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Synod offers apology to abuse victims

SAM ATKINS

THE General Synod has apologised 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 has been 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 (above), 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 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 enough." Archbishop Welby 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 it right."

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 past."

Members of the Synod spoke of a need to consider how to support those accused of or guilty of perpetrating abuse. Canon Simon Butler of Southwark diocese recounted the story of somebody in a former parish who was accused of abuse, remanded in custody, and, after being released on bail, committed suicide. "That moment has been the most painful, unresolved failure in my pastoral ministry," he said.

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. Bishops had a part to play in engaging with survivors and nurturing a Church that was more humble, compassionate, and humane. He paid tribute to the survivors whom he had met and to the "tenacious and fearless" journalist Colin Campbell. 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."

 

 

 

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