SURVIVORS of abuse reacted angrily this week to a suggestion by the Archbishop of Canterbury that the Church of England had responded to reports of abuse with more integrity than the BBC.
A protest is planned to take place today and tomorrow at Canterbury Cathedral, where Primates have gathered this week.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Archbishop Welby suggested that Britain was “a kinder society, more concerned with our own failures, more willing to be honest where we go wrong. In most of our institutions there are still dark areas”.
Pressed to be more explicit, he said: “If I am really honest, I’d say the BBC is one. I haven’t seen the same integrity over the BBC’s failures over Savile as I’ve seen in the Roman Catholic Church, in the Church of England, in other public institutions over abuse.”
Speaking on the Today programme on Saturday, after the interview was broadcast, the chairman of Stop Church Child Abuse, David Greenwood, said that the word “integrity” was “not one that I would use to describe any institution’s reaction to reports of child abuse”. The Church was, he said, “a highly ethical organisation, it’s a highly moralistic organisation, and its responses should have been much better. In fact, it’s been much worse.”
Survivors of abuse perpetrated in the C of E experienced “a blanking, a denial, a potential use of legal tactics to silence individuals. At the parish level, people are shunned.”
The executive director of safeguarding at the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, Justin Humphreys, suggested that progress had been made in the Church: he had seen “a genuine commitment, for the most part, to try to get things right”.
In a statement, five survivors of abuse wrote: “Speaking from our own bitter experience, we do not recognise Archbishop Welby’s description of the integrity with which the Church of England handles cases of abuse in a church context. Far from the ‘rigorous response and self-examination’ he claims, our experience of the Church, and specifically the Archbishop, is of long years of silence, denial, and evasion.”
The Revd Matthew Ineson, who has reported being repeatedly raped as a teenager by another cleric, the late Trevor Devamanikkam (News, 14 July), is among the protesters. This week, he accused the Church of a “continuing cover-up”. Among the protesters’ demands are mandatory abuse reporting for clergy and independent safeguarding by an external agency.
Asked at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon about his comments on the Today programme, the Archbishop said that he “may have not put it very well”. It was “widely accepted in the Church that we have a long history of significant failure”. His “profound sense of shame” about this “remains and is central to my thinking about this”. The Church was “trying as hard as we can to put things right”.
In an interview with GQ magazine, due to be published yesterday, Archbishop Welby was asked: “Is gay sex sinful?” It was, he said, “a question I can’t give a straight answer to. . . Because I don’t do blanket condemnation, and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. . . Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relation-ships, and loving relationships.”
He agreed that these qualities could exist within same-sex couples.
“I haven’t got a good answer, and I am not doing that bit of work as well as I would like, he said. “I am copping out because I am struggling with the issue.”