"WHAT I need is a good listening to! For years that's what I
wanted from the Church. Instead, my cries fell on deaf ears.
"They all turned their backs on me. No one wanted to know. No
one cared. They said the right things, but did nothing to help me.
I felt rejected and humiliated."
These words were spoken to me by a survivor, who came to talk
about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his vicar 25 years
earlier. He had been a naïve teenager when his vicar befriended him
and gave him special attention, which made up for the love that was
missing in his home life.
"He became like a brother to me. He showered me with gifts, and
even took me away on holiday with him. It was while we were in
Devon that I was made to pay my way with sexual favours. This
continued for two years. My life was a living hell. He broke me,
and told me to keep quiet or else." The clergyman eventually died,
but the survivor still suffers the consequences.
From my experience of working with victims, I well understand
why survivors get frustrated at the Church for not listening, not
believing, not understanding, and being overtly self-protectionist
- for apparently not caring.
The Church believes that it is doing the right thing by
providing mandatory safeguarding training, and issuing an abundance
of revised policy documents; but safeguarding is only half the
What survivors need, if they are to become thrivers, is proper
counselling, provided by the Church. The suffering was perpetrated
by church "insiders" - even if those perpetrators were also abusing
their positions in the institution - and the Church must provide
the means to help survivors heal their wounds.
Survivors who turn to the Church, whether as children or
vulnerable adults, are in urgent need of competent, informed
support from clergy, not fudge or grudge - First Call support that
includes a level of competent pastoral care rather than a quizzical
look at safeguarding.
The dioceses resist the idea of providing additional counselling
training for clergy and appropriate others, instead preferring to
make an onward referral to a listener or some external resource. As
my survivor said, "The Church caused the problem; so it should
provide the solution."
In my 25 years as a priest-psychotherapist, my dual role has not
got in the way of providing good enough counselling support; and
there are survivors who need their faith to be nurtured through a
church-based counselling scheme. To miss this opportunity risks
alienating another wounded soul.
The Church's cause is not helped by the fact that its
policymakers in matters of safeguarding and working with survivors
are archbishops, bishops, and senior clergy who, in the mind of
many survivors, are part of the problem: they represent the
all-powerful and secretive authority figures who were themselves
responsible for the abuse, or played their part in the great clergy
The solution is not to pass the buck, but to provide support by
local Christian and secular therapists; a decent level of First
Call counsellor training and supervision for clergy; and quality
support for those clergy who are themselves survivors of abuse.
The Revd Dr Peter Stell is Lead Chaplain in Spiritual Care
at Sue Ryder, Thorpe Hall Hospice, Peterborough, and a senior BACP
accredited and registered psychotherapist.