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‘I am ashamed of the Church’, Archbishop Welby admits to IICSA hearing

21 March 2018


Archbishop Welby arrives at the hearing centre in London to give evidence, on Wednesday

Archbishop Welby arrives at the hearing centre in London to give evidence, on Wednesday

THE “insanity of clericalism” in the Church of England by which senior clergy shift blame on to others to save their reputation and that of the Church is “absurd” and a failure of human duty, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Archbishop Welby was giving evidence on Wednesday during the third and final week of the public hearing being conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) on the extent to which the Anglican Church failed to protect children from child sex abuse.

The Anglican investigation, which is using the diocese of Chichester as a case study, has heard from several now-retired senior clergy, including bishops, who repeatedly deflected blame for safeguarding failures during their tenure on to others, including lay diocesan safeguarding advisers and secretaries (News, 16 March).

“Nobody can say it is not my fault. It is so absurd,” Archbishop Welby said. “To say, ‘I have heard about a problem but it was someone else’s job to report it’, that is not an acceptable human response, let alone a leadership response.

“If you know a child is being abused, not to report it is simply wrong, for every human being.”

Questioned by the lead Counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, on evidence heard by IICSA of the abuse of power and “clericalism” in the Church, the Archbishop agreed that a shift towards a “no-blame culture” was needed.

“It is very, very difficult to do, because people always feel that you don’t mean it. But we have to have a no-blame approach for genuine mistakes and errors. Malicious or wicked behaviour is a different category; but when people have failed to do something that they should have done because they just missed it, they may have to undergo retraining.

“This may result in a process of having to learn what they did wrong; but we do have to have a no-blame culture that allows people to put their hand up very quickly and say: ‘Last week I think I missed this.’ And that is a big cultural change. Cultural change is the biggest challenge we are facing.”

This could partly be achieved by influence and example, but, above all, selection and training, he said, including of senior clergy. Ministerial reviews were being developed, and diocesan safeguarding officers now had the statutory right to “push back” at and override diocesan bishops on safeguarding matters.

“In terms of responsibility, when people are interviewed by the Crown Nominations Commission as candidates to be a diocesan bishop, there are very few pass-fail questions,” the Archbishop explained.

“In fact I can only think of one offhand, and that is safeguarding. . . The question is around who is responsible and where does the buck stop. And the only correct answer is that the buck stops with the diocesan bishop.

“However, our training is now entirely clear for bishops and other people . . . that any safeguarding issue has to be reported, or given due regard to. . . And that if people do not report it, it is a disciplinary matter.”


IICSA The Archbishop of Canterbury on WednesdayTHE Archbishop agreed, however, that the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) was not fit for purpose for safeguarding complaints, which, besides dealing with a huge range of complaints, took too long to process.

“I have sense of failure that I have not managed to understand this, or approach it significantly efficiently. The damage it does to survivors and those against whom a complaint is made is extraordinary. We are starting a review of the CDM and this is certainly something we have to look at.”

Archbishop Welby was open to a national system of redress for complaints. “Everything seems to take a very long time, and is very unclear indeed when it comes to redress. I am frustrated to a degree. . . that we end up hurting people more because it doesn’t seem to flow: people aren’t informed, they aren’t told what’s going on.

“It can take three or four years, and you end up damaging the survivors and victims more — you abuse them in the way you keep them waiting.”

He disagreed, however, with the recommendation made by Lord Carlile in his investigation of allegations made against the late George Bell, not to disclose the alleged perpetrators of abuse (News, 15 December 2017).

This did not protect reputations, but created suspicion, the Archbishop said. “Letting it be known that something has been alleged to have happened is one of the key ways of finding out whether there is a pattern of abuse, because it gives other victims and survivors confidence to come forward.

“And this is why I have spoken so strongly about this. . . We needed to be transparent because it was going to be damaging to the Church. This [George Bell] is the greatest hero of the last one hundred years amongst the bishops, it would do huge damage, and it would be wonderful if we could say that it was not true, and the investigations are still going on, and at the end of them we will be transparent about the outcome.

“The greatest tragedy of all these cases is that people have trusted those who, very often, were locally or on a diocesan level titanic figures, but later found that they were not worthy of that trust. The fact that someone is a titanic figure doesn’t tell you anything at all except that they have done remarkable things in one area.”

Questioned further by Ms Scolding on this, he said: “The reputation of the Church, the reputation of a person, the reputation of an institution is as nothing compared to the call to obey God in Jesus Christ in the way we love and care for people. Everything that goes against that will in the end destroy the Church.”

The Archbishop also said that he regretted the historic abuse of the theology of forgiveness. “Where [there] is wrong there will be consequences . . . we know that with abusive behaviour tends to repeat,” he said.

“If someone has been an abuser and they confess or own up, or have been found out, they can never be trusted again. That is the consequence. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have confessed or genuinely repented, but you will never take a chance with them again. That is where the muddle has come, and that is just foolish and unChristian and untheological.”


DURING his evidence, the Archbishop also said that he was also “open” to further funding of safeguarding across the 42 dioceses, acknowledging their diversity, though pointed out that this had already increased by £7 million. “That is a huge amount of money. We need to make sure it is spent wisely, and that redress is outside that £7 million. . . The question of variety is much more significant.”

He confirmed that he had had no formal safeguarding training either before he became Bishop of Durham in 2011 or Archbishop in 2013. This had since changed. “The first step I took quite early on in my time as Archbishop, in 2014, was that I would not be willing to consecrate a diocesan bishop unless they had already undergone safeguarding training.

“Also, under the regulations in 2016 and 17, we have now made it compulsory for all bishops to undertake safeguarding training.” He agreed that, in terms of safeguarding, a process of intervention was needed short of the “very blunt weapon” of an Archiepiscopal visitation. “I am aware of the fear it can create which is not always helpful in terms of allowing people to be transparent.”

Questioned by Ms Scolding on the “glacial pace” of the General Synod in implementing better safeguarding measures, Archbishop Welby said: “The Synod is capable of moving quickly when it needs to and when it wants to, but you have to prepare the ground. . .

“Getting the system moving takes a while, and I suppose, if I am being straight-forward, one of my deep frustrations with the Church on all this and in other areas is that it takes a long time to do things. The synodical process is set by statute.”


IN AN emotional closing statement, when asked what he had learnt during the process of the Inquiry about the failures of the Church to protect children, he said: “I have learnt to be ashamed again of the Church. You can’t read the transcripts, you can’t read the evidence statements without being moved, at least you shouldn’t be able to.

“And the Church does wonderful things across the country, extraordinary things, and the most stressful job in the Church is to be a parish priest, a good parish priest. That a small minority have betrayed that is horrifying.

“I don’t think I was complacent at any point — I think I hate this too much to be complacent easily; but I have learnt a great deal from listening to the very powerful evidence of the professionals for the need for continual training development.

“I have seen afresh the insanity of clericalism and a deferential culture, and how we have to struggle against that because it just goes with institutions, all institutions do it, but we are not all institutions, we are the Church.

“You can apologise and apologise to survivors, and I would want to put on record again — I don’t know how to express it adequately — how appalled I am and ashamed I am of the Church for what it did.”

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