Father Alan Griffin, 76, hanged himself at home in November last year, after spending a year under investigation while denied knowledge of the source of the accusations.
In a damning report following the inquest into his death, Coroner Mary Hassell exonerated Father Griffin and heavily criticised the Church of England for its handling of the investigation.
“He killed himself because he could not cope with an investigation into his conduct, the detail of and the source for which he had never been told,” she said.
“Father Griffin did not abuse children. He did not have sex with young people under the age of 18. He did not visit prostitutes. He did not endanger the lives of others by having sex with people whilst an HIV risk. And there was no evidence that he did any of these things.”
In reports sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the chair of the Catholic Standards Safeguarding Agency, Ms Hassell set out the chain of events that led to Father Griffin being wrongly accused.
The head of operations of the Anglican Diocese of London and Westminster undertook a “brain dump” when he was retiring in 2019, passing on details to an archdeacon of past investigations and convictions of clergy, as well as safeguarding concerns and “gossip”.
Father Griffin was wrongly said to have admitted to “using rent boys”, and the head of operations conceded at the inquest that he may have “misinterpreted” the fact that Father Griffin “was generous with hospitality and paid for meals out”.
Ms Hassell said the basis of the head of operation’s claims and recollections were never explored or properly documented, while an allegation of “possible child exploitation” against Father Griffin had been mistakenly copied in the notes from another entry.
The priest had converted to the Roman Catholic church, and a note of the baseless claims against him were then passed on by the Church of England.
“The allegations against Father Griffin passed on to the Roman Catholic Church were supported by no complainant, no witness and no accuser,” said the coroner.
“There was no concern raised by a victim of abuse, by a child, parent, teacher, youth worker or other witness.
“No person said they had been the subject of or had witnessed any concerning behaviour, save that Father Griffin had been seen to have dinner with men in an Italian restaurant, for which he might have paid the bill.
“The CofE safeguarding adviser finally tasked with dealing with the matter did not consider that there was any safeguarding concern.
“And yet on this basis, Alan Griffin found himself to be under investigation for over a year, without ever having the allegations and their source plainly set out for him.”
Father Griffin had tried to kill himself nine years earlier when he was diagnosed with HIV, but that information was not passed to the Catholic Church.
When he tried to find out who was accusing him of abuse, the priest was told the information could not be disclosed.
Ms Hassell said she had been driven to writing an unusually detailed report as the Church of England had failed to fully engage in the inquest process until June this year, and had not made “meaningful attempts” to learn the lessons from Father Griffin’s death.
“With the notable exception of the safeguarding advisor who was finally tasked with the investigation into Father Griffin, I found in the main that a lack of appropriately meaningful reflection had been undertaken by the witnesses from the Church of England,” she added.
The coroner said the Catholic Church authorities could have done more to establish the basis for the allegations against Father Griffin, as well as offering him extra pastoral care while he was under investigation.
Both churches have been ordered to respond to the coroner’s concerns by September 3.
The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, said in a statement: “Alan Griffin’s death was a tragedy and my heart goes out to his family for all they have endured. I am deeply sorry for their loss.
“Following the inquest, we have commissioned a ‘Lessons Learned’ review so that we can fully reflect upon the diocese’s actions, and the coroner’s comments, in the period leading up to Alan Griffin’s death.”
she added: “It remains an absolute priority that, where allegations are made, they are taken seriously, and referrals made where appropriate to statutory agencies and other relevant parties. Our review will examine the decisions that were made in this case, in order to shape any necessary changes to our reporting processes in the future.”