BY TELLING survivors of sexual abuse to keep quiet, the Church has been forcing them to undergo a second form of abuse and “keeping them from Jesus”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The culture around safeguarding, legal advice that encouraged keeping your distance, and simply refusing to believe reports of abuse has meant that for years victims were, in effect, told by the Church that they should keep their mouths shut, Archbishop Welby said.
This had the effect of “keeping them from the love of Christ”, he warned, in a strongly worded foreword to a special issue of the Crucible journal of Christian ethics dedicated to safeguarding.
“When I became Archbishop, I . . . mistakenly believed that the major changes needed in outlook had already been achieved,” he wrote. It soon became clear, however, that reforming how the Church dealt with issues of abuse would have to be a major theme of his time at Lambeth Palace.
“The culture around how survivors of abuse are heard has in effect been to tell them to be quiet, and to keep them away from the love of Christ,” Archbishop Welby wrote.
In addition, victims have had to endure the “sheer bitter frustration” of taking huge personal risks to disclose abuse but then being ignored.
Addressing this culture of silence within the Church was vital, and failure to do so would amount to another kind of abuse for the second time, “as bad if not worse than the first betrayal”.
Archbishop Welby also picked out an article in Crucible, by Josephine Stein, which explores how to survive the “crucible of ecclesiastical abuse” as “particularly hard to read, but vital to absorb”. In it, Ms Stein shows how damaging the Church’s response has been, including leading some victims to lose their faith entirely.
Just as the disciples mistakenly kept children and others from Jesus in the Gospels, so the Church has been preventing survivors of abuse from reaching the compassion and healing offered by Christ, Archbishop Welby said.
“Yes we have to be rigorous, and responsible in ensuring the Church is a place safe for all, but that is only half the story if we fail to take seriously and to listen to those who have been abused by those who minister in the Church or through Church organisations,” he concluded.
He ended the foreword by offering a “deep apology” and his “profound sorrow” for the way the Church has failed.
Other articles in the journal include discussions of the theology behind safeguarding, the possibility of preventing child abuse rather than just responding after it has already happened, and examining whether the Clergy Discipline Measures are fit for purpose.
Crucible, along with the Church Times, is published by Hymns Ancient & Modern, and is available at crucible.hymnsam.co.uk.