News & Star [Carlisle, Scotland]
October 30, 2021
By Phil Coleman
[Photo above: Antonia Sobocki, inset, and the loudfence campaign.]
A Cumbrian campaign to put victims at the heart of deterring child abuse in religious settings is on track to become a national event.
Mum-of-two Antonia Sobocki has already broken new ground with her determined efforts, winning support from Carlisle Cathedral for its first ‘loudfence’ event, designed to amplify the voices of victims and survivors.
It encourages those affected by clerical abuse – and those who want to show support for them – to post messages and colourful ribbons to a fence or other public object.
There are now also plans for a national roll-out of the initiative at all 42 of the country’s cathedrals. Just how powerful it can be is being shown at Antonia’s local church, St Peter’s Church in Kirkbampton, west of Carlisle, which last year staged the UK’s first loudfence.
This year, the loudfence has already seen the church’s iron railings smothered with scores of messages, many of them deeply poignant.
They include ones showing solidarity with the victims of three Cumbrian clerics who have been convicted of child sexual abuse, as well as this moving message: “To Chrissie, whose daughter Emma died of suicide because of child sexual abuse.”
Antonia has also heard from an Italian man, subjected to horrific abuse a Croome Court in Worcestershire, a Catholic boarding school for boys. He testified about his experience to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
“He basically said his entire life was eviscerated by what happened,” said Antonia.
“He suffers chronic anxiety, PTSD, flashbacks. It’s affected his physical health; he has scars from the beatings and violence.”
She added: “We’re having a meeting next month with the English Council of Cathedrals – which represents 42 cathedrals in England and Wales – and they all want to be involved; they all want in.
“The reaction of the loudfence is just getting bigger and bigger.
“The Kirkbampton loudfence began on Monday and it’s happening now. I’ve had messages from people in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, from Italy. They’ve been contacting me through social media. I’m a bit blown away by it, to be honest.
“There are people who are really upset about abuse that’s happened in the church and want to say ‘not in my name’; and there are people who’ve been hurt and are battling for justice and want support.”
They include a survivor of abuse carried out at a training school for Roman Catholic priests at Mirfield, West Yorkshire in the 60s and 70s.
There are currently around 150 loudfence ribbons attached to the fence at St Peter’s.
Asked what victims and survivors were crying out for, Antonia said it was primarily a deep-seated desire to be treated with compassion and as human beings; and an end to the culture of silence which can help abuse flourish. Antonia said: “They want the church to just be who they’re meant to be.”
A loudfence is also happening at Rochester Cathedral.
In an earlier interview, Antonia summed up the event’s purpose in this way: “Our message will be as strong as ever: we believe you, we hear you and we will do all we can to stop this from ever happening again.” At Carlisle Cathedral, this year’s loudfence gets underway on Monday.
The Rev Canon Dr Benjamin Carter, Canon Warden at the Cathedral and its lead for safeguarding, has led a working group on the issue and helped develop a so-called “Safeguarding Season”.
He said : “Our Safeguarding Season is based around three key themes: the need for the Church to lament, to listen and to learn from survivors of abuse.
“The Loudfence installation [at the Cathedral] offers a wonderful way in which this can be achieved and it complements beautifully all the other safeguarding themed services and prayer stations that are offered up as part of the season.”
The loudfence ‘installation’ at the Cathedral will remain in place until November 3, now designated All Survivors’ Day.
There will also be weekly Eucharist services focusing and themes of truth and justice with a dedicated place of prayer in a side chapel. Anyone affected by these issues is encouraged to contact Safe Spaces, an independent service supporting survivors of church-related abuse.