IN JULY 2008, a 26-year-old woman complained to the Dean of
Jersey, the Very Revd Robert Key, that she had been subject to
abusive behaviour by a churchwarden. Five years later, an
investigation into his handling of her complaint resulted in his
suspension by the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin. This
led to claims of "constitutional crisis" in Jersey, and,
eventually, transfer of episcopal oversight for the island to the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
The facts of the case have been subject to extensive scrutiny
and dispute. Both the Dean, reinstated in April last year, and the
woman have criticised that first investigation, carried out by a
psychotherapist, Jan Korris. In 2013, Bishop Dakin commissioned two
more reviews of the situation. The results of neither have been
published after concerns about confidentiality and legality.
What is agreed is that, three months after the 26-year-old
arrived at a church in Jersey, a churchwarden and his wife invited
her to stay in their home.
"We took risks in our relationship with [the woman] but thought
we were doing so under God's calling," he later told the Dean.
According to the Korris report, within a few months, the woman
had moved out and reported "unwelcome and potentially abusive
behaviour" to the Dean. Over the course of the next three years,
she also made complaints against the Dean, the safeguarding
officer, and others, and was eventually arrested for breaking a
harassment order and deported from the island for three years. She
has since written a number of blog posts expressing her rage and
hurt about what she says was violation at the hands of the
Whatever the conclusions of the unpublished reviews, her case
raises important questions for the Church about its care of
"In Korris, the lack of clear boundaries meant that violations
could occur or be perceived to occur," says Simon Bass, CEO of the
Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), which now
extends its concern to adults.
"There is a need to look at how we provide guidance and policies
that are practical enough, and provide safety for all concerned -
not just the person who may be a vulnerable adult, but also those
wanting to reach out."
Mr Bass can cite "lots of instances" of individuals' opening up
their homes. "That is seen as an act of Christian love; but when
boundaries are muddled, harm can follow."
CCPAS has collected 3000 responses to an online survey about the
care of vulnerable adults in Christian communities. The research is
being conducted in recognition of the fact that churches are
increasingly involved in ministries that bring them into contact
with vulnerable adults, including street pastoring, debt
counselling, and running foodbanks. CCPAS is receiving an
increasing number of calls about this area.
The level of understanding within the Church about vulnerable
adults "reflects society", suggests Mr Bass. While legislation for
protecting children has been in place for decades, it was only this
year, in the Care Act, that vulnerable adults were included in a
"It is important that the Church gives as high a profile to the
safeguarding of vulnerable adults as they do to children," says
Ruth Reed, the vulnerable-adults adviser in the diocese of
Liverpool. "Congregations may be aware of certain vulnerable adults
and how to respond to them. However, due to the wide spectrum that
vulnerable adults cover, it is not always possible for
congregations to be able to respond to all natures of
THE Church of England has had a policy on vulnerable adults
since 2006. Promoting a Safe Church includes a "working
definition", which states that a vulnerable adult is "any adult
aged 18 or over who, by reason of mental or other disability, age,
illness or other situation is permanently or for the time being
unable to take care of him or herself, or to protect him or herself
against significant harm or exploitation". It acknowledges,
however, that some adults who do not recognise themselves in this
definition "may still find themselves exploited, bullied or
Among the vulnerable will be those who are survivors of abuse.
As the national inquiry into historic abuse stumbles into life,
churches can expect more people to disclose abuse that may have
taken place years, or even decades, ago.
Although abuse might have taken place in a church setting,
Promoting a Safe Church suggests that the Church
can be a place of healing for vulnerable people who have been
marginalised in the past.
"It is important to recognise the vulnerability and possible
'childlike' state of survivors," the policy warns. "They can be
over-compliant and easily manipulated. Power abuse within pastoral
care is a real danger here."
The 2006 report does not smooth over the complexities of
protecting vulnerable people. "Church workers need to understand
that they hold a position of power and influence even if they do
not feel that that is the case," it says.
"Prevention can be particularly difficult with those who may be
vulnerable, because of the range of people who are in contact with
them, and the variety of ways in which churches and others try to
be of help or befriend people who otherwise would be isolated."
Church workers are cautioned about "the dangers of dependency in
pastoral and professional relationships". They should "avoid
behaviour that could give the impression of inappropriate
favouritism, or the encouragement of inappropriate special
Practical advice includes being aware of the dangers of visits
alone, especially in the evening, the possibility that physical
contact, such as a hug, may be misunderstood, and keeping a record
of all encounters.
Managing boundaries is particularly crucial for clergy, who make
numerous visits, often to people's homes, and are required to deal
with deeply personal and painful matters.
Mrs Reed warns: "Churches often simply want to get on with it.
So a church could set up a pastoral visiting group just by giving
volunteers a list of names and numbers [to contact]. This is a
well-meaning but misguided approach, which could lead the volunteer
and vulnerable person into all sorts of difficulty. My training
focuses on how to avoid such situations and help understand this
THE proper handling of complaints is crucial to the care of
Promoting a Safe Church urges that all
complaints be taken "very seriously" and dealt with "promptly and
fairly". It states clearly: "If the abuse of an adult appears to be
a criminal offence, the police must be informed, and a referral
must be made to the local authority."
It goes on: "With less serious matters, such as inappropriate
behaviour or attitude not amounting to abuse, the worker's
immediate superior should approach the worker and discuss the
concern with them with the aim of identifying ways of improving the
"The informal route should always be tried first," the policy
suggests. "At this early stage it will be important for someone to
listen carefully to the complainant to determine how he or she
wishes to proceed." This could include making a formal complaint
against a member of the clergy under the Clergy Discipline
A failure to take complaints seriously can have far-reaching
CF, a churchgoer in the Home Counties, has post-traumatic stress
disorder and a dissociative disorder. She believes that vulnerable
adults require reassurance that their complaints will not be
She fears that there exists "a presumption of innocence inherent
in the very role of priest, which mitigates against the person who
is making the accusation, and who may well have been very greatly
hurt. Without a transparent process to follow, this presumption may
well hinder or even prevent a proper investigation."
CF served as a PCC treasurer from September 2011 to May 2013, a
post she was able to fulfil with pastoral support from her vicar.
But a combination of stress, and the need, she says, to act
robustly to maintain the church's financial integrity coincided
with a gradual withdrawal of this support, turning, she says, to
She has emails between herself and the vicar over several
months, which document the gradual deterioration in her ability to
cope with the work that she had been given, and the failure of the
vicar to address the issues she raised. She knew she was becoming
very unwell because she began to experience vivid suicidal
ideation: very disturbing images that frightened her.
In a rare meeting with the vicar, he told her that people who
talk about suicide never do it, and those who do it never talk
about it. This effectively silenced her.
Less than a month later CF had a breakdown, and was unable to
continue. She did not go to church for two weeks. When she
returned, the vicar asked the churchwardens to escort her to the
vestry, and, in full hearing of the church, he told her that he was
not going to tolerate her behaviour any more, and told her to hand
over her files as treasurer. She was accused of having upset one
member of the congregation. The vicar's action was done without the
knowledge or consent of the churchwardens or PCC.
She wrote a letter of resignation to the PCC, and also wrote to
the Archdeacon. Two months passed. In his reply, he told her to
move on. She wrote again, and the answer was the same.
CF wrote to the Bishop, and recommended changes to the diocese's
response to vulnerable adults. His reply said that her comments
were noted. He did not ask to see her. To date, there has been no
detailed examination of the vicar's behaviour. She now worships at
another church, and, although she now has a very supportive vicar,
she regards church as a very unsafe place.
THE Church's policy on caring for survivors of abuse,
Responding Well, was published in 2011. It states that
every diocese must appoint "carefully chosen, competent and trained
people who will be able to be 'authorized listeners'".
The Church is also currently exploring how to create "safe
spaces", possibly provided by external agencies.
CF believes that "a timely apology can save a great deal of
pain, and many tears."
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who chairs the
Church's safeguarding committee, believes that there has been an
improvement in the Church's response to complaints, but says that,
in the past, survivors have had "serious difficulties".
There is, he says, "a much greater openness around apologising.
Not just apologising, but re- penting where things went wrong." He
highlights advice from Ecclesiastical Insurance with regard to how
churches should respond to allegations of abuse that do not
constitute a formal claim. This states: "Offering an apology, an
offer of treatment and other redress [not defined] shall not in
itself amount to an admission of negligence or a breach of
It is important that churches are aware of this, Bishop Butler
says, given the perception, well-founded in the past, that fear of
litigation has prevented the making of apologies.
Although the Church's documentation and instructions to parishes
are in place, survivors' groups question whether they are actually
"An abuse policy that does not have a clearly stated process of
implementation is effectively worthless," CF says. "A vulnerable
person or an abused person by definition has no power in the
Church. This means that someone with power has to make a decision
to implement the policy, but to do this they have to suspend their
total and complete faith in the priest or other person
The latest safeguarding legislation (Draft Safeguarding and
Clergy Discipline Measure) presented to the General Synod in July,
states that the ordained, Readers, churchwardens, and PCC members,
must all have "regard" to the safeguarding guidance on both
children and vulnerable adults. While a diocesan self-audit is
under way, the Church is consulting on how best to conduct more
in-depth monitoring, perhaps featuring peer review or external
"The stark reality for us is what's happening on the ground in
parishes as far as vulnerable adults are concerned," Bishop Butler
says. "There are visits being done to people at home, work in
residential and nursing homes. How are people being supported and
cared for?" Auditing all 16,000 parishes is, he admits, a "big
task". The Church's safeguarding only as strong as its weakest