Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has set up an inquiry in Chichester diocese in southern England, reportedly after allegations that paedophile priests were allowed to continue working despite being accused of sexual abuse.
The archbishop's decision to investigate the diocese will throw the spotlight on abuse by clergy in the Church of England, raising an issue which has already rocked the Catholic Church in a number of countries.
A statement late on Thursday from the archbishop's Lambeth Palace residence said the inquiry had been launched "in response to concerns within the diocese" but declined to expand on the background to the fears.
Current child protection arrangements within the diocese will be scrutinised and recommendations on future conduct will be made.
Williams has appointed a bishop and a lawyer and his Lambeth Palace said the probe had the backing of Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Dr John Hind.
It was announced in July that father-of-three Hind will retire next April after 11 years as bishop.
Lambeth Palace said Thursday: "The Archbishop of Canterbury today set up an inquiry into the operation of the diocesan child protection policies in the Diocese of Chichester. He has appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to carry out the inquiry. They will advise the Archbishop on any steps that need to be taken to ensure the highest possible standards of safeguarding in the diocese. They will make a preliminary report to the Archbishop by the end of February 2012."
A spokeswoman for Lambeth Palace refused to say whether the concerns related to current or historic child protection issues.
In May, a review found serious failings in the senior clergy after two priests were allowed to continue working despite being accused of serious child abuse offences.
The Catholic Church has been shaken by revelations of widespread sexual and physical abuse by priests of children in Ireland, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries.
In Ireland, many abusive priests were simply moved to different parishes where they often continued to mistreat children.