REFLECTIONS by survivors of clerical child abuse form part of an interim report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), published on Wednesday.
The Inquiry has been examining abuse within the Church as one of its strands of investigation, culminating most recently in a three-week in-depth study before Easter of the diocese of Chichester.
Although the conclusions from those hearings have not been included in the interim report, it does feature the reflections of several survivors and victims of abuse in the Church, collected as part of IICSA’s Truth Project.
The report suggests that survivors respond to clerical abuse largely by either questioning their religious beliefs or using their faith as a coping mechanism for recovery.
It quotes one unnamed survivor who said that her experience ruined her faith for good. “I think the other bit I’d really like on record is how much harm it’s done to my faith, you know. . . I also can’t go into church because I’ve lost all my faith, I don’t even know any more whether I believe in a god.”
But it also includes the reflections of another survivor, who has found some measure of solace and healing from Christianity.
“I do go to church and I’m asking for the power of religion for help and, believe you me, it is a painstakingly slow process for healing.”
Another victim told the Truth Project that there had to be stronger vetting for anyone who wanted to enter the priesthood. “Screening of those wishing to enter the priesthood and become vicars is very important: a person with good interpersonal skills can get in anywhere. A dog collar is like a key to everyone’s front room in the parish.”
Some survivors told IICSA that, while they had not abandoned their religion, it remained hugely difficult to continue to practise their faith.
The report concludes: “The Inquiry has heard that some victims and survivors continue to practise their religion or spiritual beliefs to ensure that their children grow up having faith. Others try to use their religion or spiritual beliefs as a way of dealing with the sexual abuse they suffered as a child but can find it challenging and be left feeling disillusioned.”
Although the Chichester case-study was completed too late for its content to be included in the interim report, the report notes that there were a total of 18 days of hearings and 41 “core participants”, and that 57,795 pages of evidence were produced.
The next significant IICSA investigation into the Church will focus on the case of the former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, beginning in July.
“One of the issues it will examine”, the interim report says, “is whether there were inappropriate attempts by people of prominence to interfere in the criminal justice process after Peter Ball was accused of a sexual offence. It will also consider the Church’s decision to allow Peter Ball to return to a ministry, following his conviction for a sexual offence.”