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IICSA: I am ashamed and horrified, says Welby

11 July 2019

The Archbishop gave evidence to the official child abuse inquiry on Thursday


The Archbishop of Canterbury gives evidence on Thursday

The Archbishop of Canterbury gives evidence on Thursday

THE Church must learn “to put actions behind the words” when supporting survivors of clerical abuse, “because ‘sorry’ is pretty cheap”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Archbishop Welby was the final witness at the hearing being conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into safeguarding in the Anglican Church.

He told the Inquiry on Thursday that he was “emphatically ashamed” of the Church with regard to safeguarding. “To fail on safeguarding casts a profound stain across every good thing we do. . . Just the shame and horror that we have done this to people. I don’t know. I hope God will forgive us.”

Archbishop Welby was being questioned by the lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, on the evidence of a survivor and former cleric, the Revd Matthew Ineson, who told the inquiry this week that the Church had not apologised to him for mishandling his case.

The Archbishop said that he had apologised in person to Mr Ineson in November 2016. He had also issued a written apology in July 2017, which was read out to the Inquiry.

Archbishop Welby responded: “When someone is abused . . . it destroys their lives. It always leaves scars and wounds that are so profoundly deep, and I am so very sorry for every occasion that it has happened, and for our failures to deal well with survivors.

“Mr Ineson feels I did not apologise — he may well be right — I thought I had, but, clearly, I did not communicate it well. That is not his fault, it is mine; we have to communicate these things in a way that people can hear them. And we have to learn to put actions behind the words, because ‘sorry’ is pretty cheap.”

A lawyer representing Mr Ineson and other survivors, William Chapman, said in his closing statement on Friday that the Archbishop’s written apology from 2017 had been for Mr Ineson’s “description” of how his case had been dealt with by the Church.

“Mr Ineson roundly rejects that as an apology for how he has been treated by the Church. It is mealy mouthed. Yesterday was an opportunity for the Archbishop to say to Mr Ineson in public: ‘I accept, and I apologise for the way you were treated in that shabby and shambolic manner, and my part in it.’”

A review is being conducted into the handling of the case, which concerns abuse carried out by the late Revd Trevor Devamanikkam, who raped Mr Ineson when he was 16 (News, 29 July 2016). The setting up of a review of the abuse carried out by John Smyth is to be announced in the next month.

The Archbishop was also questioned in detail about a safeguarding incident in Liverpool Cathedral in 2011 when he was Dean. It concerned an allegation of sexual abuse against a cleric — F18 — who had Permission to Officiate (PTO) in the cathedral.

The abuse was disclosed in a series of emails to the then Dean, which accused him of “casual indifference” towards the complaint, the Inquiry heard. Archbishop Welby had banned the complainant from the cathedral after the individual had “attacked” security and cathedral staff. He had also taken advice from the diocesan safeguarding advisor — who was then shared with Chester and Manchester – about the case.

The Archbishop said: “There were a number of things I got wrong in this — not the banning — but F18 should not have been involved in the life of the cathedral. F18 should have been suspended. . .

“I judged it as a disciplinary matter not a safeguarding matter. . . At the time I would have seen safeguarding as being [about] minors, and would have been less conscious of vulnerable adults, which was a serious mistake, and I would not make that now.”

Questioned about the adequacy of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) in safeguarding matters, he said: “I am certainly not quite happy with it. . . The CDM is weaponised. People use it as their first source of complaint. We do not have a complaints process for dealing with routine and minor matters.

“We need a specialised system for anything to do with abuse which is much more survivor-centred, much more careful, much less impeded by other things cluttering up the system.”

He insisted that bishops were not given an “easy ride” with the CDM, and gave the example of the suspension of the Bishop of Lincoln in May. “Suspending a bishop is not giving a bishop an easy ride, however much you say it is a neutral act. . . In reality, it is very public and immensely humiliating and hard.”

The Archbishop said that he was particularly concerned with the problems of perceived deference towards bishops, and their lack of accountability. “The history of the Church of England and Episcopal Churches around the world does not encourage accountability,” he warned. “Dioceses are fiefdoms. . . We are trying to break that down in a number of ways in our senior leadership programme. There is now a whole concentration on the use of power.”

Bishops had to answer to one another as well as to God, he said, but he agreed that there needed to be a “failsafe mechanism” by which to hold them to account on “operational” matters, including safeguarding. He was open to the idea of diocesan safeguarding officers having ultimate control, but suggested a “duel responsibility, a double-check, because presumably DSAs can make mistakes, too”.

The Archbishop expressed anger and disgust when questioned about the evidence given by one cleric this week, known only as X7 to protect the parish and complainant, who had suggested that forgiving a perpetrator of abuse removed accountability and future risk.

Asked if this attitude was a minority position among the 8000 clerics in the C of E, Archbishop Welby said: “You will always have some mavericks, but the fact that you have come across two appals me. Let me be clear, I come from an Evangelical stable myself. The idea that forgiveness means you pretend that something has never happened is absolute nonsense in any classical Evangelical theology.

“Actions have consequences. If you have been involved in abuse at some time, that is something you carry with you to your grave. You may find forgiveness, but it does not mean for one instance that you are going to be trusted with children and vulnerable adults. . . The scriptures are also absolutely clear about that.”

The Archbishop was also asked whether he agreed with the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, who said in his evidence last week that a cleric in his diocese who had been convicted of downloading 8000 indecent images of children should not be banned from ministry for life because he had been “lured” into child pornography by the internet (News, 5 July).

Archbishop Welby agreed with his counterpart Dr Sentamu, who said on Wednesday that he was “shocked” by these comments.

“I would say that with even more emphasis,” Archbishop Welby said. “The first thing you learn if you look into issues surrounding pornography is that the use of pornography encourages its production. So by taking a share in watching, particularly child pornography, but even adult pornography, it is so often linked with modern slavery, you are so often victimising people. I see no distinction whatsoever. I have never heard that view expressed in the House of Bishops in private or in public.”

He commended the criticisms of the Church presented by the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, last week (News, 5 July). “A lot of what he said was really important, and we would be very foolish to dismiss it out of hand,” Archbishop Welby said. “He tends to be prophetic. Prophets have elbows and use them to press hard. We need to be elbowed, and we would be poorer without him.”

Archbishop Welby agreed that improving diversity would help to abolish “tribalism and clericalism”, and improve the Church’s response to safeguarding. “Diversity is a huge blessing.” The Church’s record on disability was “appalling”, he said, but progress had been made with gender equality, and ethnic minorities to a lesser extent.

There was also “far more openness” about sexuality in the Church, he said. “The Living in Love and Faith project has enable transparency in a way that did not exist before. I have no doubt we have a huge amount further to go on that, but I am moderately allowing myself a moment or two of encouragement.”

Concluding his evidence, Archbishop Welby said: “Overall, I remain utterly horrified by what have done in the past, our failures, and no doubt there will be failures going on. Reading the evidence, I was really shocked to find a priest who thinks that somehow someone who has sought forgiveness is no longer a risk. I find [it] absolutely bizarre. I mean, eccentric, to put it at its mildest. I was very angry at that.

“We have made some small progress. We have a long way to go.”

In her closing comments on Friday, the chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said that she hoped to be able to publish the final report into current safeguarding practices and procedures in the Church of England and Church in Wales in summer 2020.

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