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
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
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
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
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
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
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.