Methodists come clean about historic abuse

28 May 2015

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THE Methodist Church offered survivors of abuse a "full and unreserved apology" on Thursday, after an independent review, spanning 64 years, identified nearly 2000 cases of abuse. Six police investigations have been instigated as a result of the review.

The independent past-cases review, Courage, Cost and Hope, considered all safeguarding cases for which there were written records, and those recalled from memory by ministers and members dating back to 1950. These included cases involving children and adults that occurred within a church context, as well as those that were reported to the Church as pastoral problems. The review did not cover church schools or religious orders.

The definition of abuse used in the review was:

    a) sexual or physical abuse against a child or adult;

    b) emotional abuse/neglect if at the level of significant harm - against a child or adult;

    c) domestic abuse of any kind (child v. parent; wider family; woman v. man as well as the more usual male v. female violence);

    d) any other abuse of a vulnerable adult: financial institutional;

    e) accessing abusive images on screen.

In total, the review received 2566 responses reporting a safeguarding concern, including sexual, physical, emotional, and domestic abuse. These cases related to 1885 individuals cited as perpetrators or alleged perpetrators. Ministers or lay employees were involved in a quarter of the cases.

The report says that contributing to the review was "a difficult and painful task" not only for survivors, "but also for those in pastoral roles who made decisions in the past that they now regret".

The assessors who received the responses concluded that 48 per cent of the cases had been "satisfactorily dealt with". More than half (54 per cent) of the cases were closed because there was no longer an identifiable risk - often because the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator had died or become very elderly and infirm.

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In eight cases there was an "immediate and significant concern" requiring an urgent response.

A total of 503 cases have been allocated to a current safeguarding worker. Of those, 61 have had contact with the police, and there are six ongoing police investigations.

In total, 200 ministers were identified as perpetrators or alleged perpetrators. The statistics suggest that the numbers have been consistent over the past 12 years and show no sign of decline. A total of 142 of the 200 cases cited direct abuse of the minister's position of authority. The concerns or abuse were of a sexual nature in relation to 102 cases.

The perpetrators were 82-per-cent male, nine per cent female. (Others were not specified or cases were both sexes were involved.) Victims were 19-per-cent male, 46 per cent female. Six per cent of caes involved both sexes; 29 per cent were unknown.  

The Methodist General Secretary, the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, gave an "unreserved apology for the failure of its current and earlier processes fully to protect children, young people, and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by some ministers".

The abuse would remain  "a deep source of grief and shame to the Church", he said. "We have not always listened properly to those abused or cared for them, and this is deeply regrettable.

"In respect of these things we have, as a Christian Church, clearly failed to live in ways that glorify God and honour Christ."

The report is the product of three years of work led by a former deputy chief executive of Barnardo's, Jane Stacey, who has called for a  "significant culture change" in the Church.           

The two "most worrying" themes she identified, she says in the report, were the weakness of accountability structures and a lack of support for ministers. Among the recommendations is "structured supervision for ministers".

The culture of the Church is made unsafe, the report says, "not only by the actions of the perpetrators, but also by the subsequent actions of those in authority or in colleague relationships, who have failed to respond in a way that recognises the reality of the abuse that has taken place. . . Many within the Church have difficulty reconciling the theology of forgiveness and redemption with safeguarding."

The cases highlighted include reference to a senior minister who was "highly resistant to cooperating with the statutory agencies" after a youth officer and local preacher was charged with the molestation of two boys.

The cost of the review was £262,000.

The Church of England conducted its own past cases review in 2008-2009. The conclusion of its analysis of 40,747 files covering 30 years was that 13 cases required formal action ( 26 February 2010). A news release was issued, but nothing to compare to the 100-page report released by the Methodist Church.

Since the C of E review, reports critical of the Church's safeguarding practice have been published, including the results of an archiepiscopal visitation to Chichester (News, 7 September, 2012) and the the Cahill Inquiry, which found "systemic failure" in the handling of allegations of abuse by a former Dean of Manchester ( News, 24 October, 2014).

On Thursday, Anne Lawrence of the Stop Church Child Abuse coalition said that the Methodist report had "shown up the complete lack of transparency in the C of E past-cases review", and that the Chichester inquiry showed that it "wasn't worth the paper it was written on".

She said: "Without transparency in reporting what  happened, such as that now demonstrated by the Methodist Church, the cultural changes required to make our churches safe places will never be possible.

"It is only when we can see and understand the harm caused and the cost of abuse in terms of the impact on survivors, their families, communities and the Churches, that we will begin to change how we respond and how we protect all members from abuse."

On Thursday, the Church of England's lead bishop on safeguarding, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, welcomed the new report.

"We will want to see if there are further lessons for us to learn from the Methodist Church review," he said. "We recognise that we still have a long way to go but remain committed to ensuring that the Church is safe for all in the future."

Ms Stacey praised the Methodist Church's review as a "courageous act", but she warned "There are undoubtedly cases that have not been reported," and encouraged survivors to come forward. 

The Methodist Church encourages survivors and victims and those with any information to contact the Safeguarding Team: safeguarding@methodistchurch.org.uk 

They will be listened to and support will be offered.

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