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General Synod digest: Backing for IICSA recommendations given

04 December 2020
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The Church of England’s National Safeguarding Director, Melissa Caslake, introduces a presentation from three survivors

The Church of England’s National Safeguarding Director, Melissa Caslake, introduces a presentation from three survivors

A MOTION pledging to implement all six recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) to the Church of England in October (News, 9 October) was carried unanimously on Wednesday morning.

Introducing a presentation from three survivors of abuse, the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Director, Melissa Caslake, said that progress had been made on safeguarding, including the launch of the delayed Safe Spaces project (News, 2 October; 16 October). “I also recognise [that] any progress we do make in safeguarding is often the result of the time and attention that survivors themselves give, often at personal cost to themselves,” she said. There remained much more to do, especially when it came to paying heed to what victims and survivors said.

The first speaker, Roz Etwaria, who leads the survivors website LittleRo.org, reminded the Synod that everyone was affected by abuse. “We don’t have to have suffered individual violation — the scars affect generation after generation.” The Church had an opportunity to lead the way globally, but there had to be independent investigations of cases to rebuild trust, as well as placing the victim-survivor at the centre of the approach.

Another survivor, Jane Chevous, who leads the group Survivors Voices, said that, in her teens, the Church had been her refuge after years of being sexually abused by her father. “I spent many hours in our Lady chapel, weeping and praying.” She suffered depression, anorexia, and self-harm, and attempted suicide. “I wanted to be with God more than I wanted to be alive. The Church was my salvation. That is the power of a Church which holds a safe space; that meets survivors with care, compassion, and love.”

Aged 18, however, Ms Chevous lost this safe space when two priests raped and sexually abused her, she said. There was also spiritual abuse: her abusers had told her that it was what God wanted. It was years before she felt able to report her ordeal, but, despite telling two bishops, she got nowhere. “Abuse is not just a betrayal: it’s a loss — of self, identity, safety, connection, and worth.”

She asked the Synod whether the Church could have a safeguarding process that said to survivors “We believe you,” “We’re so sorry,” and “How can we put things right?” Last year, Ms Chevous reported her ordeal again, but, after 13 months, was told that it was too long ago to draw any conclusions or hold anyone accountable, she said. “How did safeguarding become about risks and secrets, and not compassion and justice?”

Justice in the Church must be restorative and accountable, independently grounded and collaborative with survivors, she continued. This was a kairos moment: a chance for the Church to turn things around. Seek out survivors, apologise, and then ask how you can restore trust, she urged Synod members. The key to change lay with individuals.

Finally, Gilo, another survivor of clerical abuse, who is a member of the Survivors’ Reference Group (SRG), also spoke to the Synod. “It is survivors and our persistence in seeking truth and justice who have brought the Church to this point today,” he said.

The IICSA recommendations were not the end of the story. Genuine apology required “repentance and atonement”, he said, including ownership of the “re-abuse” visited on survivors by the Church’s handling of complaints, and a public act of penance. The SRG wanted senior figures to own up to bad behaviour such as the silencing of survivors, complicity with abuse, and gaslighting, Gilo reported.

“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 National Safeguarding Team (NST) should be made fully accountable to external oversight, he said, and removed from the orbit of the Archbishops’ Council, its management, communications staff, and lawyers. The proposed final redress scheme must also be fully resourced and funded, given the lifelong impact of abuse. Unethical practices and reputation-laundering by lawyers and insurers should also be held to account, perhaps by making them pay into the redress scheme, Gilo suggested.

Redress was more than just money, however: it should also involve reconciliation, he said. The SRG believed that the Church should set up a truth and reconciliation process, to repair faith. This, of course, must be designed with full input from survivors.

In conclusion, Gilo thanked the Synod members who had been allies to survivors. “Some of us would not be here today without your support.” Mandatory reporting of abuse, with legal consequences for failure to report, was supported by most survivors, Gilo said. This was likely to be one of the recommendations at the end of IICSA next year; so the Church should back it now, he suggested, to ensure that the “decades-long scandal” was never allowed to happen again.

 

After a period of silent reflection and prayer, the lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, introduced his motion for the Synod to “fully accept” all the recommendations that had been made by IICSA and “sincerely apologise” to victims. Survivors were the “most important voices you will hear today”, he said. He thanked the speakers for challenging the Synod.

youtube/church of englandThe Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, introduces his motion

Dr Gibbs went on to summarise the six recommendations in the IICSA report, including proposals to revise the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), most notably dropping the 12-month time limit for complaints and reintroducing the penalty of deposition from Holy Orders in the most serious cases.

An interim pilot support scheme for survivors had already begun, and a project manager appointed to design a final redress scheme, Dr Gibbs reported. External auditing of the dioceses continued. “I hope none of these will be controversial for any of us, and you will unanimously support their adoption,” Dr Gibbs said.

When it came to the apology, while this was owed to survivors, it was not the first, and was not enough on its own. It may be “starting to wear rather thin”, and could be “actively unhelpful” if not backed by action, he warned: hence the clause fully accepting the whole report.

“This means taking to heart the profoundly shocking picture the report paints,” Dr Gibbs said: not just accepting failure in the past, but accepting that there remained much more to be done beyond the recommendations to overhaul the culture, so that “abuse cannot be hidden, and abusers cannot hide.” It also meant accepting the cost in time and resources for better safeguarding and oversight at all levels, and, “above all”, putting survivors at the heart of the programme.

Despite encouraging signs, Dr Gibbs said that he was concerned that the Church would “not rise to the challenge” and would look to the interests of the institution rather than heed the calls for justice. This would be catastrophic, and, in the long term, even more costly for the Church. “Please hold us to account in the years ahead,” he urged members, “including your bishops, Archbishops, and safeguarding teams.”

 

INTRODUCING the debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury thanked survivors who, he said, had opened themselves up to pain “for the sake of justice”. He backed the motion, but wanted it to go further. “Independence — certainly. Change on deference and transparency within the Church — definitely.”

The reputation of the Church had been “devastated” by the safeguarding scandals, Archbishop Welby said. He recalled how, in two separate interviews in recent days, he had been asked, “quite rightly”, how he could challenge the Government on international aid spending given the Church’s failings over abuse.

“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. . . We are too slow,” he said. “Please hear the frustration in my voice.” He regretted that a redress scheme had been approved in February, but had only just started. Decisions are not being taken fast enough to demonstrate how genuinely sorry the C of E is, he said. “We will see justice from God if we do not seek God’s mercy for our failures.”

The Inquiry had shown how the Church had failed to model itself on Christ, the Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven. Julie Conalty (Rochester), said. The C of E needed, rightly, to be “brought it its knees — broken, humbled, and truly penitent. . . Somehow, we have allowed our clericalism, tribalism, naïvety, and culture of fear about sexuality to corrupt the Church,” she said. “If we are at all serious about our vision for the 2020s, we need to make some radical changes top to bottom.” Why not add the word “safer” to the Archbishop of York’s Vision and Strategy, she asked. The apology was a good start, but it needed to go much further.

The Revd Paul Cartwright (Leeds) agreed. That the Church had required a national inquiry in the first place was a “great travesty”, he said. The only way to restore confidence was to remove safeguarding from the Church, he suggested, given that worries about reputational damage should never feature in this.

Canon Judith Maltby (Universities & TEIs) questioned the Church’s culture of secrecy over sexuality and its impact on safeguarding. She asked for “joined-up thinking” between the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project and safeguarding. She praised changes to the CDM, but asked Dr Gibbs why this had not been done earlier.

The Vicar-General of York, Judge Peter Collier, was cautious about reforming the CDM procedure, given that it had been created from a “flawed process” during the 1990s. There was a danger of creating a new Measure on the wrong footing. No CDM tribunal proceedings in the past 14 years had handled a complaint of sexual abuse of children, Judge Collier said. Any replacement Measure should proceed from a proper understanding of the existing rules, a theological grounding in discipline, and should place of the bishop as the locus of this.

Distinctions should be drawn between serious cases, misconduct such as failing to follow guidelines, and basic grievances that needed simple resolution. All three should be speedily investigated by those independent of the diocesan structure, and only the most serious cases go to a judge-led tribunal, he proposed. The others could be mostly dealt with by the diocesan bishop.

“It was not good enough” that survivors had not been invited to speak in the safeguarding debate the previous evening, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said. She echoed Gilo, saying that lasting change required “more than platitudes”. Survivors must be involved in jointly producing everything done within safeguarding reforms; even more importantly, the culture of the Church must change, led from the top down and reinforced by regular training, she argued. Clericalism, deference, and tribalism had to be addressed.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) said that he had seen Christ in the forgiveness and generosity of survivors, and urged bishops and others who had wronged them to reach out. He picked up on Judge Collier’s remarks on discipline by noting that most cases never reached legal tribunals, because they had been handled by “core groups” who were doing complex assessment of evidence despite, in his view, being a “bunch of amateurs with no experience or training”.

Both victims and the subjects of complaints were fearful for their jobs, marriages, reputations, and homes, because of the Church’s “quasi-legal casino”. In one case, the complainant was invited to a core-group meeting to help to decide whether their own case merited the appointment of an investigator; in other cases, complainants were not told that their core group was sitting. He knew of one complainant who had attempted suicide because the process had been so gruelling.

youtube/church of englandGilo, a member of the Survivors’ Reference Group

The Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Peter Spiers (Liverpool), paid tribute to the work of diocesan safeguarding advisers, whom he described as conscientious and compassionate. Whenever the Church discussed its failures in safeguarding, it should also acknowledge those who were working as hard for survivors, he said. “The Church must stare into the darkness of its failings, but also see points of light.”

Canon Priscilla White (Birmingham) also said that the Church should go beyond the recommendations, not just “toe the boundary” of what was required. “We are not yet thinking about mandatory reporting, but is there any good reason [that] we should not take the initiative, before we are forced to do so by a recommendation?” she asked.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, said that he had seen the Church change in the 30 years since his ordination: “We no longer ignore abuse. We train clergy properly and have a way of protecting children.” He backed the motion, but also the calls from survivors and Archbishop Welby to change the culture. Clericalism and deference did exist, and could not continue. Part of the change must be that, when mistakes were made — and they would be, he said — the Church was open and transparent about them.

He also called for stronger connections with LLF, noting the links between safeguarding failings and how LGBT people had been treated. “We want to stop being in this place where we have to keep saying sorry,” he said. “I do find myself falling to my knees in shame, but I also want to rise up and be the change we need to make. Getting all this right, Synod, is going to cost us a lot of money. Getting it wrong is going to cost us our soul.”

youtube/church of englandMartin Sewell (Rochester) speaks in the debate

John Spence (Archbishops’ Council) recalled his words from February’s Synod meeting, that “justice transcends affordability”. There were good excuses why things were moving too slowly, including the pandemic; pace was required, hence the Council had already funded the interim redress scheme for survivors. “But it’s not enough: we have to move faster. We need pace, transparency, and simplicity.”

This would involve the whole Church, and must avoid “endless arguments” about who paid for what, he said. He also endorsed Mr Sewell’s criticisms of the use of core groups in safeguarding cases, which, he agreed, were not transparent or simple. Diocesan safeguarding officers should also be given a mandatory reporting requirement, he said, as this would not have an impact on concerns about the seal of the confessional.

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) strongly welcomed the “long-awaited” motion, and the courage of victims who were coming forward to fight their own cause at a public inquiry. She also asked that the links between sexuality and safeguarding be examined. “Homophobia within the Church deterred the reporting of sexual abuse,” she said. “Have things changed?” It was a postcode lottery, she said, because of differing traditions across the dioceses. This “toxic” culture of secrecy had to change, she said, as did the “pretence” that there was only one gay bishop in the C of E.

The Revd Mike Smith (Oxford) had spent the summer reading Letters to a Broken Church, a book co-edited by Gilo about survivors’ experiences (Books, 16 August 2019). He welcomed the motion and the report behind it, but, like many others, said that the Church should go further by looking to a “truly independent” safeguarding body so that the Church was no longer marking its own homework. More attention also needed to be paid to parish-level safeguarding, he said.

Canon Rachel Mann (Manchester) said: “We need to dethrone a fake picture at the heart of our anthropology, which imbues whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality as normative.” This culture unconsciously damaged everyone, including people who would seem at first to benefit. Important steps had been taken, but more theological work had to be done to become a safer Church.

Peter Adams (St Albans) hoped that the Church could rebuild, having torn down its own foundations. “We need a thorough cleansing of the brokenness and evil which has marked us.” He also backed Gilo’s calls for a truth-and-reconciliation process, as well as “deep corporate repentance” to clear the air.

youtube/church of englandThe Revd Dr Helen Dawes (Salisbury) speaks in the debate

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) supported the motion, saying that the Church had a clear “sexual ethic”, and that those who perpetrated abuse were blatantly in contradiction of this. Upholding the Church’s traditional sexual ethic was, however, not in itself a safeguarding issue.

Michael Stallybrass (York) noted that abuse was not always sexual. Bullying and abuses of power were rife, he said. In responding to IICSA, the Church must not ignore other forms of abuse. He supported the motion, “but only as the start of a much longer journey of reconciliation”.

The Revd Dr Helen Dawes (Salisbury) said that safeguarding work took up more of her time as a parish priest than most would realise, and was gruelling, personally. “It has been those we have hurt so desperately who have had to lead us into truth,” she said. Everyone had to play their part in changing the Church; clergy, laity, and survivors working together to admit to the “depth of sin”.

Simon Friend (Exeter) said that parishes, not dioceses, were legally responsible for legal or compensation claims made by survivors, even though it was not the PCC that licensed or managed clergy, but the diocesan bishop and their staff. “What are we going to do about this inherent disconnect between authority and responsibility?” he asked. Now was the time to reconsider the structures that had created this situation. Perhaps mandatory reporting could overcome this, he suggested, and return legal responsibility to the bishops who licensed the clergy.

Responding to the debate, Dr Gibbs agreed with those who had argued for putting survivors at the centre of safeguarding reforms. “Their voice will hold us to account.” Changing culture was another theme throughout the debate, he said, and this was a challenge that the Church now had to rise to. Independence was vital, but the question was how to retain responsibility for safeguarding while still being held to account by those who had a degree of independence.

He acknowledged the concerns about core groups, and said that a core-group review had been ordered. He shared Canon Maltby’s confusion about why the 12-month time limit in CDM cases had not been stripped out long ago. There was “great merit” in considering how a truth-and-reconciliation commission could play its part in a redress scheme, Dr Gibbs said. He was meeting the Church Commissioners to discuss setting up the formal redress scheme the next day.

After a period of silent prayer, the motion was carried by 363 nem. con.

It read:

That this Synod fully accept the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s Final Investigation Report into the Anglican Church, sincerely apologise to victims and survivors for the harm done by the church and endorse and commit itself to urgently implementing the six recommendations as set out on pages 4-6 of GS 2184.

 

Click here for more reports from the November General Synod, held via Zoom last week

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