John Bailey, 76, who was director of education for the diocese of Lincoln from 1996 until he resigned in 2002 , pleaded guilty to 25 charges of indecent assault some of which dated from more than 60 years ago.
The court heard that his victims complained years ago about his behaviour to the diocese but no action was taken at the time.
Bailey of Ash Tree Park, Kippax, Leeds, admitted 25 charges of indecent assault involving three young girls aged under 14.
The offences were committed between March 1955 and January 1982.
Two of the charges were committed so long ago that they pre-dated the 1956 Sexual Offences Act and had to be brought under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
Bailey was placed on the sex offenders’ register for life and given an indefinite sexual harm prevention order. He will also be barred from working with children and was given a life time restraining order banning him from contacting two of his victims.
Judge Simon Hirst told him “You did real and lasting damage to all of your victims. You did so for no other reason than to gain sexual gratification for yourself of a wholly improper kind.
“I consider that your offending is so serious that an immediate custodial sentence can be imposed.”
Grace Hale, prosecuting, said that one of the victims was repeatedly abused by Bailey over a seven year period starting when she was just four years old.
“It happened dozens of times. She kept this a secret from the ages of 11 to 15 when she watched Esther Rantzen on television talking about child abuse.”
She then spoke to a friend and a decade later diocesan staff learned of the abuse after a letter the victim sent to Bailey was seen by an assistant.
Bailey reported the matter to his boss but claimed it was a one off and he was allowed to remain in post as diocesan director of education.
Mrs Hale said “The diocese took no action against the defendant at this time and he continued in post right up to 2002.”
Other complaints emerged including from a girl who was abused by Bailey in the mid 1950s when he was a teenager himself. A third girl also complained of being sexually abused.
Mrs Hale said that after the diocese was informed 2002 a meeting took place and Bailey was told he could either resign or be dismissed. As a result he resigned
The court was told that a police investigation took place at that time but the complainants did not wish to proceed further and no charges were brought at that stage.
Bailey was placed on a barring list but in 2005 tried to return to the ministry only to be told he was still barred.
Mrs Hale said “In January 2016 the Bishop’s safeguarding adviser reviewed the files and passed them on to the police.
Bailey was eventually arrested as part of Lincolnshire Police’s Operation Redstone reviewing historical safeguarding cases within the diocese.
One of the victims, in an impact statement, described how her life had been ruined by the abuse.
She said “I can’t believe what he’s done to me. He has ruined my life. Its worse because he is so churchey.”
Another said the offences against her has a profound effect on her relationships and was a significant factor in the breakdown of her marriage. She later trained as a volunteer counsellor with Childline.
Christopher Moran, representing Bailey, told the court that his client has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease and vascular dementia.
He said Bailey feels deeply ashamed and remorseful for what he did.
Following the case, Det Supt Rick Hatton who leads Operation Redstone issued a statement which said: “This is part of the ongoing police investigation into alleged abuse brought to us by the Diocese of Lincoln.
“John Bailey admitted 25 charges of offences against 3 young girls. He was clearly in a position of trust and he abused that trust and the judge has reflected that in the sentence handed down to Bailey today.
“This was one strand in the overall remit of Operation Redstone which continues to investigate concerns raised within the Diocese by their safeguarding advisor.
“The investigations are historic in their nature and is in no way representative of current safeguarding practices and policies within the Diocese.
“Because today’s sentencing is part of the overall and ongoing Operation Redstone enquiry, we do not intend to discuss any further issues at this stage. When there is anything additional we can say without jeopardising our investigation we will make an announcement.
“However, if there is anyone affected by this case I urge them to contact my Redstone investigation team through 101 or the Diocese safeguarding team.”