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Pastoral care while police investigations proceed

by
15 August 2014

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From the Revd Brian Surtees

Sir, - The questioning of a diocesan bishop about historic allegations of sexual offending raises much legitimate concern. As a priest and former probation officer, I have shared the anxiety and, sometimes, despair of men facing similar allegations, and waiting for long periods before decisions about prosecution are reached. The investigative process is often complex and delay may be inevitable.

What is less unavoidable is the absence of any duty of care to the person facing investigation, who will typically be left without any support, because the nature of the allegations is shameful, and typical advice from legal representatives is to say nothing to anyone, and let the police prove the allegations if they can.

Family stress and relationship breakdown are obvious results of investigations of this kind. While it may be felt that a lack of proceedings can indicate a "clearing of the suspect's name", this is not really the case when proceedings are simply discontinued, often with a clear indication that the inquiry may be resumed.

Of more concern to Christian ministers should be the incidence of mental breakdown and suicide as a result of these kinds of investigation among people who feel unable to share their situation with others or gain access to the kind of support needed to cope with a significant life crisis that may often have come without warning.

Public opinion is rightly and justifiably against people who offend against children or vulnerable people; but the Church has a responsibility to the accused as well as the offended-against. Pastoral help and appropriate support can come from various sources, but is often not easily available to people who feel deeply ashamed of the investigation, irrespective of any guilt or responsibility they may feel.

Practice may vary across the nation, but it would be very good to see access to confidential support and pastoral care made available with an easy-access contact point, so that crucial spiritual and human needs can be met without detriment to investigative and judicial processes.

BRIAN SURTEES
13 Bowes Drive
Ongar, Essex CM5 9AU

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