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Children at risk in ‘dysfunctional’ diocese, Archbishop’s commissaries warn

30 August 2012

"DYSFUNCTIONALITY" within Chichester diocese is preventing adequate child safeguarding and must be "urgently addressed", the interim report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's commissaries says.

The archiepiscopal visitation, the first for more than 100 years, is being carried out by the former Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, and Canon Rupert Bursell QC ( News, 30 December).

The Archbishop of Canterbury said in a statement today that there remained "several areas of concern" in the diocese, and he had therefore decided that the visitation "should continue and that both safeguarding and appointments matters should be conducted under the supervision of this office until uniformly better practice can be assured".

The interim report will not make for easy reading for senior officials in Chichester diocese. It says that "dysfunctionality . . . continues to impinge upon the adequacy of safeguarding within the diocese". Such dysfunctionality - which includes clerics, officiating without permission - demonstrates "a failure to appreciate the connection between safeguarding and the proper structures of the Church".

The report goes on to say that "this dysfunctionality is underlined by the facts that a decision was made (rightly or wrongly) by some or all of the diocesan safeguarding advisory group to commence the procedure to lay a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 against the Bishop of Lewes [the Rt Revd Wallace Benn) ( News, 18 November 2011) and that the latter has felt not only that he has been consistently kept out of the loop but that he has been made the scapegoat for systemic problems within the diocese".

The report stops short of "pointing the finger at any particular person or persons", but calls for "a radical change of culture in the diocese - one in which the sanctity, dignity and well-being of children and vulnerable adults is openly and transparently at its heart".

Since the Historic Cases Review was carried out in the diocese, in 2008-09, "a mutual lack of trust and confidence occurred between the safeguarding advisory group" and the "senior team" of the Bishop at that time, Dr John Hind, the report says. This "brought about weaknesses within diocesan safeguarding".

The report also suggests that the episcopal area scheme in Chichester diocese has undermined the authority of the diocesan bishop, with whom "final responsibility for safeguarding rests". It is "essential for the well-being of safeguarding throughout the diocese" that the area scheme "should now be reconsidered".

Concern is also expressed "about the level of resources provided" in Chichester for safeguarding. Clerics who do not take part in training on child safeguarding, and who fail to ensure that they have up to date CRB checks - on 14 June, there were 138 clergy in the diocese without current CRB checks - should face disciplinary action.

Speaking on Thursday, Bishop Gladwin said that the diocese had "made a start" on implementing the recommendations of a review by Baroness Butler-Sloss (News, 27 May), and that children and vulnerable people were "a dear sight safer [in Chichester diocese] than they were two years ago, because the diocese has moved forward. "But there is a lot more to be done."

Bishop Gladwin said that the appointment of a new diocesan Bishop, Dr Martin Warner ( News, 11 May), was "a crucial change" for the diocese; Bishop Gladwin and Canon Bursell would "do everything in our power" to help him. They wanted to publish "something substantial" before Dr Warner was enthroned, later this year, he said.

Bishop Gladwin said that the visitation would continue "for as long as" Dr Williams wanted it to; he would be "very surprised" if the work was complete before the end of the year.

In a statement accompanying the publication of the report, Dr Williams said that "the abiding hurt and damage" done to "survivors of abuse" in Chichester diocese "is something that none of us in the Church can ignore, and I am deeply sorry that they should have been let down by those they ought to have been able to trust. . .

"The interim report confirms that there have been many and longstanding failures in implementing a robust and credible safeguarding policy in the diocese of Chichester. The guidelines laid down by the national Church and the agreed standards of best practice have not been consistently followed and the flaws in safeguarding practice have put children and others at risk."

Dr Williams said that his commissaries had "identified some areas where they believe that lessons learned from Chichester could usefully point to some further development of national policy or processes. These will now be considered, along with the rest of this report, by our national safeguarding group as soon as possible."

A statement from Dr Warner said in part: "I am deeply grateful to the commissaries for their work in producing such a detailed, honest and wide-ranging analysis of the current situation concerning safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester. I have not yet officially begun my work as diocesan bishop and so, in many respects, their report comes at an apposite time as the diocese also looks forward to a new phase in its ministry and mission."


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