Archbishop of York: Bell ringing team disbanded after safeguarding investigation

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Photograph: Richard McDougall
17 Oct 2016 @ 5.40 pm
| News

The York Minster bell ringing team had to be disbanded after a safeguarding investigation demanded decisive action, the Archbishop of York said today (Monday).

Dr John Sentamu said the Minster authorities needed to take action over a member of the team on safeguarding grounds. The archbishop was “100% behind the action taken by the Dean and Chapter” to “shut it down, sort it out”.

After suffering days of criticism of their decision to oust the bell ringers, today saw the church leaders hitting back.

Standing next to the Dean of York, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, Dr Sentamu said people’s thoughts should be with “vulnerable people” and “survivors”.

The national and international outcry was based on ignorance, and the media had “hounded” the Dean.

‘Decisive action required’

Dean Faull listens as Dr Sentamu reads out the statement
Dean Faull listens as Dr Sentamu reads out the statement

The Archbishop began a press conference held in the choir of the cathedral by reading out a statement emphasising that York Minster’s governing body, the Chapter of York, has a duty to minimise risk to people in the building.

The statement said: “Earlier this summer, it was necessary for the Chapter to take action regarding a member of the bell ringing community on safeguarding grounds.”

This also involved City of York Council and the Church of England’s national safeguarding officer.

The statement went on:

Some members of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers have consistently challenged the Chapter’s authority on this and other important matters.

Repeated disregard of the Chapter’s attempts to fully implement the Church’s national policies for safeguarding, health and safety and security meant that decisive action was required.

This is why the Chapter took the decision to disband the bell ringing team last week.

The “carillon will be ringing from time to time” but nothing will be heard from the main bells “until there is a proper group that has been put in place,” he said.

‘Truth is always hard’

The 12 bells in York Minster bell tower including, at the bottom, Great Peter
The 12 bells in York Minster bell tower including, at the bottom, Great Peter

Taking questions from reporters the Archbishop said the issue was concerned with “safeguarding towards vulnerable adults – and there are some survivors who’ve complained”.

“It takes all of us to be concerned about safeguarding. And not from a distance,” he said.

Asked whether the meeting to disband the bell ringers might have been handled with more Christian compassion, Dr Sentamu said: “It may look not Christian. But actually truth is always very hard.”

He said: “I love the bell ringers. They rung those bells when I came here as archbishop,” and he understood their dismay.

Innocent people “feel absolutely exposed. And I feel for their concern.

“But there is an investigation going on. And as a result you’ve got to shut down the entire system”.

But he said they were told that anyone could apply for the new bell ringing team once the “security and safety and safeguarding are put in place”.

Dr Sentamu added: “By the way, it’s also protection, not only for those who are vulnerable, but also for the bell ringers themselves.”

Support for the Dean

‘Dean Viv one of the best’
‘Dean Viv one of the best’

A combative Archbishop said they had been forced to make a statement by the media: “You’ve been hounding the Dean – ‘tell us, tell us, tell us’…”

“If people didn’t actually jump on the bandwagon, and think it’s just because of incompetence, because of lack of love, because of unChristian stuff, we could still have done what we’ve done and then the truth could come out.

“Some of you have made those who were vulnerable slightly more vulnerable.”

Dr Sentamu said the Minster “is going to be spending a lot of money to create security in there”. A petition calling for the quick return of the York Minster bells has now been signed by more than 15,000 people, and the Archbishop added: “I hope I’m going to see the colour of the money of those people.”

He said that “the court of public opinion should not pass its judgement purely on ignorance”.

He gave the Dean his strongest backing.

I’ve worked in many cathedrals, and I’ve been here for ten years. Dean Viv, for me, is one of the best deans I’ve ever worked with.

She follows procedures by the letter, she’s more rigid than some people. Secondly she has got compassion in her heart – and she actually loves people. It is very difficult for her to be singled out.

Dean Faull said: “Inevitably it’s difficult being singled out for a decision that was taken corporately and unanimously. And I think that’s all I want to say today. I hope very much we can move on.

“We have to follow the advice both of professionals locally, and the Church of England nationally. And that’s what we’ve been urged to do, and we have done it.”