A PRESSURE group that campaigns for mandatory reporting of suspected or known child abuse in the UK has criticised the Church of England for prioritising its reputation over the protection of children.
The group, Mandate Now, is supporting an ongoing government consultation, Reporting and Acting on Child Abuse, which was tabled by Baroness Walmsley in 2014 as an amendment to the Serious Crimes Act 2015. It was supported at the time by the former lead Bishop on Safeguarding, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who told the House of Lords: “Time and time again, individuals in institutions have failed the most vulnerable in their care by failing to report.”
It was opposed by Baroness Howarth, who is on the National Safeguarding Panel of the C of E, a group of volunteers established earlier that year to promote good practice. She argued: “It is important that systems are in place to ensure that there is a clear pathway for reporting. . . I do not think that [organisations] would knowingly fail to carry out that duty, because the consequences are huge.”
The amendment (43) was passed by the Government through Lord Bates, but a consultation was not begun until July last year after a 200,000-strong petition from Mandate Now to speed up the process. It closed in October, and the results have yet to be reported.
In an article published on its website last Friday, however, the group — referring to the initial support of Bishop Butler — accused the Church of “U-turning” on its previous commitment to the consultation during a meeting of the National Safeguarding Team of the C of E, of eight employed members, at Lambeth Palace, in October.
“Those against mandatory reporting seem to observe an omertà [code of silence] on this key subject because one suspects, it undermines their position,” the article says.
“How does one make an individual or organisation report a concern when they are disinclined to do so. The Church of England has a long history of this and the current discretionary reporting arrangements have been very helpful to institutions keen to prioritise reputations over child welfare.”
The Church’s national safeguarding adviser, Graham Tilby, responded on Tuesday, however, that a submission had been made by the National Safeguarding Team which reflected a “range of opinions” from its members, and the panel, including survivors, chief executives of safeguarding charities and organisations, and church leaders and officers.
“Our submission reflected that we do not have a national policy on this issue [mandatory reporting] but would be considering the issue further. However, we also pointed out recent changes in policy and legislation [which] show the Church’s absolute commitment to report concerns or allegations of abuse to the statutory authorities.”
The House of Bishops published an update of the C of E safeguarding policy in March, drafted around the time of the consultation. It states: “All suspicions, concerns, knowledge or allegations, that reach the threshold for reporting to the statutory authorities, will be reported via the designated safeguarding adviser/officer to the appropriate statutory authorities. This will be done irrespective of the status of the person.”
In October, sections five and six of the Safeguarding & Clergy Discipline Measure came into force, requiring all clerics, licensed readers and lay workers, churchwardens, and PCCs to comply to its safeguarding policy, or face disciplinary action.
Mandate Now was founded by Tom Perry, who was a complainant in the Caldicott School child abuse scandal, which surfaced in 2008.