A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse, Professor Julie Macfarlane, who brought a civil suit against the diocese in which she was abused, has said that an article that she wrote in the Church Times “galvanised” the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG) into meeting to discuss settlement and change their civil-claims policy.
Professor Macfarlane of the University of Windsor, Ontario, in Canada, was giving evidence on Tuesday to the public hearing conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), in London, on the extent to which the Anglican Church has failed to protect children from sexual abuse.
In an article published in this paper in 2015, she spoke of how she had been abused for more than a year at the age of 16 by the rector of the church she attended at that time, and to whom she had gone for spiritual counselling after experiencing some doubts about her Christian faith (Comment, 11 December 2015).
She wrote: “He told me that God wanted me to kneel and perform oral sex on him. This was the start of more than 12 months of constant sexual abuse by the priest. He continued to make me perform fellatio on him, and masturbated on me, in multiple locations. He waited for me in dark alleyways as I walked home from the restaurant where I worked as a dishwasher in the evenings.”
She told no one about the abuse until she was in her 20s, and did not bring her civil claim against the Church, and a subsequent complaint to Sussex Police, until 1999 and 2014 respectively. The rector was not identified in the article, and was referred to in the hearing only as “F12” due to the ongoing police complaint against him.
Professor Macfarlane told IICSA that the article had “galvanised into sudden movement” the Church’s insurers, EIG, who agreed to meet for settlement the following April (2016).
“At that meeting, I explained that what I wanted in my settlement agreement was to be part of a negotiation of a new claims protocol for EIG,” she said.
“We dispensed with the financial part of my settlement in 20 minutes, and we spent the rest of the time arguing about whether or not they would be willing to participate with me in changing their claims process, and putting the final process up on the website so that people could read it and could understand what they were committing themselves to.”
These principles, agreed with her lawyer David Greenwood of Switalskis Solicitors, were partly agreed and published by EIG, as requested, in June 2016, she told IICSA. This policy, however, should include a statement to “never” use the statute of limitations in a sexual-abuse claim concerning a child or an adult, rather than “in exceptional circumstances”, she said.
Detailing another objection she had to the original defence by EIG, she told IICSA: “It is common knowledge that a strategy for defending sexual assault and rape is to allege that the victim invited or enjoyed or welcomed in some way the assault. That is a very common, what I would call, rape myth.
“I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see it being argued in this case, that it [the rector’s attention] was ‘not unwelcome’, but this just reinforces a stereotype that somehow someone. . . who had no sexual experience whatsoever, had absolutely nobody to be able to talk to about what was happening to me, and found it a terrifying and disgusting experience, that I was still being told that it what God wanted me to do, to suggest that somehow I was welcoming what had been forced upon me. . . It felt retraumatising.”
Professor Macfarlane had been provoked to write the Church Times article in a burst of “fury”, she said, after she had received a copy of a letter written to her lawyer Mr Greenwood on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
She read an extract to the IICSA panel: “As a lawyer you will be very aware of the constraints under which we in the profession have to work in dealing with these miserable matters.”
Professor Macfarlane said: “The implication of this is that we just can’t do anything: we are in the hands of the lawyers. . . I found the hypocrisy absolutely infuriating.”
Also infuriating, she said, was the “unwillingness of the other side to talk about settlement up until that point”, given that a separate complaint about the rector (F12) had been upheld in the overseas diocese in which he was ministering at that time.
Filing a defence, and undergoing “examination by an expert, a psychiatrist” who wrote a report to support the Church’s case”, she said, were also “very traumatic” experiences. As a lawyer, she understood what was getting into, she said, but “it would be very, very hard for lots of people to go through that two hours that I went through with that individual. Those are the things we have to get rid of.”
Speaking on the effect that abuse had had on her adult life, she said: “Like so many other pieces of this very complex puzzle, we all hold a lot of stereotypes about the way people will be if they have been impacted by abuse. . . we are all impacted, but we are impacted in different ways.”
Professor Macfarlane had later experienced two physically and sexually abusive relationships in her twenties. “When I look back on all of this, and you will hear other survivors say this, that experience of abuse in the hands of the minister kind of set me up for these other relationships in which I had a similar sense of being in a surreal place that didn’t fit with the rest of my identity and my life but that none the less I was trapped in a very real way.
After these relationships ended, she said, “I carried with me a great deal of guilt and a great deal of shame. I felt by this point it would be very difficult to talk about what was happening to me, because I wouldn’t only be talking about the abuse by the minister but these other things as well. It was a serial disaster.”
It was difficult for her then-husband to fully grasp the impact of the abuse on her, she said. She has also undergone years of therapy, and has been diagnosed with PTSD. She has three daughters who all know about the abuse.
“It is difficult not to feel lonely. I say that despite the fact that I now have a whole world that knows about what happened to me. I made a conscious decision to be public because I want to be an example of how people can survive this.
“But there are still moments at which it is intensely lonely, because there really is no one other than me who can possibly understand what it felt like to go through that experience with the minister and subsequent experiences.”
Concluding her evidence, Professor Macfarlane called for a “clear, competent, and professional” form of independent redress body to investigate civil cases against the Church, with a less “forensic” approach to analysing proof.
“Nobody was in the car with me when I went out with the minister; nobody was swimming with us when he lost his swimming trunks. It is very difficult for people to corroborate these stories, obviously, but I think we need to take all of that into account in building a different system.”