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General Synod digest: Action promised on safeguarding

21 February 2020

Madeleine Davies, Hattie Williams, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in London


The Bishop of Huddersfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, who is to be the lead bishop on safeguarding, speaks in the safeguarding debate

The Bishop of Huddersfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, who is to be the lead bishop on safeguarding, speaks in the safeguarding debate

THE General Synod responded to the interim Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, published last year. It carried an amended motion, promising “concrete actions” on safeguarding.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, reflected on his experience as lead bishop for safeguard­ing during the past four years, a position that he will pass to the Bishop of Huddersfield this month. During the IICSA hearings, “At times, I have been left angry and bitterly ashamed at how the Church I love has be­­haved, but I have also seen light being shone into dark places.”

Much progress had been made to improve safeguarding in the Church: 250,000 people had completed safeguarding training; an inde­pendent safeguarding panel had been set up; and safeguarding had been “embedded” into recruitment of clergy and church officers, theo­logy, practices, and policies of the Church.

“In all our engagement with IICSA, we have sought to be open and transparent, welcoming the opportunity to explore our safeguarding practices and seeking ways to move forward.”

He welcomed and accepted the five recom­mendations in the interim IICSA report. “We have already taken several significant steps in our efforts to implement them.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Church needed to hear and to heed the voices of sur­vivors and victims. “We are deeply committed to listening to and implementing the recom­mendations of IICSA, to pursuing more urgently the desire for a safe Church.” There was much more to do, he said, and re­­ferred to way in which the Clergy Discipline Measure affected victims and survivors, and the independence of the safeguarding process.

He thanked Bishop Hancock for work that had been “onerous, utterly consum­ing, person­ally costly”. The new lead bishop had a “huge mountain to climb and we must climb it with him”. As he stood to lead applause for Bishop Hancock, a safeguarding activist, Andrew Graystone, in the public gallery, unveiled a banner that said that the Church Commis­sioners had spent £23.5 million on a new Lam­beth Palace Library, but had not committed any money for reparations for abuse victims.

Kashmir Garton (Worcester), a senior man­ager in the probation service, endorsed the five IICSA recom­menda­tions, and in particular the approach of learning lessons in case reviews.

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North (Northern Suffragans), urged the Synod to read the full IICSA report, which had helped him to see the C of E through the eyes of sur­vivors, as the BBC Peter Ball documentary had. Too often bishops thought of themselves as lacking power or affected a faux humility, as Peter Ball had. Clergy terms and conditions of service needed to be reformed. “Freehold is a safe­guarding disaster, and I’m not sure if common tenure is much better.” He also called for a new, single, national, and independent safe­guarding service. Manipulative people could crawl through gaps created by excessive frag­mentation, he said.

The Bishop of Huddersfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs (Northern Suffragans), moved his amendment, backed by the National Safe­guarding Steering Group (NSSG). His amend­ment would urge “concrete actions” as well as words of apology, and called for a survivor-centred approach, as too many in the Church still “just don’t get it”; and it men­tioned redress for survivors. “It will mean serious money [and] changes in ways we handle claims and com­plaints, so how we do things is shaped by the righteousness and compassion of God’s King­dom and not by the short-term and short-sighted financial and reputational interests of the Church.” They should go well beyond the final IICSA recommendations.

geoff crawford/church timesSusannah Leafe (Truro)

Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) said that survivors were still waiting for a “genuine Christian and human inter­action”. Too often, they were seen as difficult, damaged, or vexatious. “There needs to be cul­ture change, and it needs to start at the top.”

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, was conscious of better resourcing, more policies and procedures, and audits of every diocese, but the Church was not moving quickly enough. The Bishops alone could not change the culture of the Church: it must be owned by everyone. To know how to change, survivors and victims must be listened to, she said. Voting for this amendment would mean re­­sourcing it with money and skills. She sup­ported Bishop North on reform of tenure.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) said that the word “redress” was import­ant. For victims, it meant hope. Bishop Gibbs had won the pro­visional trust of survivors. “No more delay is love in action; costly reparation is costly love in action.”

Susannah Leafe (Truro) had been on a jour­ney herself, “in the depths of the safeguarding world”, and apologised to all the survivors: “some of us have remained silent for too long.” She had learned five things: listen; speak up; put survivors first: “tribes go out the window”; conceal nothing; and take responsibility.

The Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven. Julie Conalty (Rochester), spoke about redress. “Survivors have suf­fered in terms of mental health and physical health, they’ve lost families and relationships, and homes and jobs, and secure retirement. If we are serious about redress, if we are serious about offering hope, then we must not fail to deliver on that. Failure to deliver hope kills, quite literally.”

The Church of England could be generous, and could change in­­surers if their practices were not good enough, she said. “Don’t just wait for the national Church. . . We must go back to our dioceses and do something.”

Peter Adams (St Albans) said that the Church needed to go further than the five recom­menda­tions. “The whole Church has been silent for too long, and left it to our bishops. I think it’s too much for them to bear.” Almost all survivors said that life got harder after they disclosed their abuse. “Most struggle with faith, most struggle with fin­ances. . . Today, we can lay a foundation for a response that will make that journey easier.”

The Gibbs amendment was carried.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, said that, like LLF and Windrush on Tuesday, this was about failure to be a Church. She spoke of the failures on Peter Ball, paid tribute to the “courage and tenacity” of Neil Todd, and spoke of the BBC Peter Ball documentary The Church’s Darkest Secret. It had shocked her that some people expressed surprise at its content. “Lament and apology are not enough,” she said. Reports and reviews should be read, not just filed away. Money needed to be set aside in the present.

John Freeman (Chester) spoke as a survivor of abuse at school, but schools were much quicker at getting on with safeguarding than the Church. “Do some­thing straight away: don’t hang-about. That has been part of the church’s problem.”

Emily Bagg (Portsmouth) said that she was one of the one in 20 who had been abused. She said that she was not a victim, but a survivor. “Concrete actions are all that matters to people like me. . . Be prepared to put your money where your mouths are.”

Simon Friend (Exeter) acknowledged the presence of survivors in the chamber and in the gallery; he had noted Mr Graystone’s poster. It was important that members of the Synod continued to feel uncomfortable. “We talk, we think, but somehow we need to find a way to embody lament.”

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that today was about justice. The NSSG had felt that the original motion was bland. Mr Lamming spoke of the Blackburn diocese ad clerum on safeguarding.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), called for clarity about who needed a DBS check. “We need to get this right.”

The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Gavin Kirk (Lincoln), an NSSG member, said that he would be suggesting two further amendments to strengthen diocesan safeguarding advisers — he wondered whether there should be a director of instead of an adviser — and there should be a whistle-blowing system for when their advice is overlooked. “We need a signi­ficant investment in the formation of clergy.”

John Spence (Archbishops’ Council) said that the funds would be found: “This is not about affordability, but about justice.”

The amended motion was carried by 361 nem. con. It read:


That this Synod (a) endorse the Archbishops’ Council’s response, set out in GS 2158, to the five recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in its investiga­tion report Anglican Church Case Studies: Chichester/Peter Ball (May 2019) at pages 206 to 207;

(b) welcome the statement in paragraph 4.1 of the response that the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) “remains committed to ensuring that words of apology are followed by concrete actions”;

(c) urge the NSSG to bring forward proposals to give effect to that commitment that follow a more fully survivor centred approach to safe­guarding, including arrangements for redress for survivors;

(d) request that the NSSG keep the Synod updated on the development and implementa­tion of responses to recommendations relating to the Church of England that are made by the Inquiry, including by submitting a report for debate by the Synod not later than July 2021.

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