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Safeguarding reforms need to go further, says critic

28 June 2013

SHUTTERSTOCK

A REFORM of the Church of England's safeguarding procedures, to be discussed by the General Synod next weekend, has been dismissed by a spokeswoman for a survivors group.

Anne Lawrence, a barrister, from Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, said that those addressing safeguarding in the Church of England were "seeking to fix a problem before they know what the problem is. The survivors are the symptoms, the debris, the bits broken by a system that breaks things. If they want to stop breaking people, they probably want to look at the fundamental problems within the institution that enables that to happen."

Ms Lawrence was speaking in reaction to the publication of Safeguarding: Follow-up to the Chichester Commissaries reports, a report prepared for members of General Synod (News, 21 June).

The Archbishops' Council is proposing to remove the 12-month limitation period within which it is possible to make a complaint of child sexual abuse. In another change to the Clergy Discipline Measure, the bishop would be given power to suspend a priest whenever an application was received. Ms Lawrence was highly critical of the report, which she described as a "pile of rubbish", which focused on "minutiae". "This is all about the institution protecting itself."

She urged the Church to tear up its existing policy and start afresh: "What we see is all these wonderful ideas from Chichester being met with the reality of an institution that in no way, shape, or form has engaged in the radical or transformational thinking required. It's like trying to change slavery laws without abolishing slavery."

"We need a truth commission, independent, and that needs to go into how many people were abused in the Church, in schools, and in children's homes . . . What barriers has the Church put up? What patterns can we see? The reason will undoubtedly be along the lines of putting the clergy over the laity. That is not a narrative that the Church wants to engage with."

Just this week, Ms Lawrence said, one survivor had contacted a diocese, but was told: "There is nothing we can do. If you want to get anything else, you need to go to lawyers and bring a court case against us."

A C of E spokeswoman said: "We always welcome input, and once Synod has reflected and provided a general direction, we look forward to more detailed discussions."

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