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Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse comes a step closer after Church support

19 July 2019

Campaigners welcome fresh support from Archbishops of Canterbury and York


The chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay (second left), and the Inquiry panel

The chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay (second left), and the Inquiry panel

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have both, for the first time, publicly supported calls for mandatory reporting (MR) of child sexual abuse to the police and statutory authorities.

The Archbishops gave their support in separate testimonies to the final hearing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into safeguarding in the Anglican Church, last week.

Archbishop Welby has previously described the question of mandatory reporting as “not as straightforward an issue as is sometimes suggested” (News, 8 December 2017). During his evidence on Thursday of last week, however, he said that a “very helpful” presentation from a survivor of clerical abuse, Phil Johnson, to the General Synod on Sunday, had clarified his thinking.

He told the Inquiry: “I am convinced that we need to move to mandatory reporting for regulated activities.”

Mr Johnson is a member of the survivors’ charity MACSAS. The Archbishops’ support was a “significant step forward” in its campaign, the group said on Tuesday. “If such a law were introduced, it would not only protect children and the vulnerable in the Church but across the whole of society.”

There were “some misconceptions” about what was being proposed, however, the group said in a statement. “We are proposing that the law should only apply to regulated activities, where a child is in the care of an institution or club today, where any allegation or concern must be reported.

“This does not apply to adults making disclosures or talking to clergy or counsellors etc., unless there is a clear, current risk. Another advantage is that proposed law would also give legal protection to the person making the report, removing some of the fear of reporting.”

Currently, clerics in the Church are expected to report a safeguarding issue or disclosure to the diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA), and are liable to disciplinary proceedings should they fail to do so. Archbishop Welby agreed that this should be written into both canon and civil law. The sanction was up for debate, he said.

“It is not within my gift as to whether it is criminal, but certainly disciplinary. It is for the Government to say if it is criminal. But, certainly, from our point of view, I would firmly believe in a disciplinary sanction.

“I am just a little uncertain how that applies if someone comes to see you for a disclosure and is desperate that it is not taken further. . . Pastoral care is a really complex thing in these circumstances . . . but on all regulated activities, yes. As with the Archbishop of York, we now both believe in mandatory reporting.”

The previous day, Dr Sentamu, when questioned about the absolute confidentiality of the seal of confession, had said in his evidence that there should be an exception when reporting disclosures or allegations of abuse (News, 12 July).

“The seal of confession cannot be left watertight,” he said. “In the Church of England, if a child discloses, you have a duty to report. I want to extend that to structures — any organisation in which children are involved. Mandatory reporting could give assurance to survivors that matters will not be swept under the carpet. Sometimes strict law changes a culture.”

He agreed with Archbishop Welby that it remained a “matter of debate” whether civil law should be backed by disciplinary or criminal sanctions.

The pressure group Mandate Now described the Archbishops’ support for mandatory reporting as “another U-turn” — referring to the support given by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, to an amendment to the Serious Crimes Act 2015, and the subsequent “silence” from the Church on the issue (News, 12 May 2017).

Mandate Now was founded by Tom Perry, who was a complainant in the Caldicott School child-abuse scandal, which surfaced in 2008. He said on Wednesday: “Following a number of directional variances on mandatory reporting by the Church since 2014, we were pleased that the Archbishop of Canterbury — and Dr Sentamu — publicly declared support for its introduction.

“All of us now keenly await IICSA’s report. It would be surprising if it did not recommended MR, given the weight of empirical evidence presented during IICSA’s two seminars on the subject. Repeatedly overlooked is the important point that well-designed MR is supportive of good people in the workforce because, among other benefits, it provides legal protection to personnel for referrals made in good faith.”

The director of Thirtyone:Eight (formally CCPAS), Justin Humphreys, agreed that the Archbishops’ statements had “come out of nowhere. Following an apparent previous U-turn by the C of E, it now seems that there is an appetite for this protective mechanism that has been debated for the past few years.”

While the barriers preventing “a robust exploration and a swift commitment being given to the implementation of a scheme of some kind” had been broken, there was still much to clarify, he said.

“We should be clear to say that even the consistent application of regulated activity cannot be guaranteed within the Church at this point. The same could then be said of other preventative measures, such as the necessary revisions to the current law surrounding ‘position of trust’, and how this is accepted within the wider Church community.”

The lead bishop on safeguarding, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, has also expressed support for mandatory reporting. He told the Synod last week that, without sanctions for people who failed to pass on disclosures, the culture would never change (News, 12 July).

One survivor of abuse had told the Inquiry the previous week that she and her brother had been overheard by a vicar disclosing the abuse that they had both suffered as children at the hands of a former Bishop of Chester, Victor Whitsey.

“Had mandatory reporting been in place, my brother, who died a year afterwards, would have died knowing that something might have been done, and that people had been aware of his distress. He was more distressed than I was.”

During closing statements last Friday, a lawyer representing survivors, Ian O’Donnell, welcomed the Archbishops’ support for “externally enforced” mandatory reporting: “A law that compels those in regulated organisations . . . to inform, as soon as is reasonably possible, a safeguarding service, but also external agencies, such as the police, whenever they believe a child has been abused or they have been told by a child that he or she may have been abused.”

In education, for example, teachers “should” report suspected child abuse, but reporting is not mandatory, with the exception of cases of female genital mutilation, for which teachers have a legal duty to report to the police.

Another lawyer, William Chapman, representing MACSAS, told the Inquiry: “It will not be sufficient to pass one or two laws that require mandatory reporting or extend position of trust defences. Laws ossify. You need a regulator that is continually applying the heat, with guidance that changes dynamically as we better understand through experience what works and what does not.”

The Shadow Minister for Early Years, Tracy Brabin MP, asked the Home Secretary in the House of Commons on Monday whether he agreed with the Archbishop on the need to introduce mandatory reporting legislation to protect children from harm.

The Under-Home Secretary, Victoria Atkins, said: “We have looked at mandatory reporting really carefully, and the balance of evidence came down against, but it is something that we very much keep under review.”

Ms Brabin posted on Twitter afterwards: “In my view, and that of many survivors, a change in the law can’t come soon enough.”


IICSA: Key topics. The two-week IICSA hearing concluded on Friday of last week. Among the other main issues covered in the questioning was the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), which most witnesses, including survivors, clerics, and safeguarding professionals, agreed was unsuitable for dealing with safeguarding complaints.

In his evidence to the Inquiry on Thursday of last week, Bishop Hancock said that the CDM had been “something of a blunt tool. The Church has not done enough work soon enough on complaints procedures, whistleblowing, or capability. . . We are behind the curve on that.

“What is happening is that things which should be dealt with in other ways by different procedures are perhaps, by necessity, falling under the CDM, and that has made them tiresome and burdensome and complicated.”

Witnesses were also asked about the accountability of bishops, particularly when making decisions in individual safeguarding cases. The National Safeguarding Advisor to the C of E, Graham Tilby, who is due to step down later this month, said in his evidence: “I am half-agreeing that there has to be clarity [about when bishops make operational decisions]; but to remove bishops entirely poses a risk to their ownership and understanding of promoting good safeguarding.”

Bishop Hancock said: “There is real risk that bishops try to wear more than one hat, and it is important that they know which hat they are wearing on any occasion.”

Like many witnesses, he was also questioned on the issue of clericalism and deference, and how to change this culture to promote safeguarding in the Church. The Archbishops had gathered the House of Bishops, he said, to try “to look in the mirror about where power was, how it is used and abused.

“The benefit of having sat through every day of the Inquiry [is that you have] interviewed people from parishes, people from dioceses, DSAs, expert witnesses, survivors, and Archbishops, and you have tried to get a really wide perspective. I found that enormously helpful, hearing evidence from all different parts and structures of the Church. . .

“I need to reflect much more deeply on how you have looked at every angle. The Church has not done that. I don’t think we do that. That is a priority for the Church.”

Professor Alexis Jay, who chairs the Inquiry, said that she hoped to be able to publish the final report on current safeguarding practices and procedures in the Church of England and Church in Wales in summer 2020.

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