New safeguarding bishop recalls childhood trauma

01 April 2020

The Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs

The Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs

THE resurfacing, after 50 years, of the “pain, hurt, and anger” of childhood trauma was what led the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, to accept the position of lead safeguarding bishop, he has said.

In a blog post published on Wednesday morning, Dr Gibbs, who takes over safeguarding duties from the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, this week, said that, while watching a one-man play, Groomed, at the General Synod in February last year, he had found himself becoming upset.

In the play, the theatre director Patrick Sandford reveals the consequences of being abused by a teacher when he was nine years old. Dr Gibbs writes: “I knew this before I went, but what I was not expecting was what happened as the play came to a close. Suddenly and without warning I was overcome with emotion and broke down in floods of tears. . .

“Completely out of the blue, the performance had brought to the surface things that had happened to me as a child at about the same age as Patrick. They were nothing like as horrific as what he had been through, but in that moment some of the pain and hurt and anger that had been buried away for 50 years came bursting to the surface.”

He had subsequently undergone counselling, he said. “I have begun to come to terms with what I have carried inside me all this time. It has helped me to make sense of many things in my life, especially why I have reacted at times quite viscerally to situations of stress or perceived threat. . .

“In part it explains why I have taken on the role of Lead Bishop for Safeguarding.”

Dr Gibbs has been a member of the National Safeguarding Steering Group of the C of E for three years (Gazette, 14 February). He is also chair of his Diocesan Board of Education. He writes: “Now I understand more about why at a gut level I have always, at least to some extent, simply ‘got’ what this is about, including understanding something of what a huge and life-long impact abuse and trauma have on those who experience it.”

His first priority would be for the Church to have a “more fully survivor-centred approach” to safeguarding, he said. The contribution of survivors was a “sacred gift” that would help the Church to understand and learn from its failings.

Apologies must translate into action, including past cases reviews, he said. “At least one survivor [is] still awaiting an apology — and the season of lament and apology is by no means over. . . We must also take action, including undertaking reviews of past conduct, leading where necessary to appropriate disciplinary action where there have been culpable failures.”

He repeated his promise to offer “proper counselling support” for survivors and “adequate compensation as part of redress for those we have failed” (News, 12 February).

“We have to also take seriously the need for a greater degree of independence in the organisation and operation of safeguarding throughout the Church. Safeguarding has to be thoroughly embedded in the life of the Church, otherwise it simply will not work. . .

“However, we must find ways of building in a degree of independence which means that the structures and hierarchy of the Church cannot either subtly or explicitly impede the work of safeguarding or harm the interests of the vulnerable and abused.”

This included clarifying the “duty” of individuals to report disclosure of abuse to the police or to safeguarding authorities, “and take out of the hands of clergy (including bishops) and church officials the right to filter or obstruct such reporting. We need to look, for instance, at what this means for DSAs [Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors] in relation to their diocesan structures, and we need also to look at what this might mean for the NST in relation to the National Church Institutions, the NCIs.”

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