THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have reiterated their apologies for the Church of England’s record of safeguarding failures, in anticipation of the conclusion of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) this week.
Since 2016, the Inquiry has been investigating the extent to which the Anglican Church (the C of E and the Church in Wales) failed to protect children under its care, respond to allegations of abuse, and provide adequate safeguarding policies and practices. Public hearings and tens of thousands of documents of evidence and witness statements have been gathered.
Its conclusions and recommendations are due to be published in a final report on Tuesday morning.
In a statement on Friday, the Archbishops, alongside the lead bishop of safeguarding, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, and the C of E’s director of safeguarding, Melissa Caslake, write that they are expecting, and welcome, “strong recommendations”.
The report will be a “harrowing” reminder to survivors “of the abuse they suffered and of our failure to respond well”, they write.
“For others this report will be a reminder of the abuse they have never talked openly about. We are truly sorry for the shameful way the Church has acted and we state our commitment to listen, to learn and to act in response to the report’s findings. We cannot and will not make excuses and can again offer our sincere and heartfelt apologies to those who have been abused, and to their families, friends and colleagues.”
The C of E as an institution is, they continue, “ready to support anyone who comes forward. We must honour our commitment to change. Survivors have told us that words without actions are meaningless; we are taking action but we are also aware that what we have done has neither been soon enough nor sufficient.”
They ask for prayers that the Church would be able to respond to the findings “with humility and a shared determination to change. . . We must listen carefully and reflect honestly on all that the report says and continue to drive change towards a safe Church for all.”
The report will focus on recurrent themes raised in the public hearings in July 2019 (News, 19 July 2019), including evidence that the Church prioritised its reputation over safeguarding, its failure to offer proper redress and pastoral support, and the inadequacies of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM). It will also revisit the hearings in 2018 which it used as case studies: the diocese of Chichester and the abuse carried out by Peter Ball.
It follows an interim report published in May 2019 (News, 9 May 2019).
The statement continues: “The report will identify failings that we are already working to change, and failings that we will need to work harder to change. There will no doubt be strong recommendations and we welcome that. We make an absolute commitment to taking action to make the Church a safe place for everyone, as well as to respond to the needs of survivors for support and redress.”
It concludes: “Safeguarding is fundamental to our faith. Whatever part we play in the life of the Church, safeguarding is the responsibility of each one of us, guided and advised by our safeguarding professionals. Church leaders have a particular responsibility to work together to bring about the change in culture and practice that we need to see and has simply been too slow.”