THE General Synod has voted unanimously to accept all six recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) to the Church of England in October (News, 9 October).
After an impassioned two-hour debate about the Church’s safeguarding failures, members of the Synod, meeting online, voted without a single abstention both to implement the IICSA report and to apologise again to survivors of abuse.
Before the discussion began, the Synod heard a presentation from three survivors, including Jane Chevous, who told her story of having first been sexually abused by her father before then suffering rape and further abuse by two priests.
“Abuse is not just a betrayal: it’s a loss,” she said, “of self, identity, safety, connection, and worth.” She had tried to tell several bishops and others in the Church about what had happened to her, but said that she had been met with indifference and apathy. “How did safeguarding become about risks and secrets, and not compassion and justice?”
This was echoed by another survivor, Gilo, who spoke next on behalf of the Survivors Reference Group, which advises the C of E. It was the hard, costly work of victims and survivors which had brought the Church to this point, he said.
While the recommendations from IICSA were welcome, they did not go nearly far enough, Gilo said. The National Safeguarding Team (NST) should be made truly independent and accountable to external oversight, while “lawyers, communications staff, and insurers” who had behaved unethically and compounded the suffering of survivors should be held to account.
“Some of us believe that resignations are appropriate. The culture of the Church won’t change until there is real accountability across the highest level of the Church.”
The Church’s lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, then introduced a debate on the IICSA recommendations. These included strengthening the independence of diocesan safeguarding advisers, reforming the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), and a national policy to support survivors after they disclose abuse. “I hope none of these will be controversial for any of us and you will unanimously support their adoption,” Dr Gibbs said.
His motion also expressed a central apology to survivors of church-related abuse, though he acknowledged that warm words were “wearing a bit thin” with survivors. Therefore, his motion also stated that the Synod “fully accept” the broader IICSA report and all its criticisms of the C of E, not just the specific recommendations.
During the debate, several clerics expressed pain at the Church’s failings, exposed by IICSA, and their determination to fix the “mess”. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Church should go further than the recommendations.
Changing the cultures of deference and secrecy had been far too slow, so far, he said, urging the Synod to “hear the frustration in my voice” on this. “The only way in which this Church of England will find its way to having any moral authority is by, as Gilo said, repentance, apology, action, reparation.”
His words were echoed by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, who said that he had found himself “falling to his knees in shame” when considering safeguarding. He said again that “getting all this right, Synod, is going to cost us a lot of money; getting it wrong is going to cost us our soul” (News, 16 October).
As in previous safeguarding debates, several speakers called for a fully independent safeguarding agency to oversee safeguarding in the C of E, arguing that this was the only way finally to address concerns about reputational damage and clerical deference.
Others called for links to be drawn between the Living in Love and Faith project (LLF) and safeguarding failures, suggesting that the Church’s conflict over sexuality had in the past inhibited the protection of children and vulnerable adults.
An LGBT campaigner, Jayne Ozanne (Oxford), quoted one detective in the Peter Ball case, who had said that he was convinced that several witnesses had not come forward because they feared that their sexuality would be exposed and that this would cost them their position in the Church. “Homophobia within the Church deterred the reporting of sexual abuse. Have things changed?” she asked.
The Vicar-General of York, Judge Peter Collier, cautiously against reforming the CDM without a clearer picture of how the new model would work in relation safeguarding cases, which IICSA had left to the Church to determine.
Martin Sewell (Rochester) said that the “real culprit” of the Church’s culture issues was the “murky, grey world of core groups”, which, he said, were deciding most cases without any legal expertise or transparency. He argued that complex evidence was being discussed by a “bunch of amateurs”, putting the futures of both victims and people subject to complaints at risk.
Responding to the debate, Dr Gibbs said that clearly cultural change was an urgent priority, alongside implementing the listed recommendations. There was also “great merit” in considering how a truth-and-reconciliation commission could play its part within a redress scheme that was already under construction, he said.
The motion was carred by 363 votes nem. con. with no recorded abstentions.
“Due regard” to be ditched.
On Tuesday evening, the Synod voted through the first consideration of amendments to the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016, which will now be considered for revision by the whole General Synod in February, writes Hattie Williams.
Among the proposed amendments is to replace the term “due regard” in safeguarding and other policies with the Draft Safeguarding (Code of Practice) Measure. “Due regard” was criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in 2019 for being dangerously unclear (News, 10 May 2019).
YouTube/Church of EnglandThe Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, introduces the draft Measure
Introducing the draft Measure, the Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, who chairs the steering committee, said: “Lack of clarity is unacceptable. It is also unnecessary, because putting it right could be achieved by the proposed amendment to the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016.”
The mechanism was simple, she said: the House of Bishops was to be placed under a statutory duty to produce a code of practice on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
A new section 5A would also be inserted to include an expanded list of relevant persons who would have a statutory duty to comply with the code, or face sanctions, she said.
During the debate, Synod members pointed to gaps in the list, particularly considering the accountability and protection of lay officers, ordinands, and religious communities, including how sanctions might be imposed on these groups.
Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) gave the example of churchwardens, for whom there were disciplinary measures set in legislation in some contexts, but which did not apply to the failure to carry out duties. He suggested that the bishop should have the power to disqualify churchwardens who did not adhere to safeguarding duties. Volunteers and people who were employed by private trusts or third parties in a C of E context should also be brought under the same sanctions. He was keen to block out those and further loopholes.
The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers (Leeds), agreed. He suggested that this legislation was “hasty” and that there was no opportunity for scrutiny.
Carl Fender (Lincoln) was concerned that “soft law” was being used to regulate standards. “There is an illusiveness in the current draft in the use of the word ‘requirement’ which does not go far enough to distinguish between mandatory and discretionary obligations,” he said.
Martin Sewell (Rochester) drew attention to research conducted by the Sheldon Hub, which reported that 40 per cent of clergy who had been through the Clergy Discipline Measure process had considered their own life (News, 16 July) . “To get this wrong is not only sloppiness in law, it is cruel,” he said.
Dr Michael Todd (Truro) questioned the omission of religious communities. The Church, he said, should be seen to be overturning every stone. He called on the committee to fill in the gaps and provide a simple way to add further groups to the list in future without having to revise the whole Measure.
April Alexander (Southwark) said that, besides being held accountable, lay people should also be protected from malicious accusations. There was also no definition of what was meant by vulnerable adults: her experience was that all adults could be vulnerable at certain times. The worst example was the murder of Peter Farquhar, a churchwarden in Oxford diocese, who, she said, had not been seen as being vulnerable, but had, in fact, been deeply vulnerable (News, 23 October).
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that he had been deeply involved in the 2016 Measure, when he was then lead bishop for safeguarding, and had at the time lost debates concerning the robustness of the phrase “due regard”, which he was delighted to see picked up by IICSA. The House of Bishops should issue the code of practice, he said, because they had to continue to take a lead on safeguarding; but he assured the Synod that wide consultation had been taken.
The Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, speaking in his capacity as chair of the group revising the CDM, said that he hoped to bring a paper to the February Synod meeting which proposed to replace the CDM altogether. This would take some time, so the current Measure was still important, he said.
Responding to the debate, Ms Ellis clarified that the measure was connected to the work of the CDM, but not dependent on it. “It is urgent that the Church responds and is seen to respond to the issues raised by IICSA. . . We need to get on with it, but wisely and carefully.”
The complex issue of the laity — both accountability and protection — would be carefully considered and was already being considered by the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG), she said. “A great deal more work will have been done to the draft measure before it is returned.” She encouraged the Synod to raise any further points in the meantime.
The motion received first consideration and its revision stage is expected in February.
Read comment on the IICSA report from Barbara Bilston