THE Church of England must move forward from the “easy part” — publicly apologising to abuse survivors — towards profound change that puts safeguarding and accountability at the centre of its mission, the independent chair of the C of E’s National Safeguarding Panel, Meg Munn, has said.
She was responding on Thursday of last week to the 170-page investigation report on the Anglican Church, published the previous week by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) (News, 9 October).
In a personal blog post, Ms Munn writes: “This report details a thorough investigation. It is shocking and should be required reading for all who hold office in the Church. The callous indifference to so many victims and survivors, coupled with actions to protect the reputation of the Church and individual perpetrators, tells of an organisation that dramatically failed to live out the values it professes.
“Public apologies are important, and senior figures within the Church have made such public statements over the last week. That is the easy part.”
She refers back to her first interview as chair of the NSP, published in the Church Times, in which she said that the Church could “never again be trusted” to protect children and adults from being abused under its care — not unless it relinquished, at all levels, the unquestioned deference that came with power, accepted accountability, and had the policies in place to reduce the likelihood of abuse (News, 25 January 2019).
She writes in her blog: “After two years in post I have seen a great deal being done in relation to improving policies. But little has been done to tackle deference, and to make those holding power accountable.
“IICSA’s report identifies five concerns regarding the culture of the Church — clericalism, tribalism, naïvety, reputation, and sexuality. It recognises that work is ongoing to address these and that further steps are planned but says that significant further work must be done.”
Ms Munn admired the conclusions and recommendations made in the IICSA report, including that only safeguarding professionals should make safeguarding decisions; changes to the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM); improved information-sharing; better support for victims and survivors; and regular auditing of safeguarding.
“These are all important issues,” she writes, “and if accepted and implemented, they will lead to improvements in the Church’s safeguarding. . .
“However, it will not be sufficient to just change the rules. Profound change will not be established until there is complete acceptance across the whole of the Church that striving for a safe Church is at the heart of its mission.
“Consequently, the current structure which sustains unaccountable and powerful clergy must change. Without this, the Church will continue to have dangerous places for children and adults as I described in my interview nearly two years ago.
“There may never be a better opportunity for those with responsibility and influence to step up to this challenge. It will mean tackling long and dearly held principles, something some might not want to do. But not doing so will lead to more lives devastated, and more damage to the reputation of the Church. Is this generation of church leaders prepared to accept that?”