The Diocese of London has defended its decision to grant permission to officiate to the Revd Canon Paul Williams, the former vicar of Christ Church Fulwood in Sheffield who resigned in 2021 over his handling of a safeguarding scandal.

Canon Williams has been preaching regularly at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, the flagship conservative evangelical church in the City of London, since February 2023.

A spokesman for the Diocese of London said: ‘All applications for permission to officiate in the Diocese of London are subject to the necessary safeguarding checks.’

Canon Williams’s role at St Helen’s has come under scrutiny in a recent blog post by the Revd Bernard N. Howard, pastor of the Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Manhattan. In the piece entitled ‘Scandalous Justice: The Absence of Due Process in Conservative Evangelical Safeguarding Scandals’, Mr Howard referred to a news story in The Sheffield Star in 2022.

about the abuse of a young woman by the former safeguarding officer at Christ Church Fulwood:

‘According to an article in Sheffield’s local newspaper, Tim Cudmore, formerly director of ministry and parish safeguarding officer at Christ Church Fulwood, resigned in 2018 as a result of his abuse of a young female congregation member. The article states that Canon Paul Williams, the senior minister of Christ Church Fulwood, had allowed Cudmore to remain as parish safeguarding officer despite being aware of a 2015 incident involving Cudmore and a different female congregation member.

‘In addition, Williams failed to inform the congregation about Cudmore’s abuse in 2018, when he allowed Cudmore to depart quietly. After these events came to light, Williams himself had to resign from Christ Church Fulwood. But he has since been rewarded with a teaching role at St Helen’s.’

Mr Howard observed: ‘It’s understandable for Paul Williams’s fellow leaders to feel sympathy for him – no one likes to see a pastor’s largely-faithful career end dishonourably – but St Helen’s has gone far beyond sympathy. Teaching is the heart of Christian leadership, as St Helen’s would no doubt agree. By restoring Williams to a regular, prominent teaching ministry, St Helen’s has signalled that his appalling handling of a sexual abuse case was excusable.

‘But it wasn’t excusable, and inexcusable failures of leadership must face hard retributory consequences. If Williams is repentant, he should be forgiven on a personal basis; but he shouldn’t be restored (via regular, prominent teaching) to leadership over God’s people.’

When Canon Williams’s resignation as Fulwood vicar came to light in the summer of 2021, the Bishop of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox, and the then suffragan Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas, who had delegated oversight of the church due to its opposition to women bishops, issued a joint statement. They said his resignation was ‘made freely’ and had their ‘full support’, but they did not disclose the reason for it.

The Sheffield Star revealed in August 2022 that before Canon Williams resigned Christ Church Fulwood had commissioned a report by Christian safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight into the Cudmore scandal. The findings of the report were shared with the congregation but were not published more widely.

The paper said: ‘The church reported back to the congregation last year (2021) following two investigations – one a “visitation” by a former bishop and archdeacon, and the other by Christian safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight – but the documents outlining the findings were never published more widely and were only recently shown to The Star.’

St Helen’s Bishopsgate has been contacted for comment. The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Rob Munro, who has replaced Rod Thomas after his retirement in 2022 as the conservative evangelical ‘flying bishop’ in the Church of England, was also contacted.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in the UK.