THE bishop leading safeguarding reforms in the Church of England has insisted that progress is being made, despite concerns from some that the changes are being kicked into the long grass.
Earlier this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave the Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, the task of leading the implementation of reforms called for in the independent Elliott Review (News, 18 March).
The review looked into the Church’s handling of 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).
But the survivor in that case, known only has Joe, has expressed concerns that the list of recommendations from the review, which were accepted by Archbishop Welby and later the House of Bishops, won’t be implemented for some years.
Speaking last week, Bishop Mullally said that she was in fact “cautiously optimistic” about progress so far. While it had originally been the plan to wait until later in 2017 to begin creating a new accountability structure for dioceses, this has now been sped up.
“The biggest landmark since the report was the House of Bishops’ unanimously accepting the recommendations in May. They recognised a need for the Church to change,” she said.
Independent audits of each diocese’s safeguarding teams are underway and will be sped up so they are completed next year. The first pilot audits of four dioceses were published in January (News, 22 January).
At first, the plan was to wait until each of the Church’s 41 dioceses had been audited before thinking about creating a permanent way to monitor how abuse allegations are being dealt with, and survivors cared for.
Bishop Mullally said that she understood why survivors might be frustrated by that delay. She said that the timescale was now being accelerated. The House of Bishops’ next meeting in December will consider options for structural reforms.
Furthermore, another recommendation from the Elliott review on training was already in motion.
“A special module for bishops has been developed by Mr Elliott and the national training manager,” she said. “It uses material put together by survivors. It won’t happen overnight because it is using small groups of bishops, five at a time. It will start in autumn, but it will take some time to work through all the bishops.”
Another of the key problems identified by the review was that in Joe’s case and others, the Church had fallen back on advice from its insurers and legal experts not to contact victims of abuse or offer pastoral support in case they admitted liability for compensation.
The Church’s insurers, Ecclesiastical, have now reviewed their protocols with the assistance of one survivor, and the Church’s safeguarding team are doing the same to ensure that the guidance reflects the new policy, which is that “it has to be a pastoral response first and foremost.”
“I recognise that may never been quick enough for survivors because they have waited so long. Especially for Joe. But any cultural change doesn’t happen overnight,” Bishop Mullally said.
She had no doubt, however, that the Church’s hierarchy, including Archbishop Welby, were totally committed to seeing through these changes.
“If you read his article in Crucible (News, 12 August) he makes it absolutely clear that we have to be rigorous in ensuring the Church is a place for all,” she said, “I think that he absolutely realises that we have to change. I do understand why survivors are frustrated but I’m cautiously encouraged.”