THE pain and harm experienced by survivors of abuse, and demands for independent scrutiny of the Church of England’s safeguarding practices, were at the heart of a debate of the General Synod, meeting in York, on Saturday.
After presentation from the survivors’ group MACSAS, and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), which drew a standing ovation, Synod members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to “take note” of a report from the House of Bishops committing the Church to improving its safeguarding practices (News, 29 June).
Introducing the report, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, said: “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.”
He supported an amendment from Canon Simon Butler (Southwark), which was later carried, which called 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”.
Canon Butler also reminded the Synod that people who worked in safeguarding were the 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 the Synod, “claiming to speak for survivors”, spoke about these professionals. The anger and frustration were “palpable, particularly on social media”, and this was a “deteriorating and concerning state of affairs”.
He had been contacted by survivors who felt inhibited about sharing their stories publicly, because of the tone of the conversation.
In her presentation, Jo Kind, of MACSAS, said that she had been abused while working for the C of E as a young adult (Comment, 15 July 2016), and that her presentation was the first time that the Synod had heard from a survivor of abuse within the Church.
“Many [survivors] feel, or are made to feel, like they are the problem,” she said. A change of culture was needed to ensure that the Church was a safe place, and “cultural change needs a radical reorientation of the process.”
She urged the Church keep its focus on the needs of people, not the reputation of church officers. “Instead of turning away from survivors, walk towards us.” This meant “starting with a blank piece of paper” rather than “tweaking” the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), she said.
Synod members stood to applaud her presentation.
Dr Sheila Fish, of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), which is conducting a survey of the Church’s response to clerical abuse and safeguarding concerns, said that about 40 people had responded so far. “When survivors come forward and disclose, they are providing a valuable service, often at great cost,” she said. The survey was asked: “Are we celebrating and rewarding them?”
Another theme had been 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.”
Both presentations, and several speakers in the debate on the report, referred to a Synod fringe meeting for survivors of abuse, organised by MACSAS on Friday evening. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Hancock, and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally,were among those who had attended it.
Bishop Mullally said, in a maiden speech, that, to date, survivors had not been involved effectively in the process. “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, supported by 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 Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, the former lead bishop on safeguarding, agreed with calls for an independent ombudsman. The hearings being conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) showed that the country must come to terms with a “deeply, deeply shameful” past. Prevention of abuse remained “critical” for the Church, and “handling what happened in the past helps us be a better preventative organisation today.”
The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd David Ison (London), disagreed. The complaints process needed to be delegated to an independent body, because of prejudicial interest. Speaking directly to the Bishops’ bench, he said: “Stop trying to do everything: you cannot. Do it by delegating to independent authorities.” The Church should also be making millions of pounds available to people who had been hurt and marginalised by it.
Resourcing meant paying, the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “Redress, mediation, psychological help and counselling – someone has to pay.” The debate happening at the Synod must happen in diocesan and deanery synods, and PCCs, he said, “so that those paying the bill know why it is being paid”.
A separate item on safeguarding estimated that the priorities for action listed in the report would cost between £60,000 and £100,000, including staff salaries. Some of these actions and costing were dependent on independently commissioned work, which was yet to be received by the NST, and therefore, it says, “some of the priorities for action could result in significant costs which are currently unbudgeted.”
Archbishop Welby continued: “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. The Bishop said suggested than an ombudsman model would be most helpful.
Archbishop Welby 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.”
At the fringe meeting, a survivor of clerical abuse, Gilo, told the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, that there was a “crisis of senior leadership” in the Church, which was compromising the response to survivors.
“MACSAS is aware that nearly a third of current diocesan bishops have responded to survivors dishonourably. This deepening crisis cannot be managed away or hidden. It is a crisis that can only change by being transformed.”
He said on Sunday: “The motion has not gone far enough, but it has been a very big leap forward. Survivors now have to work together to drive forward that change in a meaningful way.”
Martin Sewell (Rochester) said: “It is striking that balance between what can properly be done in the Church, and what has to be outside. . . We may end up with a hybrid system which may be workable if it is well-designed.”
In his presidential address, before the presentation, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, asked what hope might look like for survivors of abuse. “Answer: ‘We are with you.’ Total solidarity,” he said.
“A willingness to stand in their shoes — which will be very uncomfortable. Justice also demands that alleged abusers are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But they must tell of the truth and nothing but the truth.”
Feedback from the fringe event had been generally positive, Ms Kind said. One person who had attended it described a “deep, frank, and honest sharing from survivors and good listening from everyone. Perhaps this was a first step to genuine dialogue.” Another said: “I really want to feel that I am part of improving the Church on safeguarding. There is so much to do. Please can we keep up the impetus.”
The following motion (GS2092) was amended and carried by the Synod:
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
(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 the full debate, here, and find reports on every other General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here