OVER the past two years, I have come to know a great many abuse victims as friends. Some remain faithful members of their Church. Others, understandably, never want to enter a church or meet a priest again. Some do not wish to revisit their abusive experiences. Others cannot get through an hour of the day or night without reliving their personal horror.
I have wanted the leaders of the Church to take on board some of the insights I have been given into the experience of victims. So I asked a number of people who have been abused within a church context to answer my questions about the ways in which the Church had responded to them. Their verbatim replies are contained in a booklet, Stones Not Bread, which will be presented to all members of the General Synod as they meet this week. Below is an extract from the booklet.
They come from nine different individuals who were abused. Most of them do not know each other, and they answered individually. All of them have been physically or sexually abused in situations where the Church has accepted some responsibility. They represent at least eight otherwise unrelated instances of church abuse. All of them are “recent”, in that they have been dealing with the Church’s safeguarding procedures in the past few months and years, even if in some cases the abuse is non-recent.
What could the Church do better to help victims of abuse like yourself?
“Respond quickly and take questions seriously. Put survivors first. Create a fair and just reparation structure. Recognise impact on our lives. Listen and learn from expertise of survivors. Involve survivors in creating a structure focused on healing — not protection of institution. Become honest. Stop the denial culture.” B (male)
“Listen to the words of Isaiah: a bruised reed he will not break (tender compassion for abuse sufferers) and he will bring forth justice in truth (a greater integrity when it comes to truth-telling and a greater fairness when it comes to the process and quantity of compensation).” N (male)
“The Church has to act with compassion, act efficiently, and listen to victims. No one has shown the slightest interest in listening to my story.” H (male)
“Listen. Go the extra mile. Forget reputations and positions.” T (male)
“Listen to survivors. Work with us rather than as enemies to learn lessons so that things can be better for future victims.” Q (male)
“Listen. Be honest. Take responsibility. Say sorry. Pretty much respond like the gospel message not the legal Pharisees.” A (female)
“Always keep in mind the actions of the perpetrator. Avoid diverting all attention to my reaction to the abuse and their response to me reporting it. Seek to build up victims of abuse rather than wear them down, drive them away, and then blame them for the fact that they have been driven away.” V (female)
“Not live in fear. Structures and policy are never more important than people or Jesus.” F (female)
What message would you like to send to the Church regarding the ways it deals with victims of abuse?
“Why have you got this all so wrong, when you’ve heard so many times over so many years that you need to change?” B (male)
“Please treat me as a person. At least reply to correspondence.” F (female)
“Stop listening to your lawyers and insurers and let the ‘pastoral’ eclipse the ‘legal’ in these and all related matters.” N (male)
“Don’t be so defensive.” Q (male)
“You have to change. Listen, learn, change. And, most importantly, how about some Christian care and compassion?” H (male)
“Consider it a privilege to engage with someone’s story. Don’t re-abuse the survivor. Listen and listen again. Don’t be distracted when listening. If you are not up for listening consider a different occupation. Don’t cover up. Don’t be bullied by lawyers, insurers, and heavy senior management. Go the extra mile. Be kind and compassionate, even if you hear things that don’t make sense.” T (male)
“Try treating them like victims, not perpetrators. Compassion would be good.” A (female)
“Imagine yourself as a victim and think how you would want to be treated.” Q (male)
“Please commission a totally independent body to receive reports of clergy and church-based abuse. Diocesan safeguarding teams can continue to do their job, which is to ‘safeguard’, but make them answerable and accountable to an independent body rather than just encouraged to take advice.” V (female)
Bread not Stones can be downloaded here