An elderly churchgoer who was groomed and murdered by a churchwarden, was vulnerable because he felt he had to hide his homosexuality from his congregation, an independent investigation has found.
The investigation was commissioned by the Church of England after Peter Farquhar, 69, was subjected to physical and mental abuse by Benjamin Field, who killed him in 2015.
Mr Farquhar, who was gay, was a member of his local church in Stowe, Buckinghamshire where Field befriended him.
Field tricked the retired teacher into falling in love with him, laced his food and drinks with alcohol and drugs, and embarked on a fake relationship before persuading Mr Farquhar to alter his will in his favour.
Following Field’s trial, the Church of England commissioned an independent safeguarding consultant to review the circumstances surrounding the murder and to advise how vulnerable adults in the Buckinghamshire parishes could be kept safe.
The Diocese of Oxford published its report on Friday and concluded the “policies of the Church of England regarding homosexual practice and approach to sexuality and relationships put Peter Farquhar at risk and vulnerable to exploitation”.
It added: “A culture which supported openness and transparency would have better safeguarded Peter Farquhar. While people continue to feel forced to hide or lie about their sexuality, they can become vulnerable to exploitation, as was Peter Farquhar.”
Stowe church had “a strong identity” and was seen as a close-knit community, the report said, adding: “It has an evangelical theology and conservative culture, which includes ‘traditional’ views regarding homosexuality and homosexual practice.”
As a result, Mr Farquhar’s sexual orientation was “known, but not acknowledged by most people who knew him. He struggled to reconcile his own conservative Christian beliefs with his sexual orientation.”
Mr Farquhar and Field “agreed to keep their relationship secret, which was understandable in the context of the attitudes of many of the Stowe church parishioners … In Stowe church, homosexuality and homosexual practice were generally perceived as deviant and wrong, so he could not be honest about his emotional relationship with Ben Field.”
Following the publication of the report, Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, said: “This review helps to challenge the commonly held view that safeguarding is solely about preventing child abuse, and it is a clarion call for further improvements to our work on LGBTI+ inclusivity, our selection processes for clergy and volunteers, and the training and support the church provides.”
The Stowe congregation had developed a “much more open culture” following Field’s trial, he added.
The Oxford diocese, which has an LGBT chaplaincy service, “acknowledges and celebrates” the contribution that LGBT Christians make to the church.
Jayne Ozanne, who campaigns for LGBT equality in the Church of England, added: “It is tragic that it takes the horrific death of Peter Farquhar for the church to wake up to the deadly cost of its attitude to homosexuality. Until we recognise the significant harm being done because of the our refusal to embrace those of us who are gay, the C of E will remain a serious safeguarding risk.
“Its culture of secrecy and hypocrisy must end, and it must start at the top.”