THE former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, has given his support to one of the key demands of survivors of clergy abuse: the creation of an independent body to deal with safeguarding cases.
Speaking at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on Wednesday, Lord Williams said that there was a “strong case” for handing over safeguarding issues to a new agency outside of the normal Church of England structures.
“There’s a strong case for having some such arms-length body,” he replied, when asked about it by the lead counsel to the Inquiry’s investigation into the Anglican Church, Fiona Scolding QC.
Lord Williams said that such a move would, in theory, free the Archbishop to take more of a leadership position in safeguarding for the whole Church, but admitted that the reform might never appear high on “any Archbishop’s list of priorities”.
“I don’t mean by that to dismiss the importance of the subject, simply that there are many claims on the Archbishop’s direct strategic involvement. [But] in principle I would be very interested to see something like that develop, and to see what the role of an Archbishop might be within that.”
Stronger powers for the national Church to intervene in local diocesan safeguarding affairs, perhaps vested in the General Synod or the House of Bishops, could be necessary, he suggested.
Survivors and their advocates have repeatedly called for the C of E to create some kind of independent safeguarding authority, most recently last week at an earlier IICSA hearing (News, 9 March).
Lord Williams also reflected on the culture around safeguarding during his tenure as Archbishop, and conceded that the Church was having to “catch up”. Many had resisted the introduction of mandatory checks on volunteers who worked with children, and others failed to appreciate the devastation that abuse can cause.
“So much of this turns on how we understand the exercise of power in the Church, in which we have often been in the past — myself included — naïve and uncritical,” he admitted. “It did take us an unconscionably long time for us to really focus on the need of the complainant.”
Even when the Church did begin to act, such as in the Past Cases Review of 2008 to 2009, it only “skimmed the surface”, and failed to do justice to the perspective of victims, he said.
Lord Williams was also questioned on the particular problems in the diocese of Chichester, which has been one of the focuses of IICSA’s inquiries. There was a problem of conservatism and clericalism in the diocese, he said, and a perception that powerful Anglo-Catholic and conservative Evangelical lobbies worked together to frustrate any attempts at change.
When the problems at the diocese became more widely known, and Lord Williams began to consider a formal archiepiscopal visitation, staff at Lambeth Palace were still focused on protecting reputations, the Inquiry heard.
Emails between Andrew Nunn, the correspondence secretary, and the Revd George Pitcher, a press adviser, suggested “throwing” the then Bishop of Chichester, Dr Hind, “to the press as a sacrifice”, in the hope that it would distance Lord Williams from the scandal, and prevent the media from suggesting that the C of E’s abuse problem was as grave as that of the Roman Catholic Church.
Other emails between Mr Nunn and Mr Pitcher, read out to the Inquiry, suggested that Dr Hind had chosen Baroness Butler-Sloss to lead an investigation into safeguarding because “he knows her and thinks he and [Bishop] Benn will be safe in her hands.”
Lord Williams said that he had no knowledge of these remarks, had not sanctioned such a strategy, and was “frankly rather shocked” by it. He apologised to Dr Hind, but insisted that he had had no reason to doubt Lady Butler-Sloss’s impartiality.