Church officials dismissed claims a priest was sexually abusing young men as “drunkenness”, a report has found.
Granville Gibson was jailed in 2016 and again last year for sexual offences committed in the 1970s and 80s.
In a review of how the Diocese of Durham handled complaints about Gibson, clinical psychologist Dr Stephanie Hill said a number of “red flags” were missed.
The Bishop of Durham reiterated an apology made to the victims in 2016.
Dr Hill carried out her review in 2017 but it has only now been published having been delayed by police investigations and the coronavirus outbreak.
Gibson began as a Church of England deacon in 1971 and served in churches in Cullercoats and Cramlington before becoming a priest at St Clare’s in Newton Aycliffe between 1977 and 1985.
He went on to become Archdeacon of Auckland, a position he held until his retirement in July 2001, and also served as the honourable canon at Durham Cathedral.
Dr Hill found that before 2001 there were no written records of “sexually abusive or inappropriate behaviour” by Gibson.
“However,” she said, it was “clear from talking to a number of clergy that there were rumours and hearsay” about Gibson’s “inappropriate behaviour” particularly towards younger male curates and priests “alongside consumption of excessive alcohol”.
“This included invading personal space and being overly physical with excessive hugs or kissing,” Dr Hill said, adding: “Individuals also described Mr Gibson as ‘arrogant’ who considered himself able to act with impunity due to his position within the church.”
She found complaints about him were “dismissed as drunkenness” with “insufficient weight given to its abusive nature”.
Her review said it was “unclear” how aware senior clergy were of the rumours about Gibson, but given the small size of the diocese “it is reasonable to assume that at least some of these rumours may have been known to those in more senior positions and, if this is correct, there are questions about decisions made to promote Mr Gibson”.
One priest told her of an allegation made in 2001 that Gibson sexually assaulted a young asylum seeker in Darlington but no record was made of it.
It was one of six “red flag moments when specific complaints of suspected indecent assault were missed”, Dr Hill said, adding that it was “clearly criminal behaviour and yet no safeguarding action was taken”.
The first recorded complaint was made in 2004 by a woman who claimed Gibson had assaulted her 10-year-old son at St Clare’s in 1982.
The complaint was passed up through the church and to police but no further action was taken, Dr Hill said.
Dr Hill said the church acknowledged three victims of Gibson, although he was only convicted for offences against two.
One was a trainee priest who, when he complained to a bishop, was met with a “lacklustre response” and told to “stop causing problems”.
The man said it was the church’s “persistent cover up to protect a clergyman and itself” rather than the abuse that “angered and dismayed” him.
Dr Hill said there had been “poor or non-existent record keeping” and a lack of training around safeguarding, but there are much stronger safeguarding procedures in place now.
The Diocese of Durham said other issues raised by Dr Hill are already being addressed.
The Right Reverend Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, said Gibson’s conviction was “deeply shameful” for the diocese, adding: “Our commitment from the outset was to discover all that we could and to learn from what was found.”