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Survivors of abuse predict a ‘deluge’ of complaints

27 February 2015


Preparations: The Honourable Justice Lowell Goddard has been appointed to chair the national inquiry into historic child abuse. Bishop Paul Butler says that the Church has volunteered to be the first institution to be investigated

Preparations: The Honourable Justice Lowell Goddard has been appointed to chair the national inquiry into historic child abuse. Bishop Paul Butler s...

SURVIVORS of abuse have warned that thousands of people are likely to come forward with testimonies of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy in the national inquiry into historic child abuse. They are calling on the Church of England to establish a panel for redress now rather than wait to be compelled to do so.

The Bishop in charge of safeguarding, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has cautioned against predicting numbers.

A spokeswoman for survivors of abuse within churches, Anne Lawrence, said this month that the Church would face a "deluge" of complaints.

"The Church should set up a redress board and ensure that all complainants can go there, and be provided with support from a range of services, including survivor organisations," she said. "Research has consistently shown that over 90 per cent of allegations are true. But not one redress board has been set up. People are taking churches to court because, despite the confessions of offenders, convictions, and evidence within files, there is no willingness to provide redress. Going through the courts is a continuation of the abuse suffered and retraumatises the victims/survivors."

She suggested that the Church should be contacting survivors and offering to pay for therapy and other support services, and should also be communicating with survivors' organisations regularly.

"Why is the Church unable to hear what it needs to do?" she said. "It is so concerned with protecting itself. Let's hope that the public inquiry will turn that around and change the focus from protecting institutions to protecting the vulnerable. Whilst it will happen anyway, it would be nice if the Church was on the right side of history."

Bishop Butler said on Monday that, given the Church's commitment to working with the national inquiry, there were no plans to establish a separate redress panel: "This could create confusion and difficulty for survivors coming forward in the next months and years."

He confirmed, however, that the Church was "willing to be the first" if the inquiry investigated one institution at a time.

"We do expect people to come forward who have not previously done so. However, to predict the number is not an easy task. Following the Savile revelations, some dioceses saw an increase in people coming forward reporting church-based abuse. Others had almost no increase; so what will happen in relation to the national inquiry is difficult to predict."

Bishop Butler also referred to the commitment to create the Safe Space Project, "an idea that was raised by survivors themselves and in which some have been engaged in helping create".

Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS) is critical of the latest legislative attempt to improve safeguarding in the Church of England (Synod, 20 February). It argues that the Draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure, put before the Synod for revision earlier this month, "relies too much on discretion exercised by a diocesan bishop". It is calling for "a consistent approach across all dioceses to complaints of abuse".

The draft legislation gives bishops the power to suspend priests, churchwardens, or PCC members, but also the power to revoke suspensions and to waive a churchwarden's or PCC member's disqualification from office, after consulting the diocesan safeguarding officer.

The revision committee argues that "removing all discretion from a bishop when dealing with a complaint of abuse was neither possible nor just. . . [It] would contravene the basic premise that justice should always consider the individual circumstances of a case."

It believes that the best way to achieve consistency is for "detailed guidance" to be provided for the House of Bishops, which bishops would be legally obliged to have "due regard to".

"Failures in the exercise of discretion by bishops was one of the core reasons identified for the safeguarding failures in both Chichester and York," Ms Lawrence said. "The Cahill report on York also warned of the lack of consistency of approach across the dioceses. Consistency does not exist - each bishop has his own discretion. This makes the Church different, and therefore more attractive to offenders, to any other body which would automatically disqualify and suspend those alleged to have abused a child, and would not waive suspensions and disqualifications under any circumstances."

Ms Lawrence has little confidence that the proposed guidance will solve this problem: "Look at other institutions and you will see that even statutory guidance is not adhered to. In my work as a barrister, I have seen people say, 'We had regard to the guidance but had good reason not to follow it.' This legislation needs to be designed for those who are going to breach it; we are not talking about good people. People who want to get round it will find a good reason to get around it."

Bishop Butler said on Monday that he would work to ensure that the guidance was "very robust".

Lucy Duckworth, who chairs MACSAS and is a survivor, believes that mandatory reporting of abuse must be introduced: "As a teacher, we have guidelines to say we should report known abuse, and yet the news is full of cases where it wasn't done. Mandatory reporting needs to happen, and this guidance fails to deliver that."

Bishop Butler said that the Church was "supportive of changing the nation's legislation to moving to a mandatory reporting system. It is already built into our policies that clergy and others must consult the diocesan safeguarding adviser, and reports are always made to the statutory authorities."

Ms Duckworth is also calling for clergy convicted of sexual abuse to be unfrocked. The Archbishop of Canterbury told her recently that this was "not something we have control over in any way at all" and would require an Act of Parliament ( News, 16 January). Ms Duckworth points out that it was possible before the introduction of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) in 2003.

"The call for consideration of changing the CDM so that deposition could be a penalty under the CDM is not only being made by MACSAS, but also by others," Bishop Butler said. "The current legislative package is too far through the process to be able to introduce a major change to it at this stage. So I will be looking into what we can do to have this considered by the House of Bishops and the new General Synod."

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