England

Jailed Robert Coles held 100 illegal church services

Robert Coles
Image caption Robert Coles was jailed for eight years after admitting abusing three boys

A retired Church of England priest, jailed for sexually abusing three boys, held over 100 services illegally, the Diocese of Chichester has said.

The diocese said it was investigating how Robert Coles was able to carry on working at St Luke's, Stone Cross, in East Sussex, after he retired in 1997.

It said he assumed the role of priest until early 2003 without the legally required Permission to Officiate.

Coles was jailed last month for eight years for offences from 1978 to 1984.

He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing the boys, aged between 10 and 16, in West Sussex, Devon, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight.

A judge at Brighton Crown Court ordered seven other charges to lie on the court file.

Ecclesiastical offence

The diocese said it had been made aware "by several sources" that Coles worked at St Luke's without the Permission to Officiate.

"To invite or permit a cleric to officiate without a proper licence or permission to officiate is an ecclesiastical offence," it said in a statement.

"If any of the relevant persons who allowed the situation to happen were still ministering in the Diocese, and if they turned a blind eye in any way, they will face disciplinary proceedings."

Image caption The Diocese of Chichester said Coles held services at St Luke's illegally

The Diocese said Coles illegally exercised his ministry after he was initially investigated by Sussex Police in 1997 for child abuse offences.

No charges were brought at that time.

It was also after he made a partial admission to Diocesan authorities, in 1997, that the allegations were true.

"We continue to deplore the abuse of young and vulnerable people," the diocese said in a statement.

"Where the diocese bears responsibility for clergy who have perpetrated these crimes we are ashamed and continue to offer apology and whatever support is appropriate."

After Coles was sentenced, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was "appalled" by the case.

"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," he said.

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