Source AP ©

Church of England denies sexual abuse reticence

The Church of England denied covering up child sexual abuse by a former choir master.

Peter Halliday, 61, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to sexually abusing three boys in his church choir between 1985 and 1990.

Winchester Crown Court Judge Ian Pearson said Halliday had systematically sexually abused boys.

Church of England officials were told of the abuse in 1990, but no legal action was taken against Halliday until one of his victims filed charges last year.

Officials asked the choirmaster to leave the church in Farnborough, Hampshire, southwest of London and stay away from boys after a boy's family complained in 1990. Three years later a choirboy bumped into Halliday at the The Royal School of Church Music in nearby Salisbury, where Halliday worked as a volunteer until 2006.

David Wilcox, who was Bishop of Dorking at the time, denied there was any cover-up.

"I believe that we sought to act in the best interests not only of the church but of the family and everybody concerned at that time," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The Church of England said in a statement on Thursday that it is committed to protecting children and responds immediately to complaints and helps authorities investigate.

Britain's independent Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service, which trains Christian and secular organisations in child protection practices, said church leaders seriously mishandled the case.

"It was well known even then that serious crimes against children had to be reported to the police," chief executive David Pearson told the British Broadcasting Corp.

"Sadly, the fact is that those in charge at the time failed to act appropriately," he said.

In addition to sending Halliday to prison for 10 counts of indecent assault, the judge banned the former choirmaster from working with children for life and ordered him the pay 2,000 pounds (US$4,000; 2,940 EUR) to each of his victims.

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