General Synod, safeguarding debate: ‘Don’t turn away, walk towards us’

Before the debate, the Synod heard from survivors of abuse

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTON

Synod members stand to applaud Jo Kind of MACSAS, after her address

Synod members stand to applaud Jo Kind of MACSAS, after her address

A PRESENTATION on safeguarding preceded the debate on Saturday morning. The Synod was addressed jointly by Dr Sheila Fish, of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), and Jo Kind, of the survivors’ group MACSAS.

Ms Kind began her presentation by saying that she had volunteered with MACSAS for about seven years. She said that she had been abused as a young adult while working for the C of E and had come to MACSAS for help. The Synod needed the expertise of survivors, she said, and inviting survivors to address the Synod was “a step in a better direction”.

She spoke of the impact of abuse on her well-being, meaning, and purpose. “We need to note the courage that it takes to report the harm done to us, and the courage it takes to come here: to the representative body of the Church that caused us harm.”

MACSAS existed to give immediate support to help people survive the process of reporting abuse to the Church, she told the Synod. “Many feel, or are made to feel, like they are the problem.” A change of culture was needed to ensure that the Church was a safe place.

“Cultural change needs a radical reorientation of the process,” she continued. Did the Church have “half an eye or sometimes more” on limiting damage to the reputation of church officers when dealing with safeguarding, she asked. “Please keep your focus on people. . . Please keep your focus on people’s needs. . .

“Instead of turning away from survivors, walk towards us,” Ms Kind urged the Synod. Funding was needed to support survivors through counselling and therapy, and courage should be drawn on to move on from the “disaster” of the Past Cases Review.

“Please think seriously about starting with a blank piece of paper rather than tweaking the Clergy Discipline Measure,” Ms Kind said: instances of sexual abuse could be reduced if mandatory reporting was introduced.

The safeguarding paper presented by the House of Bishops had an “underlying sense of urgency”. She asked the Synod to debate it with wisdom, and to “endorse timely action, not just talk”.

The Synod stood to applaud her.

Dr Fish hoped that she could give some further context. She spoke of learning from mistakes, where “accountability isn’t about blame, but where you are genuinely learning and drawing lessons from mistakes”. She also spoke of the long journey towards effective safeguarding. In the past three years, working with the Church, it had become evident that the Church was in the “urgent stage” in terms of changing culture and structure.

About 40 people had responded to the SCIE survey so far, she said. It asked whether it was for the Church to provide a safe space for survivors. “When survivors come forward and disclose, they are providing a valuable service, often at great cost. Are we celebrating and rewarding them?”

Another theme was recognising the long-term impact of abuse by those within the Church, Dr Fish said: mental illness, relationship breakdowns, self-harm, suicide, and secondary impacts on the children of survivors. It was sobering and shocking, she said. “No one chooses to be a survivor.”

Providing compassionate justice for survivors was essential for enabling them to move on. “The Church needs to see that the cover-up is never needed,” Dr Fish said. Talking openly about the behaviour of abusers was part of this, knowing that abuse could happen at any time.

One respondent, she said, wrote: “All I see is when the Church talks about safeguarding, it means safeguarding people from me . . . from survivors. . . It is not possible to move on while injustice remains. . . If the Church is not safe for me, it is not safe for anyone.”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONDr Sheila Fish of SCIE gives her presentation; left, Jo Kind of MACSAS

Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark) had been contacted by a survivor who had some anxieties about the survey from SCIE: she had received an email inviting her to participate without any warning, and had been really taken aback by the lack of pastoral engagement. Also, when she contacted other survivors, none was aware of the survey. What decisions were made about whom to approach? How could they be assured of meaningful results?

Martin Sewell (Rochester) asked how the survey would be interpreted. It covered a range of abuses: would the results be broken down, and would IICSA accept it?

Joan Beck (Southwell & Nottingham), who chairs a safeguarding-adults board and is a social worker, asked about the possibility of having shared conversations on safeguarding, and also about a three-year plan.

Dr Fish said that she was sorry, and was aware of the person who was concerned about the way in which the survey had been delivered. She explained that it was not a stand-alone piece of research, but part of a longer piece of quality improvement, which included an audit of all 42 diocesan safeguarding arrangements. A great deal of work had gone into the survey, in partnership with survivors, but it had not needed to secure approval from an ethics committee. There was a balance to be held with wanting to give people an opportunity to take part.

The survey covered a broad range of safeguarding and abuse, and SCIE was planning to break it down in analysis. But it was not designed as an evaluation of how well the Church was doing; the focus was on how survivors and victims thought that the Church should be responding.

Penny Allen (Lichfield) had had abuse disclosed to her in the classroom. She asked whether SCIE had expertise on safeguarding for children which could be shared, and whether there was anything that had been successful in the practice of safeguarding officers which should be recommended. Had SCIE been consulted on the parish handbook on safeguarding which had just been published?

The Revd Sonya Doragh (Liverpool) was a survivor of abuse perpetrated outside church structures, but church had a part to play in responding to that. Would SCIE help the Synod to understand why it was different when abuse was perpetrated by a representative of the Church, and also how to respond to people who were abused by those who were not clergy and ministers of the Church?

Dr Yvonne Warren (Coventry) spoke as a therapist, and asked for clarification on how to talk about abusers and how they groomed others.

Ms Kind said that there was a certain level of pain which came from being abused by someone who was a representative of God. For people who went to church, it was generally their “safe place”: a place where they could be in community and family if something went wrong. When someone from that place took advantage of them and used their power to abuse, it not only caused hurt, but excluded them from their community. That was the deepest pain and what people repeated over and over again.

Communities found it very difficult to “hold the good and the bad about people”. It was “easier to look at the good and cast aside the bad”; but there was a need to hold those two together for there to be restoration — and survivors were expected to do this. It would also help them to support people who had been abused from without. It was “a human condition: we don’t want to talk about horrible things. What we need to do is walk with people through their pain; not just say ‘That’s terrible’, but to look out for them.”

Dr Fish said that it was “notoriously difficult” for institutions to keep vigilant about the potential for abuse, as in any one location it was a rare occurrence. It was important to avoid “the holy hush” and to “skill people up about the very clever tactics that tend to be used, if we never talk about those tactics, and [recognise] that abusers are often people who are very effective, loved, and good in lots of other regards”.
SCIE did have expertise on children, and this had underpinned the audits that were carried out. The National Safeguarding Team, which included survivors, had been consulted on the parish handbook.

Canon Judith Maltby (University of Oxford) suggested that the Church was “still in a reputational bubble: we have moved from the cover-up to realising that the cover-up ends up hurting our reputation. We have not yet really approached that person-centred starting-point.”

Canon Lisa Battye (Manchester) asked how clergy could help to produce justice for survivors, “when the justice that they are asking for appears to be impossible”.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, asked how to tell the story of clergy removed from office. He needed advice on how to tell this story “in an appropriate way that would give confidence that we are trying to address these things”. He found himself “almost covering up the fact we have got rid of somebody”.

Ms Kind suggested that “openness brings respect. The people who report do not report to damage reputation, but to get things better for other people, and then to get some justice. If there can be openness about that, reputation will improve.”
With regard to Canon Battye’s question, there was a need to “start from the beginning and make sure that people are supported and accompanied”.

She told Bishop Cottrell of people who had had the “immense courage” to report and then found that, because the people in the senior part of their diocese had not been able to be open with their community, they had been ostracised from the whole community, not just the Church: “That is a terrible thing to do to somebody.”

The way in which archdeacons and bishops went into communities and talked to them after cases were resolved needed “careful thought. There has to be openness and truth. Truth is the main key.”

Dr Fish said that nobody knew how to do this. But it could be done in such a way that people could be encouraged that dealing with these abusers made the leadership better able to spot abuse in future.

 

INTRODUCING debate on the report, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, welcomed those watching the debate in York and online, including survivors of abuse. He had been at the safeguarding fringe meeting on Friday night, and expressed his gratitude for the “directness and honesty” of the presentation from SCIE and MACSAS. “Their words have not been easy to hear, but I would like to thank them for engaging so frankly to us,” he said.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONThe Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the lead bishop on safeguarding, introduces the debate on the report

“Over the years, the Church and its leaders have singularly failed to see what was before our eyes. We did not give safeguarding the prominence it deserved. We failed to put preventative measures in place. We failed to listen to those who had come forward with powerful accounts. We failed to fund safeguarding at a senior level in the Church.”

The 2013 report of the Chichester Commissaries had come ten years too late, and the Past Cases Review in 2008 had not been delivered consistently. Since 2013, spending on safeguarding had increased from £37,000 a year to £1.6 million so far this year. This was due to rise to £7 million. He was “confident” in the resources being put in place.

Responding to a repeated criticism given in evidence during the IICSA hearing in March, he said: “The House of Bishops individually and collectively remain accountable for good safeguarding across the dioceses and parishes. We must adopt a whole-Church approach to safeguarding.”

This meant that safeguarding was central to mission and, therefore, could not be outsourced to an independent body. He outlined the three thematic priorities in the report that the Synod was being asked to endorse: supporting and engaging with survivors of abuse; implementing “robust processes” for clergy discipline, selection, and suitability; and strengthening independence and scrutiny.

Kashmir Garton (Worcester) supported the motion. It was important that the Church’s approach to safeguarding mirrored other organisations. She had worked in the probation service. She told the Synod that it was clear that survivors had lost trust in the Church, and that this needs to be restored.

The Synod could go further than the report in discussing how to treat those who had faced justice for their crimes, she said. “In the probation service, we believe in people’s capacity to change. . . Currently, the probation service is working with prison chaplains to strengthen how we can work together and how we can use faith to rehabilitate offenders.”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONKashmir Gaton (Worcester)

David Kemp (Canterbury) was the joint chair of the Canterbury safeguarding group. The archaic structure of the C of E was a white elephant in the room, Mr Kemp said, with 40-odd dioceses. If a bishop “doesn’t get” safeguarding, then work could be hampered.

More accountability of diocesan bishops was needed “quickly”. IICSA needed to be taken seriously. The Synod dates in November could be used to debate the IICSA report. “Let’s stop being that oil tanker, changing course with the speed of continental drift. . . Let’s show the world that we are doing what we can to get safeguarding right.”

The idea of a central safeguarding service was supported by Phillip Blinkhorn (Manchester). Manchester diocese had improved its safeguarding process, and had more people employed to work on it, but a national service would help this. It was necessary that safeguarding not be affected by budget decisions in individual dioceses. This would not remove accountability but improve practice.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who was previously bishop for safeguarding, said that IICSA showed that the country needed to come to terms with a “deeply, deeply shameful” past on abuse. The Church needed to hold its hand up as an organisation that had failed. “Prevention remains critical,” but “handling what happened in the past helps us be a better preventative organisation today.”

He said that they must have independent scrutiny and audit, and independent advice, but that the Church could not stop taking responsibility. An ombudsman was necessary. Insurance laws need to change, too.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONThe Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison (Southern Deans), disagreed with the Bishop of Durham. He said that the complaints process needed to be delegated to an independent body, because of prejudicial interest, something that he had learnt about when he was Dean of Bradford. Speaking to the Bishops, he said: “Stop trying to do everything: you cannot. Do it by delegating to independent authorities.”

The Church should be making millions of pounds available for those who had been hurt and marginalised. This would draw more people to the Christian gospel.

The motion and the report were welcomed by Margaret Sheather (Gloucester). The Church needed to move beyond its “reputational bubble”, and it was important not to undermine the change that had already been taken.

She urged the Synod not to transfer safeguarding issues to an independent body. Similar large organisations had had safeguarding issues and had continued to tackle it in-house.

David Coulston (Europe) said that, as a JP, he had seen the impact of abuse. He supported the motion, and told the Synod that he was grateful for progress, however slow. As a representative of Europe, he said that the Church needed to realise that it worked in more than 40 countries as well as more than 40 dioceses, and the complications that came with this. They needed to look at the criminal records of those in Europe, and that more than DBS should be included in checks.

Stephen Hoffmeyr (Guildford), a lawyer, told the Synod that “no stone must be left unturned in the quest to uncover the truth of what has happened in the past.” The Church should recognise new growth where it existed, and progress should be applauded. He urged the Synod to back the motion.

Canon Simon Taylor (Derby), safeguarding lead for Derby Cathedral, moved his amendment. It added: “endorse as an additional priority the support of safeguarding at parish level to create a safer church for all”. There was a need to change the culture of the Church. “It needs to be bottom-up as well as top-down.” Policy did filter through; so it was “important that it lands well, or we will have wonderful policies never translated into practice”.

Bishop Hancock welcomed the amendment, which was carried.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark), moving his amendment, praised those who worked in safeguarding: people employed to “get us out of the mess that we have made, not them”. Professional staff were “people, not heartless functionaries. If survivors have names, so do staff.”

He was sometimes ashamed of way in which members of Synod, “claiming to speak for survivors”, spoke about them. The anger and frustration was “palpable, particularly on social media” and this was a “deteriorating and concerning state of affairs”. He was concerned about the way it was affecting the health and well-being of survivors.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONCanon Simon Butler (Southwark)

He had been contacted by survivors who felt inhibited about sharing their stories publicly, because of the tone of the conversation. There was a need to take steps “to try to heal the breach between a modest group of maybe rightly angry survivors and the NCIs”. This could entail mediation “to reduce the temperature, dial down public accusations and disputes”, and enable the Church to talk “in a better way that generates partnership and peace”.

Bishop Hancock supported the amendment, and it was carried.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, in her maiden speech, said that, to date, survivors had not been involved effectively: the Church could design a service well only if they walked alongside. It cost survivors “highly” to be involved in this way. “We have come far. I believe I have seen change, but we have far to go.” She spoke on independence: of scrutiny, disclosure processes (particularly for those who had been abused by clergy), and redress, and the support of an independent ombudsman.

“But the responsibility, I am clear, is mine to provide a safe environment. We should not lose our responsibility and hand over safeguarding completely independently.”

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) quoted a Twitter message from a friend: “We have got to stop introducing safeguarding framework with comments like, ‘Sorry we have to go through the boring safeguarding stuff, it is the rules.’” The Church had to stop seeing safeguarding as a “chore and necessary evil”, he warned. “Safeguarding should not be seen as a loop through which to jump.” It should be at the heart of mission, he said.

A motion for the closure of the debate was rejected.

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) was “amazed and surprised” that close friends in his church would not believe what was being told to them about a perpetrator in their midst. It had caused a split, he said. It was the price of strong leadership.

The Archbishop of Canterbury echoed the Bishop of London’s tribute to survivors, including those who were undeclared and undisclosed. “We need to care for them very deeply, and pay tribute to survivors who have disclosed, and who will pay for that in sleepless nights and deep psychological pain. We cannot say often enough about how appalled and sorry we are.”

There had been much talk of resourcing, he said; but resourcing meant paying. “Redress, mediation, psychological help, and counselling — someone has to pay.” The debate must happen in diocesan and deanery synods, and in PCCs, he urged, “so that those paying the bill know why it is being paid. . .

“I see the power of the argument for more independence, provided that we remain no less committed to our responsibility. Independence will give confidence to what we do.” He asked Bishop Hancock what this might look like.

All of this depended on culture, the Archbishop continued. The only way to ensure that the victim or survivor was not blamed was to have a culture-change like the one on drink-driving, as a survivor said last night. “It is condemned, not sympathised with.”

Nigel Bacon (Lincoln), a Reader, suggested that Readers and other lay people with a bishop’s licence or PtO should also be part of the national database of clergy proposed in the report.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONJayne Ozanne (Oxford)

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) recalled the stories of survivors at the fringe meeting. Words, prayers, and actions were progress, but each member of the Synod had a responsibility to change the culture of the Church from fear to a place of safety. “We have to learn to say sorry with our hearts.”

Responding, Bishop Hancock said that the Church had to learn from other organisations and models in terms of independence, but also create something bespoke rather than bring in something that was less than adequate. An ombudsman model would be helpful, he suggested.

The motion was carried by 368 votes nem.con., with two recorded abstentions. It read:

 

That this Synod, recognising that safeguarding is at the heart of Christian mission and the urgent need for the Church of England to continue to become a safer place for all and a refuge for those who suffer abuse in any context:

(a) endorse the priorities for action outlined in the report (GS 2092); and

(b) call on the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council to ensure that the plan of action is implemented as a matter of priority;

(c) endorse as an additional priority the support of safeguarding at parish level to create a safer church for all; and

(d) call on the House of Bishops to introduce, as a matter of urgency, ways to improve relations between the Church and those survivors currently in dispute with National Church Institutions, including, where appropriate, by the use of mediation processes.


Read a report of every General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here

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