THE Church of England “must not simply say sorry” to survivors of clerical sex abuse, but “demonstrate clearly” that lessons have been learnt from the past, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said.
Archbishop Welby and Dr Sentamu express a “renewed” commitment to safeguarding in a pastoral letter sent to all C of E parishes in the wake of a three-weeks of questioning of survivors, lay church officers, and senior clergy conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA).
The IICSA hearing, which used the diocese of Chichester as a case study, has drawn out a string of both recent and historical failures to protect children and vulnerable adults in the Church, including failure to report abuse and respond appropriately to survivors.
A report on the Anglican investigation is expected by the end of the year.
“There is, of course, absolutely no room for complacency,” the Archbishops write. “We need to learn the lessons from what has gone wrong and from the shocking abuse.”
They continue: “We take very seriously all that has been heard by the Inquiry. Archbishop Justin said when he gave evidence last week that he had learned again through listening and reading the evidence given to the Inquiry, that we must not simply say sorry, but that we must also take action that demonstrates clearly that we have learnt the lessons.
“It is a fact that Bishops and Archbishops are now rightly required to listen, learn and act in accordance with safeguarding legislation and good practice.”
The Archbishops pointed to a forthcoming hearing, in July, which will use the Peter Ball case as a further case-study for the Anglican investigation, and to a third hearing, expected in March next year, though the focus has yet to be disclosed.
“There are more hearings to come which will focus on the Church of England as part of the IICSA process,” the letter read. “So, we do need to continue to listen carefully to all that IICSA has to say and, above all, to listen to the voices of the survivors.”
A survivor of clerical abuse, the Revd Janet Fife, responded by commenting that both the letter, and the Archbishops, “could hardly have got it more wrong”.
In her own letter, published in a blog on Sunday, she writes: “Asking for prayer for all those involved in the IICSA hearings and in safeguarding isn’t enough. You can’t just pass on to what good work is being done without saying what you are actually going to do for those affected by the hearings.”
The IICSA hearing had been, she says, “an eventful personal journey”.
She was “emotionally chewed up” in the first week, and in the second, had “enjoyed” seeing senior bishops “wriggle under questioning from two women who were much younger than them. The tables were turned and it did me a power of good.”
The third week had been empowering, she writes.
She urges the Archbishops to reply personally to letters from survivors of clerical abuse; set funding aside for their counselling; and to refrain from continuing “as if everything will go on as usual” throughout Holy Week.
“If it does, you will rob us of that glimmer of hope we had when Justin seemed to struggle with tears about the abuse people have suffered in our Church.”
The Archbishops should not take Holy Week services, she argues: rather they should “spend the week visiting survivors and listening to our stories. You could ask ordained survivors to take your place in some of those services.”
Being a survivor of sex abuse, and “one of the first women to be ordained”, had been “really tough” she writes.
She concludes: “Neither of you seems good at responding appropriately to people who’ve been on the receiving end of the bad stuff that happens in religious organisations. So here’s another suggestion. When you need to write a letter like the one we’ve just had, or to make a statement, run it past a survivor first.”
A spokesperson from the National Safeguarding Team said: “The Revd Janet Fife contacted Lambeth Palace in November, and the Provincial Safeguarding Adviser at Lambeth made immediate contact with her, and set up support though the Diocese of York.
“We take all contact from survivors very seriously, and while we cannot comment further at this time, the case is being looked into. We will reflect further on the detailed comments in this blog.”