“APOLOGIES for past wrongs will mean nothing” if the Church and its leaders do not do everything within their power to protect vulnerable children and adults, the first independent chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, Meg Munn, has warned.
Ms Munn, a qualified social worker and former MP, was appointed on Monday. She takes over from the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, who is the lead safeguarding bishop of the Church of England. A note on her appointment said that she would provide “a level of independent scrutiny and challenge” to the Church and its safeguarding practices.
“I have worked with survivors, and have seen first hand the impact, which can be devastating and lifelong,” she said on Monday. “And it doesn’t stop with the individual: families and friends can suffer agonising pain, feeling they have failed to protect a child or vulnerable adult. The guilt never goes away.”
Ms Munn established and chaired the All-Party Child Protection Parliamentary Group in 2010, having previously chaired the APPG Voice, which worked for the prevention of abuse of vulnerable adults. She left Parliament in 2015 to become an independent governance consultant.
Ms Munn will meet Bishop Hancock, the national safeguarding adviser Graham Tilby, with his deputy, at least three times a year, and at least annually with the General Secretary to the Archbishops’ Council.
She called for a “deep cultural change” in the Church to amend its past failures to safeguard vulnerable people in its care. “Society at large is slowly waking up to the fact that organisations that we should have been able to trust failed to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults.
“Institutions such as the Church of England need to be open and transparent about the past and develop good safeguarding practice for the future. But only deep cultural change can bring about the transformation that is needed.
“A determination to put in place measures to protect children and vulnerable adults is essential. It isn’t because everyone is a potential abuser: it is because those intent on abuse will exploit any possibility to get close to those they want to abuse.”
Ms Munn is a Methodist. “Over the next few months, I will spend time learning about the Church of England, so I have a more informed view of what needs to happen,” she said.
“Ensuring effective safeguarding is a challenge for an organisation that covers the country and has numerous clergy, lay people, and volunteers. But if a Church which professes to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ does not do everything it can to protect the vulnerable, it is ignoring a core message of that gospel. Apologies for past wrongs will mean nothing.”
Survivors of church abuse and their representatives have repeatedly called for “genuinely independent” oversight of safeguarding and mandatory reporting of abuse in the Church.
New safeguarding parliamentary group. A new APPG was established last week to promote the “responsibility and opportunity” of faith groups in safeguarding. It is co-chaired by the MPs Sarah Champion and Michael Tomlinson. Its Secretariat is being provided by Thirtyone:eight (formerly the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service).
In its inaugural meeting, the group launched its first inquiry, “Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief: An exploration of multi-agency responses to children in need”, which will begin with a research project at the University of Chester.
Ms Champion said: “It is the aim of the APPG to increase awareness and understanding of the unique challenges faced by communities of faith, to facilitate dialogue, learn from those doing it well, and to ensure safer practices are encouraged and maintained. Some things are above politics, and we need to simply get on with them.”
The chief executive of Thirtyone:eight, Justin Humphreys, said: “A key part of our wider mission is to encourage society to stand against oppression and exploitation by informing legislation and striving to raise the standards in safeguarding practice. Supporting this APPG is one important way in which we can fulfil this mission.”