THE Charity Commission has been urged to intervene to address “the failures of the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England to devise a safe, consistent and fair system of redress” for victims and survivors of abuse.
In a letter addressed to the chair of the Commission, Baroness Stowell, on Tuesday, survivors, lawyers, academics, and members of the clergy andthe General Synod, including the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, called for a complete reform of safeguarding practice and policy within the C of E.
They write: “There is now some urgency over addressing the impaired transparency and intermittent accountability of the NST [National Safeguarding Team]. Within such a complex structure, it is extraordinarily difficult for aggrieved parties to secure redress of individual grievance, for questions to be raised, or for policy and its implementation (or lack thereof) to be challenged. We address our complaint to the Archbishops’ Council as the body with ultimate responsibility.”
The correspondents acknowledge the steps being taken to replace the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), and that the final report on the Anglican Church by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is yet to published.
“However, the continuing flow of cases of injustice leads us to seek early intervention from the Charity Commission. We do this with reluctance, having tried and failed to secure redress through multiple complaints across the structure.”
The letter goes on to criticise the “secretive world” of NST core groups. “The deepest suspicion of those subjected to this process, and many taking an outside observer’s interest, is that these are bodies that function as quasi-judicial adversarial proceedings without the requisite checks and balances of due process, failing all tests of natural justice, and which prioritise the reputation of the Church above common standards of natural fairness.”
Specifically criticised is the lack of an appeal process and a conflicts-of-interest policy; “unfair” justification of processes by “complex and obscure law”; “secrecy and reluctance to acknowledge error”; “inconsistency and arbitrariness” in how people are admitted or excluded; and failure to implement changes and recommendations.
“Collectively and cumulatively it is a picture of ongoing injustice. The institutional strategy to persistently ignore or deny the serious character of these deficiencies falls well below what is expected of the Established Church, and the failure of Archbishops’ Council to call those with operational responsibility to account represents an important dereliction of trustee duties.”
The letter concludes that the Archbishops’ Council must be held accountable by the Charity Commission. “The risk of not doing so is that this charity sector as a whole will suffer.”
The lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, responded in a statement on Tuesday: “We have been made aware of a complaint to the Charity Commission and of course will co-operate fully with any future process.”
He continued: “I am very aware of the current criticism of our core-group process, and some of this seems to be based on misunderstandings about what is involved. There has been confusion as a result of them being likened to core groups in the statutory sector, which have a different purpose and follow different processes.”
Revised guidance and a name-change would make it clear that core groups were rather the equivalent to a statutory strategy meeting, he said, “where decisions are made collaboratively about what the next steps should be. This may include an independent investigation of allegations that have been made, including that senior members of clergy have not followed due safeguarding processes.”
Senior clergy accused of failing to act made up about three-quarters of current national cases, he said (News, 7 August). Revised guidance would address the difference between those accused of abuse, and those accused of failing to act on information received.
Dr Gibbs concluded: “While I do not deal with details of casework, I am absolutely assured that the process is the same for all, but the evidence and the circumstances are not, and therefore outcomes are different. No one gets any special treatment; I would be the first to object if they did, and I know those in very senior roles have made that very clear themselves.
“The NST, which was restructured last year, should be respected and trusted for the work it does. Yes, processes must be fair and open to scrutiny, which is why our guidance is being revised, but we must not lose sight of the central issue, which is that the Church has failed victims and survivors of abuse in the past, and needs to take responsibility for that.”
Separately, seven survivors have written to Dr Gibbs, to the director of safeguarding, Melissa Caslake, and to the chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, Meg Munn, calling for the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, to step down from the National Safeguarding Steering Group and National Safeguarding Panel, pending further safeguarding training.
The letter refers to internal email correspondence from Bishop Thornton about one of the survivors. The letter states: “The attitude displayed here confirms what many survivors have long thought: that the adversarialism towards victims of abuse has not just extended to their litigation and insurance agents, but has its roots in the most senior members of the Church’s structure.”