C of E facing 3,300 sexual abuse claims, figures reveal
By Harriet Sherwood
February 10, 2018
|A view of the Assembly Hall of Church House in London during a meeting of the Church of England’s general synod. |
Photo by Victoria Jones
Bishop tells synod ‘it will not be an easy couple of years’ as IICSA prepares to take evidenceChurch of England spending on issues relating to sexual abuse has increased fivefold since 2014 and the most recent figures show it is facing more than 3,300 allegations.
The disclosures come as the church prepares to face intense scrutiny by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA), which starts hearing evidence next month.
“This will not be an easy couple of years – we will hear deeply painful accounts of abuse, of poor response, of ‘cover-up’. We will … feel a deep sense of shame,” Peter Hancock, the bishop of Bath and Wells and the C of E’s lead bishop on safeguarding, told the general synod in London.
Professional safeguarding advisers have been appointed to every diocese to deal with disclosures of abuse, but Hancock said the pace of change needed to accelerate. “For too long the church has not responded well to those who allege abuse within our church communities. This is now changing and further change is needed.”
Many survivors of clerical sexual abuse “remain deeply mistrustful, suspicious and angry towards the church,” he said.
The C of E said that in 2016 it was dealing with more than 3,300 reports of sexual abuse within its parishes, the vast majority relating to “children, young people and vulnerable adults within church communities”.
Almost one in five of the reports were made against clergy and other church officials, with the rest relating to other members of the congregation who volunteer within the church.
The church has disclosed more than 25,000 documents to IICSA and submitted 36 witness statements, the synod heard.
Three independent inquiries into the church’s handling of abuse allegations in the past two years have been highly critical of its leadership.
Roger Singleton, of the C of E’s national safeguarding panel, said there was “a common theme running through recent reports of audits, reviews and inquiries. That is a continuing need for culture change within the church”.
He said there was a minority of parish clergy and lay members of the church who “appear unable or unwilling to accept the need for sensible, proportionate measures; or who minimise the adverse impacts which physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual abuse can have on people’s lives; or who believe that complainants are only in it for the money”.
The church must “grasp the nettle” of dealing with clergy and others who failed to undergo training or spoke disparagingly about safeguarding measures.
Martin Warner, the bishop of Chichester, said the response of the church could compound the impact of abuse. “A prolonged period of denial, particularly by the church when we fail to face up to our responsibilities in this matter, can reinforce the damage done by the abuse itself. It becomes a double abuse,” he said.
The point was echoed by Rachel Treweek, the bishop of Gloucester, who said she was “deeply ashamed that the abuse people have suffered across the church has so often been compounded by wholly inadequate response and a lack of compassion and understanding.”
Earlier, the archbishops of Canterbury and York joined survivors of church sexual abuse for two minutes of silence on the steps of Church House in Westminster.
Sarah Mullally, the recently appointed bishop of London, was among up to a dozen bishops who joined the vigil.
On behalf of “those who have been damaged in a church context”, Andrew Graystone told the gathering that many synod members had made contact since the publication of a collection of survivors’ accounts, We Asked For Bread But You Gave Us Stones, to say “me too”.
“Victims are not your enemies, your problem to be solved,” Graystone said.
Matt Inneson, a survivor who brought formal complaints against senior church figures who allegedly failed to act on his disclosures, said: “A simple ‘we are sorry, what can we do to help you?’ – that’s all it would take.”
The synod heard recorded accounts from five survivors, who spoke of shortcomings by the church in dealing with their abuse.
Despite expectations, the controversy surrounding the late George Bell, the former bishop of Chichester against whom an allegation of sexual abuse was made, did not feature prominently in a Q&A session at the synod.
The C of E paid compensation and apologised to a woman known as Carol, who claimed she had been abused by Bell in the 1940s and 50s. Bell’s supporters have accused the church of demolishing the former bishop’s reputation without sufficient evidence.