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Silence over abuse adds to the harm

17 May 2013

UNTIL we hear from the inquiry set up by Dr Sentamu, we shall not know the full story of the abuse perpetrated by Robert Waddington, a former Dean of Manchester, and the Church's handling of it. Two of the boys he groomed and then abused have come forward; others might emerge. From what we know, however, the tale is familiar. When Dean Waddington was brought to book in 2003, he was a sick man. His encounter with Lord Hope might well have involved an element of confession; certainly it would have been a pastoral as well as a disciplinary process. There was likely, too, to have been pastoral concern for the victims, expressed in a desire not to put them through the further trauma of reliving their experience in a criminal trial.

By that point, Dean Waddington was deemed not to be in a position to cause further harm. This has been the chief blunder by those in authority who deal with such cases. The damage to the victims of abuse is hard to calculate, but a first step in their healing is to exonerate them from blame for their treatment. Abuse is a hidden crime, and the voice of the abuser denying it to be such continues to sound in the victim's ear. A louder voice, then, must confirm that a crime has been committed, and this involves, necessarily, informing the police. Only then can victims begin to reclaim their lives.

Institutional silence, then, perpetuates the harm, even if the threat of reoffending has gone (and it is a bold bishop who takes it upon himself to judge this). Eli Ward, one of Dean Waddington's victims, has described the way in which his abuser shaped his tastes and opinions during his formative adolescence, purportedly friendly and nurturing, but in reality seeking to isolate him from his family and his peers, in order to make him more malleable. Mr Ward tells of how, aged 40, his life fell apart, leading to questions of who he really is, and to what degree he is still Waddington's creation.

It is hard, also, to calculate the damage to the Church from this episode, and from the threat that others like it are still to be exposed. The visitation imposed on the Chichester diocese by Lord Williams to review its safeguarding procedures is a welcome sign of a new approach, as were the reports Protecting All God's Children and Responding Well. But in a week when yet another gang has been convicted of grooming and abusing vulnerable teenagers, it is appalling that the Church is unable to model best practice in the supervision of its priests and the care of its young people. There is no clever PR play it can make here. A swift investigation, and an open admission of any wrong-doing, is the only course of action that might, at last, contribute something healing for the victims.

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