – after he confessed to offences against three youngsters, The Press can reveal.
The sister of one of his victims claims the only penalty from the Church was to be barred from administering the sacraments and he was allowed to remain a Canon Emeritus at the Minster. She said he died the following year on his 90th birthday with his high reputation intact, and he was praised with glowing obituaries in publications such as The Church Times.
The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, also claimed the Church had never apologised to her brother for the abuse, which happened on boys-only camping trips organised by Canon Norman as well as in the village rectory, when her brother was a chorister at Dunnington church and Canon Norman was rector.
She said she was so distressed when she heard of the abuse and Canon Norman’s confession that she contacted a senior church official, but was merely told the canon had “suffered enough”, and the official’s “dismissive and uncaring” attitude left her in tears.
News of her complaint comes just days after the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, announced that an independent reviewer had been appointed to examine all the files of deceased clergy who served in the York Diocese from before 1950 to the present day, following growing concerns about child abuse within the Church.
The woman said she was prompted to contact The Press after the Church’s General Synod meeting in York last month formally endorsed an apology by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for Church failures over clerical child abuse.
She said: “I am extremely angry because, as an acknowledged victim, my brother has never received any apology, or, indeed, any expression of sympathy and understanding, from the Church.”
She understood raising the issue now might be upsetting for members of Canon Norman’s family, but she believed it was in the public interest for the way the authorities handled the matter to be exposed, in the same way as it was for Jimmy Savile’s offences to be revealed in a TV documentary after his death.
The woman said: “I, my brother, and other members of my family have suffered great distress because Canon Norman’s crime has always been kept secret, and we are tired of constantly hearing him being referred to in public as ‘a wonderful man’.
“I believe openness and transparency are essential if there are to be no more cover-ups from Church and prosecuting authorities when future cases of sexual abuse by priests come to light.”
She understood Canon Norman had avoided prosecution because such action was not considered to be in the public interest due to his age and poor health.
“But I think it is outrageous that a self-confessed sex offender on the register was allowed by the church authorities to retain his title of Canon of York Minster, even though the Church was well aware of his activities and offences.”
A spokesman for the Archbishop of York’s Office said an initial search of its files had failed to reveal any information about the allegations.
“However, since this report has been made it is now essential that we look into the matter thoroughly, so we would be grateful for any relevant information,” he added.
“Sexual abuse is a devastating crime that does untold damage to victims. The Church of England is committed to the safeguarding of all children, young people, and adults, and has worked hard to improve our child protection policies.
“We aim to respond as positively and constructively as possible to anyone who has suffered abuse.”
How the case was investigated
NORTH Yorkshire Police said that in 2004 officers investigated historic allegations against an 88-year-old man regarding sexual assault on a boy.
A spokeswoman said: “The man was arrested and interviewed and a full investigation was carried out.”
She said the man admitted two other offences but officers were unable to trace one of the victims, while the other was contacted and confirmed that the offence took place but did not want any further contact from police.
“A prosecution file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a charging decision and, as a result, the suspect was issued with a caution and ordered to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for two years.”
She said the force took all allegations of sexual assault extremely seriously and had dedicated departments staffed by specially trained teams who specialised in dealing with this type of offending.
“We urge anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault to contact the police on 101. We will take action and provide the necessary support,” she said.
“A Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is also now open in York where anyone from North Yorkshire can get advice and help without going direct to the police if they prefer. Bridge House can be contacted on 01904 669 339.”
A CPS spokeswoman said: “It seems in this case there was advice given to the police on how to proceed, and the decision was not to prosecute but for them to deal with it by caution.
“That is where our involvement ended, as it seems the case did not end in a prosecution.”
She said two tests applied on a decision on whether or not to prosecute, as set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
Firstly, was it in the public interest to proceed and secondly, was there sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction?
The story of a clergyman’s career
CANON John Norman served as rector at Dunnington, and later at Bolton Percy with Colton near Tadcaster.
According to his obituary in the Church Times, he worked as secretary of the York Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, worship adviser to the Archbishop of York, and convener of the Diocesan Liturgical Committee.
He was also an elected member for the York archdeaconry on the Archbishop’s Council and the Diocesan Board of Finance.
He was a Prebendary Canon of York Minster, and in 1983 retired to live in Pocklington. He assisted Pocklington School’s chaplain and covered interregnum periods in local parishes.