THERE was a stark reminder of the reach of abuse in the Church right at the start of the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong.
Before formal business had even started, and immediately after the opening prayer, ACC members were reminded about the written code of conduct, prohibiting all forms of harassment and sexual harassment during their time together. Highly experienced members of the Communion Office staff were on hand, the chairman said, to act as safeguarding officers throughout the weeklong meeting — although “our hope and prayer is that this provision is not used at all.”
And before group discussions about the Safe Church documents on Wednesday, one of the commission, Marilyn Redlich, was prompted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to remind members that among them there could be victims of abuse — and possibly abusers and witnesses to abuse.
This is the third time that the ACC has tackled abuse. In 2012, it accepted a charter covering many aspects of abuse; in 2016, it agreed a protocol covering the movement of clergy and lay ministers between provinces, and asked for the establishment of a Safe Church commission to report back in three years.
The commission was established the following year. Its report, including Safe Church guidelines, was accepted gratefully by the ACC, and members voted unanimously to approve a resolution that included a pledge to implement the guidelines in their provinces.
During the discussion, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, “speaking with tremendous sadness” that his Church had not been a safe place, said: “We now have marvellous guidelines and policies,” but the hardest thing to change was the culture.
The Rt Revd Joel Waweru Mwangi (Kenya) spoke of the difficulty some Provinces had of operating in countries where the legal system required such a level of proof from victims that it appeared to favour the abuser.
In reply, the chair of the Safe Church commission, Garth Blake, said that the Church’s systems might need to be more robust than the State’s.
The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, spoke of the reputation of the Church in Ireland as being “totally shredded”.
But he raised a concern that children were now seen as a danger. “We are now regarding children as so much a danger to us . . . That we are certainly having quite serious concerns that whether ministering to children, which is a crucial part of the Church, is now more about any adult involved can get into any kind of trouble.”
The question now, he feared, was how the Church could relate to children at all. Speaking as a parent and grandparent, he said, “there were now no children he would go near except his own grandchildren.”
Mr Blake responded that it was a human tendency to absolutise guidelines. He urged the use of common sense within the framework of the guidelines.
Hear more about ACC-17 on the Church Times Podcast