PEOPLE who have power and authority in the Church have “too often accepted an appearance of repentance without probing the reality” when dealing with allegations of abuse, a theological guide on safeguarding, produced by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission, warns.
The guidance has been written to help parishes grapple with the theological approach to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. In its Foreword, the C of E’s lead bishop on safeguarding, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, says that “it is vital that every member of the Church of England is enabled to affirm the relationship between compliance with policy and faithfulness to the gospel. . . Safeguarding is integral to the mission of the Church of England. . .
“Safeguarding from abuse and responding well to it need to be grounded in the fundamental themes of Christian theology and thereby woven into the church’s regular ministry of preaching and teaching. At the same time, safeguarding raises significant theological questions for Christians: questions about humanity, sin, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and the church.”
The guidance says that “we should strive to be a church where those who commit abuse are called to face human justice, hear God’s word of judgement and repent and believe the good news.” It warns, however, that “Christians, and in particular those with power and authority in the church, have too often accepted an appearance of repentance without probing the reality. They have wanted to hide from the glare of public condemnation and have therefore on occasions played a part in shielding people who have engaged in criminal behaviour from the light of justice.”
There is a need for “repentance on the part of the churches for the harm they have done [and a] need to seek forgiveness from those whom they have harmed by their wrong action and their destructive neglect.”
It says that churches should be places “where all people are welcomed into open and secure communities that make known Christ’s reconciling peace”, but that survivors of abuse often find them to be “closed and unwelcoming”.
Churches “have made space for abusers to continue abusive behaviours. . . Inertia and disinterest have inhibited the consistently effective implementation of policies to reduce the risk of abuse even after the need for them became a matter of general agreement.”
The guidance, The Gospel, Sexual Abuse and the Church: A theological resource for the local church, will be published on Thursday.