Methodist report prompts calls for C of E abuse review

05 June 2015

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CALLS have been made for the Church of England to open up its safeguarding files to independent review, after the example set by the Methodist Church last week.

The Methodist Church published a report, Courage, Cost and Hope, on Thursday of last week, and offered survivors of abuse a "full and unreserved apology". The 100-page document is an independent review, spanning 64 years and identifying nearly 2000 cases of abuse. Six police investigations have been instigated as a result.

The review considered all safeguarding cases for which there were written records, and those recalled from memory by ministers and members dating back to 1950. In total, 200 ministers were identified as perpetrators or alleged perpetrators.

The chief executive of the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), Simon Bass, called this week on every UK denomination to commission "an immediate, independent, past-case review of safeguarding concerns".

He described Courage, Cost and Hope as "a powerful demonstration of the commitment the Methodist Church has towards ensuring churches are safer places for children, along with recognising the needs of survivors of abuse".

The Church of England conducted its own past-cases review in 2008-09. The conclusion of its analysis of 40,747 files covering 30 years was that 13 cases required formal action ( News, 26 February 2010). A news release was issued, but not a report.

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

Anne Lawrence, of the Stop Church Child Abuse coalition, said last week 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".

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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 . . . that we will begin to change how we respond."

She told Radio 4's Sunday programme that she welcomed the Methodist report's recognition "that policies and procedures cannot of themselves protect the vulnerable from those who wish to abuse them. That acknowledgement has been quite profound for many survivors as if at least they have been heard."

The Methodist review included cases involving children and adults which occurred in a church context, as well as those that were reported to the Church as pastoral problems. The review did not cover schools.

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.

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 elderly and infirm.

In eight cases, there was an "immediate and significant concern" requiring an urgent response. A total of 503 cases that are now to be investigated have been allocated to a safeguarding worker. Of those, 61 have involved contact with the police, and there are six ongoing police investigations.

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

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

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church, 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."

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 highlighted cases 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 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."

Ms Lawrence suggested on the Sunday programme that the Church of England had fallen behind the progress made by the Methodists. "I don't think they are listening as closely as the Methodist Church has," she said. "We have constantly said that the Clergy Discipline Measure and their processes for engaging with these cases is nowhere near adequate enough to understand what needs to change in order to protect children and the vulnerable.

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"I think they are a very big institution; they are an established institution; they hold great power right to the top of our country, and I think that's going to be much harder to engage with in a way that would bring about fundamental change.

"I think the Methodist Church is on a better road because of the nature of its very institution: it enables people to listen much better than these bigger institutions. Unless they [the C of E] can listen right down to the depths of what has happened to the survivors and what they know and their wisdom, they will not be able to change in the way that I believe the Methodist Church can."

Ms Stacey praised the Methodists' review as a "courageous act". She warned, however: "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 its safeguarding team: safeguarding@methodistchurch.org.uk. They will be listened to, and support will be offered, it says.

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