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Safeguarding amendments to give Synod motion ‘more teeth’ are rejected

06 February 2020


Bishop Hancock addresses the General Synod in York, in July. He is due to step down as lead safeguarding bishop at the end of the month

Bishop Hancock addresses the General Synod in York, in July. He is due to step down as lead safeguarding bishop at the end of the month

SURVIVORS of clerical abuse welcomed amendments to next week’s General Synod motion on safeguarding, in a letter to members that laments that the Church has made “no progress at all” in caring for victims and survivors. It was ruled on Wednesday, however, that the amendments were out of order and could not be moved.

“We need you to acknowledge that you do not have the competence or the right to clear up your own mess,” the ten survivors write. “We need independent people we can go to to report abuse and find support; people who are not part of the Church, and don’t wear the same uniform that our abusers wore. We need you to use your power as a Synod to establish a properly funded scheme for support, compensation and redress for victims of church abuse.”

The existing motion, to be debated on Wednesday morning, endorses the Archbishops’ Council’s response to the five recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in May (News, 9 May 2019).

“Is that all?” the survivors ask. “We believe that you should go much further. . . The motion before you is anodyne, but the amendments we have seen seem to have some teeth.”

Two lay members, David Lamming and Peter Adams, had proposed the amendments. Amended, the motion would have lamented “the Church of England’s abject failures in dealing with reports of abuse” and welcome the diocese of Blackburn ad clerum of last year “as a suitable model for developing reconciliation with those who have been wronged by our sins of commission and omission” (News, 21 June 2019).

It would also have affirmed — quoting the national director of safeguarding, Melissa Caslake — that the Church “remains committed to ensuring that words of apology are followed by concrete actions” to improve the response to allegations and prevent further abuse.

Finally, it would have requested that the Archbishops’ Council, national safeguarding staff, and House of Bishops “respond immediately” to the recommendations of the final IICSA report, and “bring forward proposals for an appropriate and properly resourced compensation and redress scheme”.

The framers of the amendments were told this week, however, that the original motion was “narrowly drafted”, and that their work went beyond its scope.

Martin Sewell, another lay member who supported the amendments, said this week: “One of the greatest failures, which I regret, has been our failure to debate the various reports which have been commissioned, then quietly laid aside without any democratic scrutiny.”

He praised the Archbishop of Canterbury for having “rightly identified that clergy deference is part of the problem”.

Mr Sewell also said that the lead safeguarding Bishop, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, had been “pastorally sensitive . . . Sometimes he has had to engage with huge frustration, because those he talks to mistakenly believe he has executive power and that he could change things at will.”

Bishop Hancock is due to be succeeded by the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, at the end of the month.

Dr Gibbs will also take over as chair of the National Safeguarding Steering Group, established by the Archbishops Council in 2016, of which he has been a member for the past three years. He will be supported by the Bishop of Southampton, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin, who will become the first deputy lead safeguarding bishop.

In their letter, the survivors note that the Safe Spaces project for abuse survivors is still not up and running (News, 3 January). A redress scheme would be expensive, they acknowledge.

“But please don’t say that you have no money. It hasn’t escaped our attention that before they have attended to the needs of victims, the Church Commissioners have found £21 million for a new library at Lambeth Palace” (News, 27 April 2018).

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