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SYNOD: Welby admits ‘profound shame’

by
21 February 2014

Safeguarding

GEOFF CRAWFORD

Church's "sad and shameful history": the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler introduces new safeguarding proposals at the Synod

Church's "sad and shameful history": the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler introduces new safeguarding proposals at the Synod

THE General Synod debated proposals for legislative change in response to the Archbishop's Chichester Visitation on safeguarding, on Wednesday morning.

Introducing the proposals, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who chairs the Churches National Safeguarding Committee, said that the most important change required was "the transformation of our very DNA in relation to our theology, thinking, and practice".

The Church was not alone in its failings, he said. "It is clear that, historically, our society has tolerated abuse in ways which are shocking and totally unacceptable.

"There is particular concern around institutional abuse. Schools, hospitals, the media, police, and churches all share this sad and shameful history."

The Bishop then outlined some of the proposed changes, including changes to Canon C8.2 which currently allows a minister with the cure of souls to permit another minister to officiate every other week without requiring the authority of the bishop.

Under the proposed changes, the visiting priest would need to be a beneficed minister or hold a bishop's licence or permission to officiate before he could be invited to officiate.

Another change would be to compel ministers to undergo risk assessments when concerns arise. At present, a priest can refuse to co-operate with a safeguarding risk assessment.

Bishop Butler recognised the need to "achieve the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and ensuring that the human rights of our clergy are respected, both with regard to their private lives and in respect of the basic principle that a person is presumed innocent of misconduct until proved guilty".

A person can be disqualified from serving as a churchwarden if they are found guilty of a number of specified offences. Another change would extend this so that inclusion on the list maintained by the Vetting and Barring Service would also act as a disqualification.

Bishop Butler quoted from Lord Bichard's report after the Soham murders, that "the harsh reality is that, if a sufficiently devious person is determined to seek out opportunities to work their evil, no one can guarantee that they will be stopped."

He said: "That said, our task is to make it as difficult as possible for such a person to succeed in the Church, and these proposals should help us to do so by building on and further strengthening the church's safeguarding regime."

David Kemp (Canterbury) spoke as chair of the Canterbury diocesan safeguarding group. He described how they had conducted both an internal review of safeguarding procedures and an external one, by someone from a different diocese. This had been a "hugely helpful process". He suggested that regulations about safeguarding be "not too prescriptive about the precise job-description of safeguarding advisers".

He also suggested that the regulations prescribe an external review of a diocese's policies and procedures every five years. Finally, he called for more resources for safeguarding at the centre: "We need to do more, and we need to move more quickly."

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) welcomed the report "wholeheartedly". He asked: did there need to be more guidance on those who serve the PCC but are not members of it?

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, was "grateful that the lapses and failures of our past, which mark and sear us still, nonetheless seem to be in the service of the wider Church nationally now".

There was "an opportunity for us to take stock and to learn and to benefit from failures". He was "delighted to be part of that". It was, he warned, "not enough for us to go on the assumptions from the past about people"; so he welcomed the proposals for the tightening of control of those who function in churches.

There was more work to be done on the part played by lay people in the Church, "recognising just how damaging it can be for survivors to see those who are perpetrators still functioning in some public way". There was some experience of this in the diocese of Chichester.

He suggested that the section on risk assessment was the weakest part of the report. Further work was needed on understanding what the impact of a risk assessment was, and how it might function in respect to a person's past behaviour and future behaviour. There was "a tendency to manipulate and to confuse, to obscure behaviour".

Dr James Harrison (Durham) spoke as a member of the Clergy Discipline Commission, and of the GP community. He pointed to the existence of a list in the latter of approved practitioners. It was important that the resources available to clergy tasked with checking on the status of priests was "as timely and easy and up-to-date as possible".

Christine Corteen (Salisbury) welcomed the report, but warned: "We should not take our eyes of the ball, and this should be a constant monitoring process." The proposals suggested that a bishop should be able to waive a person's disqualification. In what circumstances would it be appropriate for him to do so, she asked.

The Ven. Dr John Applegate (Manchester) wished to support "unreservedly" the recommendations made, but highlighted some loopholes, including the fact that clergy without a cure of souls worked in training institutions. How did the regulations apply to them? Another was that, during vacancies, sometimes it was churchwardens who took responsibility rather than a priest.

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) suggested that there was "still some work to be done", including more consultation, because in some dioceses, including St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, they were "already ahead of what is proposed here", and implementing these proposals would involve going backwards, "perhaps by some years". He described the use of ID cards, which could be taken away if a priest's PTO were suspended. He supported the model for risk assessment, but it needed to be done in consultation with the bishop's safeguarding panel and after seeking necessary advice of statutory partners.

He was concerned about what was not in these proposals: "Where is the commitment to developing good working relationships with other agencies working in the same field?"

He concluded: "This is not about safeguarding the Church and its volunteers: it's about creating a truly safe environment for all who entrust themselves to our care, and we do need to play our full part in out nation's struggle in dealing with what remains a national scandal."

The Revd Patricia Hawkins (Lichfield) spoke as a parish priest, a "non-expert". She questioned how clergy were supposed to know who was on a barred list when dealing with PCC elections. She also made a plea for "really robust, church-appropriate training" and questioned how the regulations would apply to people like Sunday school and and "ad-hoc" youth workers.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, praised the "wonderful consultation" on the proposals, which had been approved by the Archbishops' Council and House of Bishops. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry had identified failings beyond those of individuals: a "systemic and collective failure by the Met". He warned: "What goes wrong is not just what a particular bishop or church-warden does, but the systemic and collective failure of the whole Church". He highlighted the difficulty of people known to be perpetrators in one part of the country but moving to another.

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) questioned whether the onus was on the bishop or the incumbent to conduct checks on visiting clergy. He also wanted to know what would happen if a risk assessment concluded that the person did pose a risk.

Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford), who chairs the House of Laity, referred to the proposals for the Bishop to have the power to suspend those arrested on suspicion, pending criminal proceedings. He said: "There is no question that we must do all we can to deal with this plague, to protect children; but we also need to recognise that there can be other casualties, and in the current climate, the police are quick to act and arrest on suspicion." He knew of cases where criminal proceedings after arrest had taken a "very long time indeed" to process, and then the arrested person had been shown to be innocent, their reputation tarnished.

The Revd Dr Meg Gilley (Durham) welcomed the legislation, "because when it goes wrong it gets in the way of mission for a long, long time". She suggested that there were things which might indicate risk that might not appear in a DBS report. She also asked for the Church to consider "how we minister to parishes after abuse has taken place".

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that safeguarding was "one of the most significant things we ever debate". He thanked the Bishop of Durham and his group. He cautioned: "In the process of getting into what we are going to do in future, in looking at legislative changes and processes, changes which are absolutely essential, we need to remember the Bishop of Durham's opening comments about our past, and to say that all discussion needs to be in a context of profound shame and sorrow for what we have done in the past or tolerated in the past.

"And because survivors are listening to us, because they see and hear what we do, that sense of acknowledgement that we do not come from a good place is absolutely essential in everything we say and do now."

He wanted to comment on the issue of support and the delay in cases coming through. Those accused needed support, but so, too, did survivors, and it might be that the Church was "disqualified" from offering that support; "so we have to be those who ensure support exists from someone acceptable to survivors". Many of the cases he had seen involved vulnerable adults "who may have been survivors of abuse and turned to the Church and found that ultimate crime - that those to whom they turn for help merely increase the abuse." He said: "We need therefore to be a Church that is conscious of coming from a deep, dark place," and be "generous with support", while putting survivors "at the centre of our ministry of grace and love".

The motion was carried overwhelmingly: That this Synod request that draft legislation be brought forward to give effect to the proposals for legislative change set out in GS 1941.

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