THE General Synod, on Sunday afternoon, apologised on behalf of
the Church of England to victims of abuse for the failure of its
systems to prevent abuse, and for its failure to listen to them
Introducing the debate on safeguarding and the follow-up to the
Chichester commissaries' reports, the Bishop of Southwell
& Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who co-chairs
the joint C of E-Methodist safeguarding liaison group, read a
statement from the Stop Church Child Abuse Group (SCCAG). "It is
not comfortable," he said, "but I am honoured that these brave
survivors have trusted me to read it on their behalf.
"It is an indication of where the Church of England is in
hearing the voices of those who have been caused irreparable harm
within the Church that survivors are not allowed to speak for
themselves," the statement said. "Survivors are not allowed to
share their vision for safeguarding the vulnerable and responding
to those who have been abused at this important debate. We have
been told it is to do with other debates taking place over the
coming days, and the danger of setting a precedent.
"If this resolution had been thought through at all, if
survivors had been consulted and brought into discussions about its
content and purpose, and plans had been made accordingly, then
there would have been no need for precedents," they said. "Why are
the victims always the last to be consulted about how they are to
be responded to?"
They said that survivors were "confused" about the resolution
and debate, and that "an apology normally comes after the truth is
known, when responsibilities have been placed where they belong,
and the harm caused has been set down, reckoned, and acknowledged.
An apology made without the costly engagement of reaching out to
victims, listening to what happened to them and the suffering
endured, would be meaningless."
They asked whether the apology was a game - "another in the
decade of games played out in the public, to present a Church
responsive to its past failings and moving forward in harmony with
survivors - until the next time, the next case that reveals further
abuse, cover-up and denial, and the inadequacy of ineffective
"Many victims of rape and abuse perpetrated within the Church
have not survived," they said. "Many victims suffer with
mental-health difficulties directly attributable to the abuse they
endured. Many are in prisons, homeless, unemployed, in ill-health,
and socially isolated.
"Many survivors have not come forward through fear, shame, and a
deep mistrust of the Church. They, too, must be acknowledged."
They called for an independent public inquiry, saying that it
was the only way to "uncover the truth of how many have been abused
and continue to suffer; of the privileging and protection of
offenders, and the denial, silencing, and vilification of the
victims and their families; of the collusion and cover-up and
attempts to pervert the course of justice; and the ongoing
institutional and cultural dynamics within the Church that continue
to enable abuse and to cover up and deny the abuse perpetrated by
clergy and others at the cost of safeguarding the most vulnerable
within the Church."
Bishop Butler concluded SCCAG's statement by asking the Synod to
observe a silence, before making his own speech to introduce the
The commissaries' reports, he said, would be seen as landmarks
in the Church of England's response to abuse. "This can be the
pivotal point, when we turn from having a default position that is
to defend the institution, even at the cost of failing to respond
appropriately to those who have been abused, to one where we will
listen to the survivor, and begin from there."
The commissaries had "exposed much wider institutional failings
that affected every diocese. For far too long the institution, and
notably those in most senior positions, either disbelieved the
stories that survivors told us, or believed them, but tried to hide
the truth away or remove the offender elsewhere, vaguely hoping
that 'the problem' would go away."
Bishop Butler said that the motion was "only a step on the
journey", because a raft of legal changes were needed, which would
be "expedited with due speed".
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."
Professor Glynn Harrison (Bristol) quoted the
words of a priest who had been abused by a parish priest at the age
of 13. He asked the Synod for three things. First, an understanding
of how damaging sexual abuse was. What he had suffered had had a
"profound effect" on his growing up and sexual development. It went
"deeper than one ever imagines".
Second, he asked the Synod not to underestimate "how costly it
is to come forward and give evidence". Being cross-examined in
court had been a "humiliating and crushing experience" that was in
many ways as bad as the original abuse, he said.
Third, he asked the Synod not to underestimate the importance of
responding well. On the day that the priest who had abused him was
convicted, the diocese concerned had put out a press release
apologising to the victims. But it was not for a further three
months, and only after a number of personal requests from him that
he had received a letter of apology from the diocesan bishop. This
had been "profoundly painful".
Professor Harrison said that the legal changes being proposed
were "crucial", but the cultural changes more so. First, it was
important to remember that these were "spiritual issues of
darkness, wickedness, the deceitfulness of the heart, and
redemption". He asked that that the changes be nested in the
"broader gospel narrative".
The Revd Catherine Nightingale (Deaf Church)
said that it was important that the Church recognised the survivors
and their stories. But the removal of the time limit for abuse
allegations to be made should apply to vulnerable adults, who might
need time and support to tell their stories.
She also called for the anonymity of complainants to be
preserved. She knew of one complainant who was still being pursued
by the priest against whom she had brought a complaint.
The Revd Mark Steadman (Southwark) argued that
this was "arguably the most important debate of this group of
sessions". The Church must begin to seek justice and
reconciliation. This might be done through an inquiry, or through a
truth and reconciliation process such as that conducted in South
Besides structures and systems, the culture must change: "Too
often, there is a complacency and attitude that 'This won't happen
here.'" It was "deeply regrettable" that the recent changes to DBS
procedures by the Government meant that copy certificates would no
longer be sent to bodies such as churches. This would make the
whole vetting and barring process more complex to administer and
less safe. The Government needed to help bodies such as the Church
in their attempts to do better.
John Freeman (Chester) said that "diocesan
variations" in safeguarding policy made him "twitchy". It left the
Church open to "a maverick diocese doing its own thing". Mr Freeman
asked Bishop Butler "to consider again one all-embracing
comprehensive set of rules that apply to all dioceses, administered
from the centre; so we all know where we are going".
Canon Hazel Whitehead (Guildford), who is
responsible for safeguarding training in Guildford diocese, said
that such training was "very costly in terms of time, money, and
energy - and it's a cost that is well spent."
Nevertheless, it was the bishop who was ultimately responsible
for safeguarding; and yet nowhere in the report were they told
about the responsibility of the bishop. "So what I'm seeking in
this debate is assurance that all bishops will be held to rigorous
David Kemp (Canterbury), chairman of the
Canterbury diocesan child-protection-management group, contrasted
the situation in the Church 20 years ago, when he heard a bishop
say that an offender "won't do it again", to today, "when we are
better, but still travelling".
While expressing gratitude for the report, Mr Kemp said that it
"lacks urgency". He asked why the national Church had only "half a
person" employed in safeguarding. "What message does that
Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) said that,
alongside the necessary procedures, the pastoral care of alleged
perpetrators of abuse should also be taken into account. He
recounted the story of somebody in a parish where he had been
formerly. This person had been accused of abuse, remanded in
custody, and, after being released on bail, had taken their own
life. "That moment has been the most painful, unresolved failure in
my pastoral ministry," he said.
Stephen Pratt (Lichfield) said that it was
"deplorable that the place to which so many people turn to receive
help and support as the result of abuse is also the place where so
many find themselves abused". He said that its "recommendations
need to be far more urgent than is set down here".
The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the
statement read out from survivors of abuse at the start of the
debate had been "absolutely agonising. . . What it says, above all,
is that, for us, what we're looking at today is far from
He said that there would always be dangerous people in
congregations, but one hoped and prayed that they would not assume
positions of responsibility. Nevertheless, the odds were that, from
time to time, people would conceal their motives sufficiently well
to do so. The Church faced "a continuing challenge and
"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 it right." The actions
proposed by the report "must be ones that are persistent", he said.
"We cannot in 20 years be finding ourselves having this same debate
and saying 'Well, we didn't quite understand then.' There has to be
a complete change of culture and behaviour."
Archbishop Welby had a "profound theological point" to make. "We
are not doing all this - we are not seeking to say how
devastatingly, appallingly, atrociously sorry we are for the great
failures there have been - for our sakes, for our own flourishing,
for the protection of the Church. But we are doing it because we
are called to live in the justice of God, and we will each answer
to him for our failures in this area."
Bringing about a change of culture would require "very dramatic
increases in resourcing".
The Archdeacon of Chichester, the Ven. Douglas
McKittrick (Chichester), described his own diocese as an example of
a failure to listen, to investigate properly, and to deal with
allegations robustly through the proper authorities. He welcomed
the Archbishop's visitation. "The lack of implementation of what
were robust diocesan safeguarding policies in part of our diocese
was, and is, unacceptable," he said. "The Chichester diocese has
wasted no time in implementing the commissaries' recommendations.
The Church of England must now, with urgency, do likewise."
Mary Johnston (London) said that she was a lay
representative on a group that had drawn up the Guidelines for the
Professional Conduct of the Clergy ten years ago. "I distinctly
recall that one issue that seriously exercised my clergy colleagues
was sacramental confession: the responsibilities that exist in the
seal of the confessional, and how, and when - if ever - to break
the sacramental seal."
She said that she hoped that "thorough training is already
mandatory" for "those priests that are to offer this highly
specialised and valuable ministry".
The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony
Priddis, paid tribute to survivors for their courage - particularly
those survivors who were in the public gallery; but also pointed
out that "statistics would suggest that there is quite a
significant number of people elsewhere in this chamber who have
themselves been abused and are survivors." He warned that "perfect
policies perfectly implemented will not stop abuse. "It is
necessary for us to have the best policies, and it is necessary for
us to implement them in the best possible way; but we always need
more than policies."
He said that people in the Church needed to be suspicious,
because people who had a tendency to abuse, had abused, and would
abuse or want to abuse, were devious and clever; grooming not only
children, but also adults.
April Alexander (Southwark) spoke of two
matters from personal experience. She did not regard herself in any
way as a survivor. About 30 years ago, she had been attacked at
home by a very elderly male neighbour. She had not been able to
talk about it for five years. She said: "We now know that the
tendency to bury memories is very common, and I would like to
suggest that the 12-month limit is totally inappropriate in all
cases of sex offence." She also suggested that it might be
appropriate to treat all complainants as vulnerable adults.
Her second experience had taken place when a young curate had
come to her parish. She had been the only mother to have had
concerns about his requests to take children on overnight trips on
which he was the only adult present. Five years later, he had been
convicted of grave offences against under-age girls, but even then
her friends had assumed that there had been a miscarriage of
justice. She now regarded this as a case of "mass grooming". There
was no mention of this phenomenon in the report before Synod.
The Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford) endorsed everything
in the motion, but called on Synod to "go further" in three
respects. First, the definition of "vulnerable adult" should be
jettisoned. Second, there should be no time limit in the Clergy
Discipline Measure for the reporting of any sort of abuse. Third,
the Measure should deal with any sort of abuse, not just sexual and
Canon Suzanne Sheriff accused Synod, including
herself, of keeping the issue of safeguarding at a distance, saying
"Not me," and talking about "the Church" and "them".
The Synod must accept that members within it had been abused or
were abusers: "If we are going to take this seriously, we must
believe that the inconceivable is possible."
The Revd Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells)
introduced an amendment adding a requirement to ensure that
safeguarding arrangements were "communicated effectively to those
responsible for safeguarding in parishes".
"Safeguarding isn't about what happens in London or in diocesan
offices," he said, "but in our parishes."
The amendment was overwhelmingly passed without a debate, after
the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham said that he was "happy to
accept it in the spirit in which it is offered".
Caroline Spencer (Canterbury) chairs Canterbury
Cathedral's child-protection group. She said that a number of
people had suggested that they did not need to attend
child-protection training because they had received safeguarding
training from other organisations, such as schools. "The day your
school says you don't need to be trained by them because you've
been trained by the cathedral, I'll let you off," she said.
"At parish churches and cathedrals, we open wide the doors and
say 'Please come in,' and we have no idea who is coming through
those doors; and we know that we are honeypots for people who might
have less than totally 100-per-cent wonderful aspirations of what
they are going to do."
She explained that when she sent the annual letter calling
people for training, she usually received complaints from people
asking why; but this year there had been no complaints, because of
a changed attitude caused by what had happened in Chichester, at
the BBC, and elsewhere.
The Revd Neil Patterson
(Hereford) spoke of a previous case in his ministry where a person
had not been convicted, but had "managed to cause considerable
harm", exploiting his position as a Reader. He said that the man
managed to resign his licence before it could be taken off him; and
then complained that he had been treated unfairly. A member of the
senior staff had written to him saying that things had been done
properly; but that "of course, I always intended to do no harm to
your good standing in the town."
Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury
& Ipswich) expressed a hope that "we are entering a new phase"
of openness that would be "very painful for everyone, and
especially the victims". He was "afraid we will look away and
forget it, and hope that it will all go away". The hardest thing he
had ever done in his ministry was to pick up the phone and say to
the appropriate person "I think we have a problem with X." He had
also received "the worst of phone calls", learning from his diocese
that the "rising star" in his church, whom "everyone loves", was
"not the person you thought they were".
He suggested that those convicted of abuse should be barred from
all significant posts in the church, including the PCC secretary,
PCC treasurer, and deanery-synod member, as well as churchwarden
and employee. This was because "we have to prove again that we can
The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner,
hoped that the survivors present would be reassured by hearing
about a shift in culture towards a Church that was humbler, more
compassionate, and more humane; a process that began with apology.
It had often been "vital" for bishops, sometimes inheriting
failures, cover-ups, lies, and deceit, to take a lead in
encouraging survivors and nurturing this culture, and in engaging
with those who had been damaged.
One thing missing from the report was an emphasis on the need
for the Church to engage with other statutory and voluntary
agencies. He suggested that, at a national and diocesan level,
forums should include representatives from agencies such as the
police, social services, the NSPCC, and survivors' groups. This
would improve accountability.
He hoped that the Church would move towards having a single
safeguarding policy. He commended the survivors he had met. Some
had told him that what they had missed most was "access to the
practice of their faith. I would hope and pray that our intentions
and demonstration of a different future will enable them to return
joyfully to that."
Before the vote took place, the Synod paused again in a further
period of silence for "reflection and private prayer". The vote was
carried by 360 nem. con. with no recorded abstentions. The
That this Synod
(a) endorse the Archbishops' statement in GS 1896 expressing
on behalf of the Church of England an unreserved apology for the
failure of its systems to protect children, young people and adults
from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by its clergy and others;
and for the failure to listen properly to those so abused;
(b) invite -
(i) the House of Bishops and the Archbishops' Council to
pursue as a matter of urgency the programme of work set out in GS
1896 to enhance the Church of England's safeguarding arrangements,
ensuring that such arrangements are communicated effectively to
those responsible for safeguarding in parishes; and
(ii) the Business Committee to schedule First
Consideration of the necessary draft legislation as soon as the
responses to the consultation document have been assessed, with a
view to its securing Final Approval in the lifetime of this Synod;
(c) invite the House of Bishops and the Archbishops' Council
to report back to the Synod by February 2014 on what action is to
be taken to secure the more effective delivery of the "Responding
Well" policy across the Church in the interests of