The Bishop of Durham has apologised after a former vicar was found guilty of indecently assaulting men at his church in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Church of England has also said it will investigate accusations that the then Bishop of Durham, John Habgood, swept concerns about the former Archdeacon George Granville Gibson “under the carpet” after one of his victim’s approached him.
Gibson, 80, of Worsley Park in Darlington was found guilty of two counts of indecently assaulting vulnerable men, at St Clares Church, in Newton Aycliffe , where he was a vicar.
One vulnerable victim was just 18-years-old.
He told the court that Gibson – who went on to become the Archdeacon of Auckland during his distinguished career with the Church – appeared to be friendly and caring.
However within a few weeks the vicar’s tickling and play fighting took a sinister turn and he indecently assaulted the teenager.
“I felt sick, I thought it wasn’t happening I thought it was a mistake,” the victim told jurors during the nine day trial.
Durham Crown Court heard that there had been a “massive cover up” of Gibson’s abuse, and that a clergyman who raised concerns with Bishop Habgood was “forced out of the Church of England”.
Gibson abused his revered position in the church to target vulnerable men who wouldn’t be believed if they spoke out against him, the prosecution had said.
The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham said: “Following the conviction today of the Venerable Granville Gibson on two charges of indecent assault, we offer an unreserved apology to all the survivors and those affected by this news.
“We commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations forward, acknowledging how difficult and distressing this would have been.
“We are profoundly sorry for the abuse perpetrated by Mr Gibson and remain committed to doing everything possible to ensure the wellbeing of children, young people and adults, who look to us for respect and care.
“Abuse is a terrible crime and a grievous breach of trust, which has lifelong effects.”
The Bishop will ask the chair of the diocesan safeguarding management group to commission a full and independent review of the circumstances surrounding the case.
Gibson was found not guilty on four further counts of indecent assault and one count of buggery.
The former vicar was found not guilty of abusing a third alleged victim who claimed he was indecently assaulted by Gibson between the ages of 11 and 15.
The jury also found Gibson not guilty of indecently assaulting a teenager at Medomsley Detention Centre.
Gibson appeared unsteady on his feet in the dock but did not show any emotion as the verdicts were delivered.
Judge Christopher Prince suspended sentencing the 80-year-old until after guidance is issued from the Court of Appeal in October.
He said: “I don’t want to pass sentencing which would be in conflict with guidance issued by the court of appeal weeks later.”
Gibson has been released on bail until sentencing.
Durham Constabulary arrested the former vicar in his home in April 2014 over the abuse which dates back 39 years.
The case officer Detective Constable Scott Denham said he hoped that the convictions would reassure victims of sexual abuse and encourage them to come forward.
He said: “No matter how long ago the abuse took place we will carry out inquiries professionally, impartially and thoroughly, with a view to seeking out all available evidence.
“We will also signpost the victims to any appropriate support and counselling they may need.”