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Bishops not qualified to adjudicate on safeguarding cases, says Munn

09 July 2019

Church House

Meg Munn

Meg Munn

DIOCESAN bishops should not be involved in deciding the outcome of individual safeguarding cases because “they are not qualified to do that,” the independent chair of National Safeguarding Panel, Meg Munn, a former social worker, has said.

She was giving evidence on Tuesday in the second week of the final hearing of the Anglican investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Ms Munn was asked by the lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, about comments that she had made in an interview with the Church Times earlier this year on the need for the Church to relinquish the “unquestioned deference” that came with power and accept accountability (News, 19 January).

“Deference is at the heart of the problem with safeguarding within the Church,” Ms Munn told the Inquiry. “Unquestioning deference is what the makes the Church a risky place. Archbishops and bishops have to lead on this. Structures need to be put in place. There needs to be much more awareness of the context in which abuse happens.”

The accountability of diocesan bishops was “one of the biggest issues” in the Church, she said. “They have a lot of power, they have a lot of influence, and they are not really held to account.” She suggested that this could be done by diocesan safeguarding advisory panels.

“I have heard bishops wonder, in terms of accountability but also support, whether there ought to be more peer relationships between bishops, but absolutely this issue has to be grasped. You don’t achieve it by having a national safeguarding service. It is much more fundamental to how the Church is organised and operates.”

She was wary of bishops’ delegating responsibility for clergy safeguarding and well-being. “I am not sure how you can give that one responsibility to somebody outside. . . Issues about who checks on whom, auditing, whistleblowing, are all things that need a lot more work, given that you have individual dioceses and a bishop who looks like he is not responsible to anybody.”

Creating a culture in which mandatory reporting was the norm was the key, she said. A disciplinary sanction was “fundamental” — but not a criminal sanction.

“Reporting in and of itself is, for the person who has been harmed, too late. The aim surely has to be to build that capability and confidence within churches and the wider community to prevent harm in the first place.”

Ms Munn, who gave a presentation to the General Synod on Sunday, said that levels of understanding of safeguarding in the Church were mixed. “There is an interest, but a great deal more needs to be done, so that it becomes more central to the Church. The training has certainly had an impact.”

Speaking of her experience, in 20 years of social work, of the impact of disclosures, she said: “Generally, when there is a disclosure, there are always some people who find it hard to believe that a particular person could have done this. There may well be an extra element in relation to the Church, because of the nature of the Christian faith. . .

“I fundamentally believe that, in society, unfortunately, people are put on pedestals and viewed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ — and that means that if you invest somebody with those qualities, then there is always the possibility that people might abuse that.”

Ms Munn would be completing a report on the work of the panel and its work, she said, but the panel did not have the capacity or resources to review the whole Church.

“The Church has made a lot of progress,” she told the Inquiry. “Is it good enough? No. I see commitment at a high level, not from everybody, but from key people. I hope that progress can be made.”

She would counsel against a “quick fix” to the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), she said. “The Church has to go back to first principles. . . For example, can a CDM measure take into account behaviour before ordination?”

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