THE Church of England’s safeguarding procedures in cases of reported sexual abuse have been condemned as “fundamentally flawed” by an independent review, which was commissioned by the Church.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has promised to implement the changes that the review calls for, and to do so quickly.
The review, which was carried out by Ian Elliott, a safeguarding consultant with the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, considered the Church’s response to allegations of sexual abuse by the Revd Garth Moore, a former Chancellor of the dioceses of Southwark, Durham, and Gloucester, who died in 1990 (News, 4 December). It concerned an attempted rape by Chancellor Moore of “Joe” (not his real name), which took place while Joe, then aged 16, was staying as a house guest at Chancellor Moore’s rooms in Gray’s Inn.
Joe was then drawn into what he has described as an exploitative and emotionally abusive relationship by Brother Michael Fisher SSF, who later became Bishop of St Germans.
The review, which has been seen in its entirety by the Church Times and The Guardian, is unsparing in its criticism of the way in which the C of E handled this case, accusing the Church of relying on good will, and withdrawing pastoral support as soon as the matter of financial compensation was mentioned.
“This approach, of relying on widespread good will and a shared commitment to best practice . . . has been shown in other situations to be fundamentally flawed,” it concludes.
The safeguarding policy that was in place when Joe got in touch with various church authorities in 2014 is described by the review as “excellent”. The problem was that it was not implemented properly. The review concludes that “major gaps” in the safeguarding practice as it actually happens on the ground meant that it was questionable “whether the current structure for the delivery of a safeguarding service across the Church is fit for purpose”.
Joe’s allegations are “credible”, and reveal a “tragic catalogue of exploitation and harm”, the review says. In December, the diocese of London reached a £35,000 settlement with him, and agreed to commission this report into the case.
The Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, was given the task of taking up the report’s conclusions. She said that, in a meeting last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury had told her that all the recommendations had been accepted, and would be implemented.
She said she had been horrified by what she read. “It’s embarrassing and uncomfortable reading for us. I was disappointed. The Church of England commissioned this piece of work because it wanted to learn from this particular survivor, and from his experiences. We owe it not just to [him] but to others to say that we will listen better, believe quicker, and respond appropriately.”
Speaking on Tuesday, Joe said that he was pleased that the report had not “pulled any punches”. “There has been a deep inertia against making adequate changes. I have the sense Bishop Mullally could kick the Church out of its complacency,” he said.
Joe has previously written in the Church Times about his long struggle to have his reports of abuse taken seriously (Comment, 17 April).
On many occasions he had told senior clerics and other figures in the Church about the serious sexual abuse that he had suffered while he was a teenager, but no significant action had been taken.
Several of the people to whom Joe had reported the abuse told the Elliott review that they had no recollection of this. “The fact that these conversations could be forgotten about is hard to accept,” the review says. “He would be speaking about a serious and sadistic sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by a senior member of the hierarchy.”
Furthermore, no one had made any written record of what had been discussed, and this amounted to “unacceptable practice. . . If anyone is involved in receiving a disclosure of abuse, they should record the detail of what was said, and set out with their informant what actions would be taken by them, when they would take them, and why.”
In 2014, Joe finally secured a meeting with the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who leads the C of E’s safeguarding work. Shortly afterwards, Joe began legal proceedings aimed at securing compensation.
At that point, the Church was advised by its insurers to break off all contact with Joe. Consequently, Bishop Butler, and staff at Lambeth Palace who had also been contacted by Joe, did so. They later told the review that they “bitterly regretted doing so”.
Cutting off contact with survivors is “unacceptable practice” and contradicts the Church’s own principles set out in its safeguarding guidelines, the Elliott report says. It recommends that pastoral support should never be withdrawn from any survivor simply because of concerns about financial or legal liability. Instead, the Church’s first response must always be a written apology to survivors, and then the offer of a “process of healing” for both their emotional and spiritual health.
Training for the bishops and senior clergy, which is already under way as part of the Green report (News, 12 December 2014), must now include specific training on what to do when someone discloses sexual abuse, the report recommends.
Bishop Mullally said that the recommendation on training was already being put into action, and the other recommendations would be implemented quickly. She could not say when this would be finished.
The review also recommends that the role and resources of the national safeguarding team at Church House be strengthened, so that it can check that dioceses are properly using the C of E’s safeguarding policies, and hold to account any that fail to do so.
Although this change from being advisers to becoming enforcers would be difficult, Bishop Mullally said that Archbishop Welby had endorsed the idea. “That absolutely is going to happen; but what that looks like I can’t tell you today. In an organisation that is dispersed, it’s not a straightforward answer; [but] there has to be some way of holding people to account for this.”
The report will not be published in full, although the C of E will publish the conclusions and recommendations. Bishop Mullally says that this is for pastoral reasons, although Joe has told the Church Times that he wants the detail of the review to be made public.
Survivor hopes Mullally can bring in reform before tragedy strikes
JOE said that the Church could not afford to wait to make the recommended reforms, if it hoped to avoid a survivor’s committing suicide in despair.
“The reality is that the Church does not have any time. It is way beyond the 11th hour,” he said this week. He had now been told that no survivor would again have the C of E suddenly cease contact because of legal proceedings, but other survivors had told him this practice was still continuing. “This isn’t just about me; it’s about what has been happening to so many people over the past five or six years.”
The trauma he suffered from the initial abuse by Chancellor Moore had been compounded by the lack of action taken by those he had had the courage to speak to.
A few years after the original assault, Joe had told Bishop Fisher, then the leader of the Society of St Francis, of his ordeal, he says. But rather than pass on the information to the authorities, or offer pastoral support, Bishop Fisher had, during confession, encouraged Joe to go into great detail about the abuse.
Immediately after this, Bishop Fisher, then in his 60s, began to draw Joe into a romantic and physically intimate, though non-sexual, relationship, Joe says. Now, decades later, Joe says he realises that this was an abusive way to respond to a report of child abuse by an 18-year-old; although he admits that the relationship also contained some “good things”.
Joe said he was optimistic that the Elliott report would lead to real reform, but still had reservations. He had asked for a female bishop to lead the implementation of the recommendations, because he had wanted a new broom. “It needed to be somebody who wasn’t part of the layers of complicity and loyalty, who didn’t carry all that baggage.”
He said he would use his first meeting with Bishop Mullally, which is due to take place in the coming days, to insist that survivors of clerical sexual abuse should be involved in guiding the changes made to safeguarding procedures. This echoed a commitment Bishop Mullally made, which was to seek the input of survivors as she sought to put each of the report’s recommendations into practice.
If the response to the review got bogged down in another committee, however, it would get nowhere, Joe cautioned. The Bishop “has got to be able to make big changes rapidly. If she shows she has got the teeth to do that, then I will have confidence.”