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Learn lessons of the past, say abuse survivors

21 February 2014


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

REPRESENTATIVES of survivors of abuse perpetrated by clerics have welcomed the new safeguarding proposals presented at the General Synod last week. But they warn that "this alone cannot possibly make our churches safe places."

Speaking directly after the debate on the proposals took place, on Wednesday last week, Anne Lawrence of the Stop Church Child Abuse alliance (SCCA) said: "There is a bigger, broader need to have processes that engage with what has happened in the past, and to learn the lessons of the past and set in place procedures and processes that walk alongside all those affected by abuse. . .

"I have multiple concerns about the cultures in which abuse is enabled to happen, and the Clergy Discipline Measure does not deal with that. The Church needs to look at how it develops culture. . . That is a work in progress."

She described the distress caused to people who had been present at sacraments officiated at by perpetrators: "I have heard stories of people being completely traumatised by seeing their sex offender giving communion to people. They say, 'He baptised my daughter, married my daughter.' What does it mean about the sacredness of the things engaged in?"

Phil Johnson, who also works with survivors of abuse, welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury's reference to providing support for survivors and his recognition that the Church itself might be "disqualified" from providing it directly.

"The key to responding well is responding well to what that survivor needs at that time," Mr Johnson said. "It may be directly through the Church, and clergy reconciliation and forgiveness. It may be that they require therapeutic intervention from outside, or need something else specific to them."

He suggested that there had been "significant improvements" in responses, particularly in the diocese of Chichester, although "at times it has been like pulling teeth."

Before last week's Synod meeting, Ms Lawrence criticised the failure to consult survivors groups on the new legislative proposals (News, 24 January).

In his speech to the Synod, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who chairs the Churches National Safeguarding Committee, said: "The most important change required in our safeguarding remains the transformation of our very DNA in relation to our theology, thinking and practice in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. . .

"The lead-up to this debate, in which our own continued corporate failings to adequately listen to, and engage with, survivors of church-based abuse [has been discussed], has only freshly emphasised this."

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