TWO survivors of sexual abuse in the Church of England have demanded that the Church overhaul its process for handling abuse claims, and have criticised its relationship with its insurer, Ecclesiastical.
The survivors say that they were treated poorly, and that their pastoral care and counselling were cut off, because of an overly defensive approach and legal advice from Ecclesiastical.
The survivors are: Gilo, a man who was sexually assaulted by the late Garth Moore, a former diocesan chancellor (News, 4 December 2015); and Teresa Cooper, who blew the whistle on the decades of abuse at a C of E-run children’s home, Kendall House, in Kent (News, 15 July 2016).
Gilo does not want his surname published, to protect his identity, and was previously known only by the pseudonym “Joe”.
After he made a compensation claim against the Church, having tried for years to report his ordeal, with little response, the pastoral support finally being offered to him was temporarily cut off. An independent review of the case concluded that this was because of incorrect advice from Ecclesiastical (News, 18 March 2016).
An investigation by the BBC found that Ms Cooper’s files were withheld by the C of E. She says her story of the Kendall House abuse was dismissed in front of her at a meeting with an Ecclesiastical representative by church figures in an attempt to “undermine my story in front of the insurer”.
Gilo said on Tuesday: “They [the Church] need to remove the handling of survivors completely from Ecclesiastical. The Church needs to create an entirely new redress and reparations system which is built on healing, fairness, and justice. The process Ecclesiastical puts people through is anything but.”
“It’s a toxic process and built out of litigation gains and minimising . . . you feel like you are playing some awful kind of game. In my case they started at £5000 and we were going up in thousands. It was a demeaning, degrading experience. It’s ugly horse-trading. The Church needs to recognise that itself is harmful and damaging.”
Both Gilo and Ms Cooper are concerned that Ecclesiastical is too closely intertwined with the C of E. Ecclesiastical was founded in 1887 to conserve for church purposes the profits of church insurers. Since the 1970s, its profits have been paid to a charity, the Allchurches Trust, which makes grants to dozens of dioceses and parishes.
The insurer is legally independent of the Church. Today, insuring churches amounts to only a quarter of its work, although there has always been at least one cleric on its board.
Gilo and Ms Cooper were interviewed for a BBC report on their concerns, broadcast last Friday, and both called for the Church to establish an independent safeguarding authority to handle all future cases.
This was echoed by the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, who said the Church must abandon its culture of defensiveness and begin with the experience of survivors.
For every survivor able to speak out about their experience, there were hundreds more “left bewildered, angry, desperate”, Gilo said.
A spokeswoman for Ecclesiastical said in a statement that the independent review, the Elliott report, contained factual inaccuracies, and insisted that they had never advised the Church to remove pastoral support.
“We have always been clear that pastoral care and counselling can and should continue in parallel with an insurance claim. We are an independent insurer that is authorised and rigorously regulated in the same way as any other insurer. We are entirely independent of the Church of England.”
She also suggested that the temporary withdrawal of support for Gilo was based on a misunderstanding, and was quickly rectified.
A spokeswoman for the C of E said: “Advice was given to the bishop to cut off pastoral contact with the survivor because he had started legal action. We now recognise that proper provision needs to be made for the pastoral needs of survivors in such circumstances. We therefore published new guidance in 2015 to that effect, emphasising that pastoral support can and should continue in parallel with legal and insurance responses.”
The House of Bishops was “fully committed” to implementing the recommendations of the Elliott report. “The Church has issued an unreserved apology to Gilo for the abuse which has clearly devastated his life.”