THE Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) investigation report into the Anglican Church shows how our neglect of the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of children and young people, in favour of protecting our reputation, was in conflict with our mission to love and care for the vulnerable. I would add that it reveals how the Church has failed to model itself on the Christ who stood with the marginalised and the victims, saw those who were overlooked or shunned, and included those who had been shut out.
But I knew all this — from my own experience in the Church, from reading reports and following inquiries, and from engaging with survivors. So, it is a relief to see it all set down on paper — or, at least, some of it. There will be more; there is inevitably more that has not yet come into the light.
Of course, there has been progress over recent years. The report acknowledges this. We, in the Church, see the rewritten guidance, the ever-developing training modules, the increasing investment in the national safeguarding structures, and the growth of the safeguarding teams in individual dioceses. We see the recent launch of the Safe Spaces project and the pilot reparation scheme (News, 2 October).
BUT how can we have moved so slowly on all of this? Why did so few people question or challenge? Why could we not contemplate the ability of our colleagues (lay and ordained) to perpetrate abuse?
The Chichester/Peter Ball investigation report highlights a number of concerns about the culture of the Church of England: clericalism, tribalism, naïvety, concern for reputation, and a culture of fear and secrecy regarding sexuality. The IICSA report sets out generously some of the recent initiatives to improve the culture of the C of E; but, to be honest, they seem weak, especially given the size of the challenge.
So, I think that we need to start calling out the parts of our culture that are dangerous and corrupt. I long to hear more prophetic voices in the Church. I long to see some serious theological engagement with the issue of abuse in the Church. I long, above all else, for us to be more Christlike.
I want to see a true culture change that leads to authentic repentance, in which our attitudes and behaviour shift and our practice improves — not because we are told we need to do better, but because we yearn to do better. I want us to hunger for justice and to work relentlessly and enthusiastically to make our churches safer places.
THE IICSA report makes for very uncomfortable reading, and that is helpful. It contains some important conclusions and recommendations that will assist the Anglican Church to improve its safeguarding arrangements. It challenges us to regain the trust of those who have been abused.
Above all, it sheds some much-needed light on things that many in the Church have sought to keep hidden in darkness. Now, it is time for us to open our eyes, to really see what is going on and what needs to be done — and to move heaven and earth to make the crucial changes.
The Ven. Julie Conalty is the Archdeacon of Tonbridge and Bishop’s Lead for Safeguarding in the diocese of Rochester.