THE General Synod apologised on Sunday for the failure of the
Church of England's systems to protect children, young people, and
vulnerable adults from physical and sexual abuse, and to listen
properly to those abused. The apology was received as potentially
"meaningless" by a group of abuse survivors.
On Sunday afternoon, members of the Synod voted unanimously in
favour of a motion endorsing the "unreserved" apology written by
the Archbishops, and inviting the Business Committee to draft
legislation toughening up the Church's safeguarding procedures.
Before introducing the motion, the Bishop of Southwell &
Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who co-chairs the Safeguarding
Liaison Group, read out a statement from the Stop Church Child
Abuse Group, some of whose members were present in the public
gallery. The statement criticised the Church for not permitting
survivors to "speak for themselves" and for failing to consult
survivors on the motion. It suggested that an apology made "without
the costly engagement of reaching out to the victims" was
"meaningless". It questioned whether the apology was the "first
step to something more", or "a game . . . to present a Church
responsive to its past failings . . . until the next time". It
called for an independent public inquiry.
Bishop Butler did not respond to the request for a public
inquiry, but said that the motion was "only one first step on the
way. I understand why survivors will struggle to trust us that the
journey will continue; you have been let down so often. I hope,
however, you will be able to recognise that this is a significant
point in our journey." He concluded: "We failed, big time. We can
do nothing other than confess our sin, repent, and commit ourselves
to being different in the years ahead."
The Archbishop of Canterbury said that listening to the
survivors' statement had been "absolutely agonising. . . What it
says, above all, is that, for us, what we're looking at today is
far from enough." He said that there would always be dangerous
people in congregations: "This is not an issue we can deal with: it
is something we will live with, and must live in the reality of,
day in, day out, for as long as the Church exists, and seek to get
While processes had to be dealt with, "culture change is by far
the hardest one to do." It would require "enormous determination"
to produce "a culture that looks first to justice for survivors, to
justice, transparency, admission of where we have failed". This
change "must be done . . . with the survivors, not to them. We have
spent very many years doing things to them; we must only act with
them. That will mean much more than we imagine as we sit here
listening . . . and reflecting on dark and desperate acts in the
Asked during a press conference on Monday whether an independent
inquiry would take place, Archbishop Welby said that he did not
want to "pre-judge what they [the survivors] will say and the kind
of structure that they will want".
The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, spoke as a bishop
who had inherited a diocese where "failures, cover-ups, lies and
deceit" had taken place (News, 7
September). Bishops had a part to play in engaging with
survivors and nurturing a Church that was humbler, more
compassionate, and more humane. Some survivors had told him that
what they had missed most was "access to the practice of their
faith". He concluded: "I would hope and pray that our intentions
and demonstration of a different future will enable them to return
joyfully to that."