THE Church of England is an “inappropriate” organisation to have charge or care of children and vulnerable adults, and would have been closed if it were a school, a lawyer representing survivors of clerical sex abuse has said.
David Greenwood, of Switalskis Solicitors, whose clients include members of the survivors’ group MASCAS, was delivering his closing statement on Friday on the final day of the three-week public hearing by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA).
The Inquiry is using the diocese of Chichester as a case-study to investigate the extent to which the Anglican Church failed to protect children from sex abuse.
“Over the past three weeks I have been struck by how inappropriate the Church as an organisation is to have charge or care of children and vulnerable adults. Personally, I would not want my son to spend a moment in the company of a member of this organisation.
“Its lack of a coherent structure, the possibility of clerics’ carving out places where they can abuse, the ability to blame one another, the defensiveness, and lack of accountability are just a few criticisms. This is an organisation, were it a school, which would have been closed down a long time ago.”
Summarising the evidence given by the survivors whom he represents, he said: “It appears to me and the core participants that I represent that the Church has proved itself incapable of self-governance in the care of children. We reject the flaccid policies, apologetic language, excuses, and promises of action for the future. . . The time has come for action.”
The Inquiry also heard on Friday the read statement from a survivor of abuse by Christopher Howarth, a former priest of Holy Trinity, Uckfield, in Sussex, who was convicted of 26 offences against two boys, including seven counts of sexual activity with a child from 2004 to 2012, and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in 2015.
The witness and his biological brother had been repeatedly sexually abused by Howarth both at his home and in his office at the secondary school that they attended, and where he was deputy head. He had given them sweets and pocket money in exchange for sexual favours, the witness said.
Howarth had been a “popular” figure in the parish, and, after his initial arrest a community Facebook group had been set up in his support. It was later deleted by the police. “My mother told me about it,” he said. “People were commenting about the trial and the whole process. I am not sure what the Church could have done about the Facebook group.”
He was “particularly offended”, however, that he had had to ask the Church for an apology, which was “too little, too late” when it eventually came.
On the historic failures of the Church to recognise and respond to cases of abuse, Mr Greenwood said: “The Church and Justin Welby may have you believe that this is caused by having a hapless, disorganised, and disjointed structure.
“In reality, the evidence demonstrates that the Church and institutions have worked in concert to resist cases. It could be said that the [Roman] Catholic Church’s more brazen approach to resisting cases, due to their written rules on secrecy, is actually less malign than the Anglican resistance, which has required conscious efforts to treat survivors badly.”
Another lawyer representing 21 survivors of clerical abuse, Richard Scorer, of the law firm Slater & Gordon, called again for “genuinely independent” oversight of safeguarding and mandatory reporting of abuse (News, 5 March).
“Can safeguarding be left to the Church, or does it need independent oversight and enforcement? One part of the answer to that question comes from looking at the history of events in Chichester.
“We certainly now have better safeguarding in the dioceses, but what the history reveals is an unavoidable fact: the exposure of the scandals in Chichester and the changes in safeguarding which followed from them come about overwhelmingly because of pressure and scrutiny from outside the Church. At every turn in the Chichester saga, the Church was reactive rather than proactive: reactive to pressure from survivors, and reactive to pressure from the media.”
The survivor Phil Johnson and BBC journalist Colin Campbell had made the difference, he said. “The need for that external pressure and oversight has to be in mind.”
This independent body would have to have “the power to enforce any action needed over the heads of the bishops”. “I am not talking about removing safeguarding from the Church; they do need to own it [in the dioceses].”
On mandatory reporting, Mr Scorer said: “If one lesson comes out of this hearing, it is surely that as soon as the Church knows about an allegation, it has to go the statutory authorities. . . Whatever the Church does, reporting needs to be backed up by legal obligations in terms of criminal law.”
There was an abuser in every diocese, not just in Chichester, but not every diocese had a “tenacious” campaigner, journalist, and diocesan safeguarding officer.
“Saying this does not mean that the Church is incapable of any kind of organic change; of course, some change has come from within, and will continue to come from within; but the problem is the degree of change and urgency of change.”
Summarising his impression of the evidence given during the public hearing, Mr Scorer said that he was struck by the “impotence” of the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury in holding bishops to account. “This Church has deep-seated cultural and structural problems, but changing them, if they can be changed at all, will take generations. Safeguarding is far too urgent for that.”
Nigel Griffin QC, who represents the diocese of Chichester and the Archbishop of Canterbury, repeated his apology on their behalf, but said that the evidence had shown that “lessons were there to be learnt by the whole of the Church of England. . .
“Work on safeguarding had previously been proceeding too slowly with too few resources and in a manner characterised by too much defensiveness and too little transparency in dealing with survivors. . .
“The shame for the Church is that collectively it failed the children who were abused, the victims and survivors, ultimately by placing persons in positions of trust and authority who proved to be unsuitable to the role or inadequately trained and inadequately supported.”
In conclusion, he said: “We believe that there is very little to have emerged in terms of positive and constructive suggestion from these hearings that is not, at any rate, well worth thinking about.
“Conversely, we do believe that some of the more stark suggestions to have occasionally been mentioned or mooted, such as the abolition of the National Safeguarding Team or the complete removal of safeguarding functions from the Church, or even the complete restructuring of the Church [in terms of] command and control, have not found any serious support in the evidence.”
The chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said at the conclusion of the final day, on Friday, that a a report concerning the diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball case studies would be produced during the autumn, or by the end of 2018.
“We’re very grateful to all those who have gathered [or] sent evidence into the Inquiry for the purposes of this investigation,” she said. “Your efforts in bringing information to the Inquiry’s attention are very much appreciated and it will all be considered.
“We will review all the material, and begin to prepare a report, which will set out our findings [and a] conclusion on both this case-study, and that of Peter Ball. We will not complete this until after the July public hearing.”