THE culture of secrecy in the Church of England, its hierarchy, and its approach to sexuality are to be among the central lines of questioning in an upcoming public hearing concerning the handling of child sex-abuse allegations in the diocese of Chichester.
The themes were summarised at the latest preliminary hearing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), on Tuesday, which is looking into the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse within the Anglican Church.
Assembled at the Inquiry hearing centre, in Southwark, south London, were members of the Inquiry panel, legal representatives, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, who is the lead bishop on safeguarding, and other members of the Church’s national safeguarding team.
The purpose of the preliminary hearing was to update participants and witnesses on the work that has been done by the Inquiry since the last preliminary hearing, last October, Professor Alexis Jay, who chairs the Inquiry, said.
The preliminary hearing was delivered by the counsel to the Inquiry, Fiona Scolding QC, who outlined the timetable for disclosure, witness statements, and the public hearing, which is to take place in London from 5 to 23 March.
The public hearing, she said, would use the diocese of Chichester as a case-study to examine “the culture of the Church. . . and if [its] behaviours, values, and beliefs inhibited or continued to inhibit the investigation, exposure, and prevention of child sexual abuse.
“This in particular will involve asking: does the very structure of the Church and the nature of its organisation mean that it acts secretly and as what researchers would call a closed institution? Does that therefore make it harder for individuals both to report abuse and for effective responses to such reports to be made?”
The structure, practices, and procedures of the diocese in granting permission to officiate, and its conduct when faced with subsequently convicted child abusers within the diocese or the cathedral, would be examined, Ms Scolding said.
This included how individuals were recruited by the Church, particularly when they had convictions for child sexual abuse, and whether such systems had been changed, including an examination of current safeguarding practices.
The Church’s responses to survivors when disclosures were made and the financial and pastoral reparations offered, as well as the speediness of the implementation of its own recommendations from internal investigations, were to be among other topics of questioning.
To date, the Inquiry has received more than 206,000 pages of material, of which 75,000 related to the Chichester case-study. Just over 35,000 of these pages had been disclosed as relevant to the public hearing.
This included a study by Professor David Berridge, an academic with knowledge of the history of regulations within the residential-care and social-care settings, which has been disclosed to all Core Participants as background material; 35 final witness statements and a further 15 witness statements in draft.
IICSAProfessor Alexis Jay and members of the Inquiry panel
A further 242 documents of reviewed and redacted material were awaiting comments, and 304 documents had yet to be sent out for comment.
The timetable had slipped, Ms Scolding said, owing to an influx of more than 7000 new pages, including 1931 pages which had arrived since Christmas. The Inquiry was planning to finalise disclosure proposals by 18 February.
Several witness statements were also outstanding, including those from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey; the former Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind; a former diocesan safeguarding adviser for Chichester, Shirley Hosgood; the survivors group MACSAS; the Department of Education; the Independent Schools Inspectorate; and two former national safeguarding advisers for the C of E, Elizabeth Hall and Pearl Luxon, who were said to have had “good reasons” for the delay.
The Inquiry was also waiting on 11 signed witness statements, which, she said, were expected in the next few days, including those from the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner; the diocesan boards of education and finance; Roger Meekings, who carried out a review into the diocese from 2009 to 2011; and the disgaced former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball.
Although the Chichester case study will refer to Ball, a further public hearing is due to take place specifically on this on 23 July. The five-day hearing will include the examination of evidence from Lord Carey and Archbishop Welby, about their involvement with Ball before and after his resignation in 1992, and events within Lambeth Palace between 1992 and 2012.
The public hearing would consider “any cultural factors” in the case, Ms Scolding said, “including the culture of deference within the Church and . . . clericalism; the difficulties in dealing with those in positions of power accused of sexual abuse; the placing of the Church’s reputation above that of those who have been abused; an institution which is inwardly focused rather than outwardly focused, i.e. the impact of a closed institution”.
Also, “questions of sexuality and whether or not this contributed to overlooking serious safeguarding issues, and whether or not differences of theological perspective within the dioceses of Chichester or within the Anglican Church at the time contributed to overlooking serious safeguarding failures”.
The inquiry has received about 88,000 pages of material for the Peter Ball case study, just under half of which (43,000) had been reviewed to determine relevance to the case, Ms Scolding said.
The public hearing would also examine the evidence, recommendations, and application of previous internal investigations by the Church into the case, including those by Mr Meekings in 2008, Baroness Butler-Sloss in 2011, and Dame Moira Gibb last year (News, 30 June). This included material from Gloucestershire Police, Northamptonshire Police, Sussex Police, and the Crown Prosecution Service.
A third public hearing is being proposed by the IICSA for next year to examine the views of victims and survivors on any gaps in the current safeguarding policies and practices of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, including the appropriateness of reparations and referrals made by the Church and its insurers.
Bishop Hancock said on Wednesday: “We welcome this update, and commend the courage of survivors in coming forward to share their story which will play a vital part in the Inquiry. As a Church we have been working cooperatively with IICSA since the statutory inquiry was first announced in 2015, and we are committed to playing a full part in this three-week public hearing, which has a clear focus on learning lessons for the future.”