Chichester Visitation concludes with warning against complacency

03 May 2013

DIOCESE OF CHICHESTER

'New style of leadership': the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner

'New style of leadership': the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner

A TRUTH and reconciliation process should take place in the diocese of Chichester where, despite "enormous steps forward" in safeguarding, the Church must avoid the temptation to give the impression that "everything is all right".

This is the conclusion of the final report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Visitation of the diocese, the first such appointment of Commissaries for more than 100 years.

Appointed in December 2011 by Dr Rowan Williams, the Visitation, led by the former Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, was intended to help the diocese "move away from an appalling history" of failures in safeguarding ( News, 30 December, 2011). An interim report, published last year, concluded that "dysfunctionality continues to impinge upon the adequacy of safeguarding within the diocese", and called for a "radical change of culture" ( News, 30 August)

The final report, published today, concludes: "We are entirely satisfied that the Chichester Diocese is committed, in so far as it lies, to preventing any further abuse ever occurring and to responding positively and effectively to the ongoing trauma that will necessarily last very many years. We commend the enormous steps forward that have already been made but we also stress the necessity for the Diocese, both in its actions and in its statements, to acknowledge the traumas still being suffered, and to be suffered, by the survivors."

The report also suggests that progress has been made in addressing the "dysfunctionality within the diocesan senior team" identified in the interim report, which described "deep problems" concerning the relationship between the previous diocesan Bishop, Dr John Hind, and his team and the safeguarding advisory group. It painted a picture of a divided diocese in which the Bishop's authority was not uniformly recognised.

Since the publication of the interim report, a new diocesan bishop, Dr Martin Warner, has been appointed and enthroned ( News, 11 May), and the former Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, has retired ( News, 26 October). The final report concludes: "We are satisfied that the senior team is a strong and coherent body working well with each other." It also reports that "excellent safeguarding practices" are now in place.

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On Friday, Bishop Gladwin praised Dr Warner's engagement with safeguarding and a "new style of leadership. . . I don't think there is any area of the diocese does not know it has a diocesan bishop." He suggested that the diocese of Chichester "might become beacon of hope which sets the standard for the whole of the Church of England".

Last month, a survivor of abuse in the diocese welcomed a letter of apology from Dr Warner, as "a clear signal that he's trying to sweep in a change" ( News, 26 April).

On Friday, Dr Warner said that the Visitation had "enabled us to comprehend the damage done to so many people's lives. I hope that all victims and those affected recognise in the words of the Interim and Final Reports that their concerns have begun to be heard, their determination recognised, and their extraordinary courage honoured." He sought to reassure survivors yet to come forward "that we will listen to and respond in any ways that are appropriate to a report of abuse by priests or church workers".

On receipt of the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, spoke of the "hurt and damage" suffered by the survivors: "they should never have been let down by the people who ought to have been a source of trust and comfort and I want to apologise on behalf of the Church for pain and hurt they have suffered."

While the report is more positive than its predecessor, the Commissaries issue several warnings against complacency in the diocese: "We do not intend . . . to give the impression that there remains nothing further to do. Indeed, this is far from the case, as the senior team recognises. We believe that it is inevitable that there will be other survivors of the known abusing clergy who have not felt able to come forward; we also recognise that there may still be abusers who are as yet unrecognised. It is essential that the Diocese does all in its power not only to ease the way for those persons to come forward who have not already done so but also to receive the help and supoprt that is their due."

It warns: "It is essential that great care is taken when making any statement (whether diocesan or national) not to give the impression that everything is now, as it were, 'all right' and that what has occurred in the past is now mere 'history' . . . unfortunate wording can give the impression that the Diocese is still in denial as to what has occurred. We are therefore not surprised that survivors are slow to accept that the Diocese is indeed prepared fully to acnknowledge, and face up to, what has occurred." A "process of truth and reconciliation" is recommended.

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The report repeats the interim report's warning that the law of the Church of England is "presently not in line with the rest of the civil law of employment" and its recommendation that "urgent consideration should be made to amending the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 to permit the compulsory suspension of any cleric immediately a complaint of abuse which is not obviously malicious is received." The final report warns of "a danger that the difficulty of making the changes in law and practice . . . might lead to a temptation to compromise and settle for less than excellence. If such a compromise were to occur, the time bomb buried within that compromise will necessarily be detonated by the first case of abuse that reveals the weaknesses in what has not been done." On Friday, Dr Warner also drew attention to this recommendation.

Anne Lawrence, a spokeswoman for MACSAS (Ministers and Clergy Survivors of Sexual Abuse), who was involved in the Visitation, welcomed the report on Friday. She said that it marked "a change in the position of the Church in respect of those who have been harmed".

Of particular value was its acknowledgement that "there are people for whom there will be no criminal justice outcome", but for whom "the pastoral duty remains. This is very new as until now, the Church has said: 'Until you can prove it, we are not going to respond at all.'"

The truth and reconciliation process recommended was, she said, a shift from the previous narrative of: "It's all in the past. Let's get over it and move on . . . It calls the Church back into being church. . . Rather than running away from itself, it should go into itself, to respond to what is a terrible betrayal of ministry and trust."

Read the full report here.

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