SURVIVORS of abuse and their allies are continuing to press the Church of England to set up an independent safeguarding body to handle the issue.
Before a debate at the General Synod on Saturday morning, survivors held a protest outside Church House, Westminster. They called on Synod members to join them in a period of silence to “affirm the intention of the Church to act justly towards victims of abuse both now and in the future”, in the words of Andrew Graystone, the activist who organised the event.
Several bishops, including the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, and the Bishop-elect of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, appeared at the protest.
The survivors also gave every Synod member a leaflet of their experiences in their own words: We Asked for Bread but You Gave Us Stones (Comment, 9 February).
During the debate, the Bishops of Bath & Wells, Chichester, and Gloucester told the Synod what progress had been made in improving the C of E’s national and diocesan safeguarding efforts, including the facts that the central spending on safeguarding had increased by five times since 2014, and about 30,000 people had received new training during the last year alone.
The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, acknowledged: “Survivors are people, not problems to be solved. . . There is never an excuse. Nothing excuses the criminal misuse of power in sexual abuse, which can destroy so many aspects of life, including faith in God.”
Bishop Treweek spoke of the way in which she was trying to change the culture of her diocese, which was still recovering from the exposure of her predecessor Peter Ball’s “horrific abuse”.
“I am deeply ashamed of that legacy,” she said. Safeguarding was integral to mission and ministry, not an “add-on issue” just for a few specialists.
When it came to questions, many Synod members praised the work being done to strengthen the Church’s safeguarding processes. But others called for more radical reform, including handing over control to an independent body. Several speakers urged the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the lead bishop on safeguarding, to listen to survivors who have demanded the Church establish an independent body to deal with allegations.
Others, including the campaigner Jayne Ozanne (Oxford), asked why the issue had come to Synod through a presentation rather than a full debate on a motion. Bishop Hancock said that was a matter for the business committee, but he hoped for a full debate on safeguarding in July.
After the debate was concluded Bishop Hancock and others held a private meeting with the survivors who had attended. But Mr Graystone said afterwards that they had merely told survivors what they were currently doing.
“The debate was high on empathy for victims of abuse, but low on action,” he said. “Victims of abuse want the Church to be honest about its failings, to be sorry, and to give them the help they need and deserve. The Church needs to be humble enough to ask a fully independent body to manage its safeguarding.”
Gilo, another survivor of clerical abuse and campaigner was also present for the debate in the public gallery, sitting next to Bishop Mullally, who has led the work to implement the review of his case (News, 8 April 2016). He said that the Church needed to take responsibility for safeguarding, but also create an independent body to act as a monitor or ombudsman of the process.
“Cultural change needs to go hand in hand with structural change,” he tweeted. “Needs to be genuine consensus relationship with survivors and willingness to drive changes that survivors are seeking.
“The processes we have been through, the struggles and battles we have had, the tenacity we have had to find, the questions we have brought that have shaken your institution — all make us your best possible teachers.”
Read the full debate here.
You can also listen to a roundup of the General Synod on the Church Times Podcast.