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Archbishop of York on safeguarding: ‘I am determined to make this different’

12 October 2020

I am determined to try and make this different, but my words are not sufficient


The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, kneels before the altar at the confirmation of his election in July

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, kneels before the altar at the confirmation of his election in July

WORDS are not enough to rectify the decades of suffering that the Church has caused survivors of abuse, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, has said. He was speaking on Sunday, which was designated as Safeguarding Sunday this year (News, 25 September).

The Archbishop was responding to questions on Sunday on BBC Radio 4 about the latest report on the Anglican Church published by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) last week (News, 9 October).

“My overwhelming emotion reading it was profound sorrow,” he said, “first of all from those who have suffered abuse. . . and deep, deep regret about how the Church often covered this up, and colluded, [and] was more concerned with its reputation, [and] profound sorrow for those whose confidence in the Church has not just been undermined but sometimes completely destroyed.

“I know that if I was listening to me speaking now, if I was a survivor or victim, I would say, ‘Yes, but I don’t want any more words, I don’t want to hear any more about your sorrow or your regret. What are you going to do about it?’ But at the moment, right here, right now, all I can offer is more words. . .

“My response is to weep, to prostrate myself, and then rise up and say I am determined to try and make this different, but my words are not sufficient.”

The Archbishop went on to say that, while he had not been in post long, he was “absolutely determined to change the culture of the Church” and to implement the recommendations. “Although we have made real strides in recent years, I know it is not enough.”

The priority was to establish independent accountability of the Church’s safeguarding, he said, whether or not that meant taking the responsibility for safeguarding matters away from bishops.

A system of reparation for those who had been abused must also be established, he said, though he was unable to say how much, or whether this would be more than that spent on “reputational management” (News, 14 August).

“It will cost us a lot of money, I expect, but if we don’t do it, it will cost us our soul. And that is a much higher cost.”

On deference and clericalism, he said: “I really welcome that light being shined upon us, because . . . boy, am I aware of this in the Church, and it is deeply, deeply damaging. . . It is that which has allowed offenders in the past to hide in the plain sight of the Church. That cannot happen again.”

A lawyer who represents survivors of abuse in a church context, Richard Scorer QC, told the same programme that the IICSA report was strong on analysis of the problem, but not in its recommendations, which, he said, “the Church should and could have been doing five years ago”.

Jo Kind from the survivors’ group MACSAS said: “So many people have had the experience of a bishop who is the pastoral carer for the perpetrator but also for the person making the complaint — which is incredibly conflicted, and leaves them baffled.

“We are talking about the Church and not just some secular organisation. There is a moral and ethical responsibility here to weave into the response what the Church is based on.”

An advocate for survivors, Andrew Graystone, said: “The limitation is that the Church already knew what it looked like, certainly as far as the hierarchy is concerned. . . The big question is, What are they going to do about it? Why have they taken so long to take any action?”

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, and the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, have also responded to the IICSA report by apologising to victims and survivors of abuse in their diocese.

They write in an open letter: “Our words today cannot express deeply enough our sorrow and sadness that you have suffered abuse. We are truly sorry that the publication of this Report may itself cause renewed pain for you.

“We do not claim to understand the depth of your hurt, pain, and suffering. We do not doubt the sense of injustice you are wholly entitled to feel at the failure of the Church to listen, respond, or act. Child sexual abuse is a disfiguring violation of human dignity. Wherever abuse concerns church officers, you have been betrayed by their actions as perpetrators of this abuse. The IICSA report states emphatically that, as an organisation, the Church has failed to care for you.

“We offer you today our unqualified apologies.”

The letter pledges to “listen, respond, and act” to and for survivors. “The length of time since reported abuse is no barrier — we want to hear from you. Please be assured also that we are ready to receive any reports of child abuse, wherever they may have been committed.”

The diocese is currently recruiting “more senior independent members” for the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Committee, the bishops write. “We will also assess future safeguarding training needs in the diocese, specifically to support better the needs of victims and survivors.”

Terms of reference published. The terms of reference for the second Past Cases Review (PCR2), to be chaired by Chris Robson, were published on Monday. The PCR2, which began in April 2019, was originally due to be completed by December, but has been delayed (News, 2 August 2019).

The purpose of PCR2, the terms state, is to ensure that any allegations made since the original Past Cases Review “have been handled appropriately and proportionately to the level of risk identified, and with a focus on the support needs of any known victims or survivors”.

The first Past Cases Review, of 2007-09, which looked through more than 40,000 files on diocesan staff, clergy, and lay ministers dating back 30 years, for any evidence that clergy or church workers had abused children, was found by an independent reviewer to be fundamentally flawed (News, 29 June 2018).

PCR2 will be conducted at Church House, Bishopthorpe Palace, Lambeth Palace, and, where possible, remotely, owing to coronavirus restrictions.

Its task is to identify and review independently “all cases of concern relating to clergy or church officers causing harm to children or vulnerable adults or where domestic abuse is alleged”; and ensure that these cases have been referred to the diocesan safeguarding adviser, and that cases meeting the relevant thresholds have been referred to statutory agencies.

The terms state: “If there is a case that involves, or is believed to involve, senior clergy or management, or there is a suspicion of collusion or ‘cover up’, the matter will be referred to the deputy director of casework. If the IR [independent reviewer] does not wish to discuss with the deputy director of casework, this can be referred to the independent chair and the director of safeguarding.”

Independent reviewers are tasked with reading the files of all church officers “within scope” and recording cases of concern; considering the known-cases list held at the Archbishops’ offices; preparing a summary report for the Archbishops, the independent chair, and the NST director of safeguarding, including recommendations; and attending meetings of the reference group.

The reference group of independent safeguarding professionals and representatives of the police and local authorities will report back to the National Safeguarding steering group, provide dispute resolution, and have oversight of the care and support provision for victims and survivors. It will meet monthly to establish the review, and then every two months to “monitor and track progress”.


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