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Safer churches, and responsibility to survivors of abuse in a church context

by
09 May 2014

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From Mr Simon Bass

Sir, - The Revd Dr Peter Stell (Comment, 2 May) deserves high praise for pointing out that survivors of abuse deserve from Churches specialist support as well as their having effective safeguarding policies. It is certainly not an either/or, because effective and properly implemented policies are a necessary precondition for safer churches.

The Church of England's safeguarding policy document for survivors is Responding Well (2011), which built on the excellent CTBI book Time for Action (2002). It outlines the basis for much of what Dr Stell advocates, including clerics' and others' undertaking specialist training.

I am less convinced, however, by his argument that each diocese should recruit specialist counsellors and psychotherapists to address the needs of survivors. This is because, as Dr Stell admits, one consequence of being abused in a church context is often a loss of faith and trust, and this makes it far less likely that anyone who has suffered in this way would seek such counselling from the very institution within which he or she had been abused.

For many survivors, having someone listen to their story is important. The part played by the "authorised listener" who can provide an "attentive and attuned listening ear", as Responding Well puts it, is vital, therefore.

Churches at their best can be places of refuge and comfort, where excellent pastoral care is given to survivors. But this can happen only if churches embrace all the good practice enshrined within Responding Well. Support for survivors should include assisting them in finding appropriate specialist counselling, and providing all means to gain access to this.

SIMON BASS

Chief Executive
Churches' Child Protection
Advisory Service (CCPAS)
PO Box 133, Swanley
Kent BR8 7UQ

 

From the Revd Peter Mockford

Sir, - I completely agree with the Revd Dr Peter Stell's article on "What survivors deserve from the church". As a psychotherapist as well as a clergyman, I see predominantly members of the clergy and clergy families. All of us carry some degree of trauma, and within society, I believe, the level of trauma has increased massively in the past 100 years. So in our churches we carry trauma as a matter of course, but obviously it varies in degree.

Various practices have arisen in churches over the years to deal with this, from "inner healing" to "sozo". But, in the wider society, a huge amount of work has been done on the nature of trauma and its resolution. This has happened mainly in the field of counselling/psychotherapy since the turn of the 20th century.

Although there are deep-rooted historical suspicions here, it is time that we listened to the world of psychotherapy and counselling. The key to good and safe practice to dealing with trauma is, without a doubt, self-awareness. Without this. the helper, however well-intentioned, will inevitably involve his or her process. This can easily result in increasing the level of trauma rather than decreasing it.

Self-awareness is not easily gained; indeed, it is a continual and ongoing process for all of us. We do know, however, that one of the key ways of achieving it is in counselling and psychotherapy. I agree with Dr Stell that Bishops need to recruit more professionals; but this would be only a limited step. It ought to be mandatory that the clergy in their curacies do at least 80 sessions of therapy.

It is better for this to be done in curacies than in colleges, as curacies are in the "real world", and tend to be for at least three years. In this diocese (Lichfield), the infrastructure is already in place, if not the finance. I do know that there are church bodies (e.g. the Churches' Ministerial Counselling Service) that could provide this service across the country. This needs to be a priority for the Church.

Second, no profession that deals with such a high level of people contact should be without regular supervision. The days of the independent incumbent have gone. Current practice is, I believe, unsupportable. Clergy supervisors need to be properly trained, and accountability needs to be built into the system, as it is for other professions. I appreciate that this is a long-term project, but, to prevent further abuse and to make our churches safer, we need to start with the clergy now.

PETER MOCKFORD
The Vicarage, School Lane
Stoke on Trent ST3 3DU

 

From the Revd Ravi Holy

Sir, - In his excellent article last week, the Revd Dr Peter Stell argued that the Church needed to go the extra mile to help survivors of abuse, and talked about the particular part to be played by survivor groups, of which Heal For Life is one.

Our five-day residential courses are run by trained survivors using a highly successful model developed and refined in Australia over the past 15 years. At £400 per person (which includes accommodation and all meals), they are highly affordable. Of course, for someone on sickness benefits, this is still prohibitively expensive; but we maintain a bursary fund, so that lack of funds is never an obstacle to someone's getting the life-changing help he or she needs.

In Australia, the Church has paid for many survivors of clergy abuse to attend our course, and this could be an attractive solution for the worried bishops Dr Stell imagines, too. Details of Heal For Life (whose patrons are Lady Williams and Baroness Howarth) can be found at www.healforlife.org.uk.

RAVI HOLY
Chair of Trustees, Heal For Life UK
The Vicarage
Cherry Garden Crescent
Wye, Kent TN25 5AS

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