CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Anglicans around the world are marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of their church’s greatest 20th-century heroes, a man who fought poverty and white racism in South Africa and mentored some of that continent’s best-known politicians and church leaders.
- “No white man has done more than Father Trevor Huddleston in the fight against apartheid,” Nelson Mandela said soon after his release in February 1990 from Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 27 years.
- “If you could say that anyone single-handedly made apartheid a world issue, then that person was Trevor Huddleston,” added the Nobel Prize-winning Anglican cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
On Saturday (June 29), members of the British Royal Family will mark the 100th anniversary of Huddleston’s birth at a service at London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields church.
But an explosive story in the magazine “Private Eye” sheds light on a recently released Scotland Yard file on Huddleston alleging the late apartheid icon was a child molester. The file from the 1970s was kept out of the public eye but today might have ended his illustrious career.
Huddleston was the son of a high-ranking officer in the Britain-Indian Navy who joined an Anglican monastic order, the Community of the Resurrection, in 1939.
In 1943, he was sent to work in the run-down and ramshackle black township of Sophiatown on the edge of South Africa’s “city of gold” — Johannesburg.
In those days, Sophiatown was a heady mixture of poverty, nightclubs, gangsterism and jazz. Those who lived there rarely came across a friendly white face. It was there that Huddleston made his home for 13 years, before the South African government decided to flatten the township and turn it into an all-white suburb.
In 1955, Huddleston joined forces with Mandela and with leading Jewish activists to defy apartheid regulations.
The anti-racists lost the battle but won the war after Huddleston returned to England in 1956 and wrote a book that caused a sensation in America and Britain — “Naught for Your Comfort.” For the first time, the human consequences of apartheid were placed under the international human rights microscope and most of the free world was horrified by what they read.
Back in England, Huddleston trained recruits at the Community of the Resurrection’s headquarters in Yorkshire but he was restless. His love for Africa was strong and in 1960 he was appointed Bishop of Masasi in Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania).
In 1974, a glittering career as one of Britain’s best -known and most respected leaders lay before him. He’d been appointed bishop of Stepney in London’s East End.
There was speculation he might one day be appointed archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
But then Huddleston was accused by a local mother in the run-down East End of London of sexually harassing her two sons.
Although Huddleston denied the accusations, he told a senior police officer: “It’s all perfectly true. I have sat them on my lap and I have touched their bottoms and pinched them but there is nothing indecent. It was purely a mark of affection.”
In his report, the officer wrote: “He (Huddleston) has been outrageously indiscreet.”
In a book called “Trevor Huddleston: Turbulent Priest,” author Piers McGrandle said that after the accusation, Huddleston withdrew from public life for several months after suffering a mental breakdown.
In 1978 he left Stepney to become bishop of Mauritius and archbishop of the Indian Ocean.
Now, the British magazine “Private Eye” has published a story comparing the way accusations of sexual abuse were handled in the 1970s with the way they are being handled now, including a redacted version of the Scotland Yard file on Huddleston.
The file contains the report sent by the police commissioner to the public prosecutor into allegations made against Huddleston concerning a total of four boys (two reported earlier plus two additional boys).
The report proposed that Huddleston could be charged with four counts of gross indecency for fondling the boys while they sat on his lap.
But Huddleston was never prosecuted. The Scotland Yard investigation was kept secret. Rumors that reached the British press were never published. The Huddleston file was previously ordered to remain closed until 2069.
Trevor Huddleston died in 1998.
In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were interred at the Church of Christ the King on a hilltop overlooking Sophiatown.
“We allow characters like Trevor to be forgotten at our own peril,” wrote the bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten, in The Times on June 22. “Warts and all, he was an inspiration to an entire generation.”