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New scheme ‘marks turning point’ in Church’s treatment of survivors

26 September 2020

istock

THE Archbishops’ Council has approved an interim pilot scheme for survivors of abuse in the C of E, as part of what the Archbishops of Canterbury and York describe as “a turning point” in the Church’s treatment of survivors.

The sum available has not been disclosed, but is believed to be in six figures. Survivors campaigning for redress had argued in the past that anything less than £250,000 would not be worth offering.

The announcement of the fund on Friday was accompanied by a commitment by the Archbishops’ Council “to urgently pursue the principle of independent safeguarding recognising the need for greater independence and transparency of safeguarding”.

The Church’s hierarchy has long accepted the need to address the question of redress for survivors of church-based sexual abuse, but survivors have been frustrated by the time it has taken to come up with a scheme.

The issue has gained fresh impetus with the appointment of the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, as the Church’s lead bishop of safeguarding, and the imminence of the final report on the Church of England from the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), due to be published on 6 October.

Five weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury released emergency funds for “VB”, whose business was in danger of going under because of a severe bout of depression linked with his abuse (News, 21 August). It is understood that VB has been offered further sums from the new pilot scheme.

The pilot scheme is geared to those survivors’ cases which are already known to the Church, “where the survivor is known to be in seriously distressed circumstances, and the Church has a heightened responsibility because of the way the survivor was responded to following disclosure”, a statement said on Friday.

Lessons learnt from the pilot will inform the creation of a full redress scheme.

A statement from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, joint chairs of the Archbishops’ Council, spoke of “a long, honest, and soberingly frank discussion. . .

“The issue of independence is something we have taken a personal lead on and are very committed to. We are glad that the Church is now going to make this happen. Along with providing redress for victims and survivors, this is the next step we must take.

“Today’s meeting and these decisions feel like a turning point. As we await IICSA’s report into the Church of England, we continue to pray for survivors and all those the Church has failed. We are profoundly sorry for our failings, but today our words of sorrow are matched by actions that we believe will lead to real change. We hope that this will provide some hope for the future.”

Dr Gibbs described the move as “an endorsement by the Archbishops’ Council of General Synod’s unanimous vote in February for a more fully survivor-centred approach to safeguarding, including arrangements for redress”.

The interim scheme is expected to help between five and ten survivors initially, although any survivor of church-based abuse “who is in dire straits” can request help. This can be at any stage of their case management, even if they have already accepted a settlement with an insurer.

If it is a recent case, the diocese would be expected to support the application, but a survivor unwilling to engage with the diocese can apply direct. The presumption is that the survivor’s present difficulties are wholly or partially a consequence of past abuse “and/or the re-abuse through the Church’s actions in response to their report of abuse”.

The scheme will be able to offer cash sums, but the emphasis will be on funding support such as financial/debt counselling, therapeutic support, seed funding to help with employment. Help with housing is also a possibility, but is expected to be offered rarely.

Andrew Graystone, who has worked as advocate for victims of abuse, said on Friday: “It is good that the Council seems to have acknowledged — I think for the first time — that the Church cannot deal with safeguarding failures in-house.

“Victims have said for a long time that independent scrutiny and management of safeguarding is the only way to make the church safer. I’m glad that the Archbishops are both now committed to this. I fully expect that IICSA will demand nothing less.”

He said that survivors remained sceptical that a full redress system would be in place in 12 to 15 months, a suggestion from the safeguarding bishops. The interim pilot support scheme was therefore welcome.

He warned, though, that it had to be properly funded. “If the fund runs out in three months, victims will be further damaged.”

And he reminded the Church of the severity of the need. “The Church shouldn’t look at this as an act of generosity, but as the very beginnings of paying its debt to survivors of abuse. The lead bishops know that this fund will do nothing more than rescue a few survivors from the cliff edge. It’s not a repair fund, but a suicide-prevention budget.”

In the view of survivors, the Church should restore them to the place they were when they disclosed their abuse. “No one should be worse off because they have disclosed what was done to them,” Mr Graystone said.

“Beyond that, the needs of survivors are very varied and lifelong. They may include housing, counselling, information, and apology, as well as financial support for lost income. It’s never just a matter of writing a cheque to make things better. I’m glad that the Lead Bishops recognise this, and are committed to designing bespoke packages for individual survivors.”

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