THE Church would continue to “apologise and learn from its failings over safeguarding”, the Bishop of Huddersfield and lead bishop for safeguarding, Dr Jonathan Gibbs said on Saturday. But he promised the General Synod that it is now entering “a season of action”.
Dr Gibbs presented an update to the Synod of the work being undertaken by the National Safeguarding Team (NST), including policy development and the membership of the new Independent Safeguarding Panel, the national case-management system, and the newly created annual Safeguarding Sunday (this year on 10 October).
He said that all the work of the NST was now underpinned and shaped by the insights and experience of survivors.
Recruitment to the new Independent Safeguarding Board has been handed over to a recruitment agency, and no bishop was involved in the process, he said. Asked by David Lamming (St Edmundsbury and Ipswich) on what basis appointments were being made to the new board in order to ensure members’ independence, Dr Gibbs said appointees would not be employees but would be remunerated for their time.
He also offered an update on the review into abuse by the late John Smyth, which is being carried out by Keith Makin, and which had been due for completion this summer (News, 1 May 2020). The review had been announced in August 2019. Dr Gibbs said that a large amount of new information had emerged, and “we are working hard to identify the best way forward, and we are seeking to do that with the survivors. . . We are very conscious of the impact of delays.”
Another review into the Church’s handling of allegations about abuse by the late Trevor Devamanikkam (News, 16 June 2017; 25 November 2019) had been delayed by Covid and the difficulty of gaining access to material, he said.
In the questions that followed the presentation, Martin Sewell (Rochester) raised concerns about the “weaponising” of safeguarding, saying that all clergy were only “one allegation away from a nightmare”. He asked for clarity on the definition of what made someone a “vulnerable adult”.
Peter Adams (St Albans) asked about the presence on core groups of external public-relations advisers, employed by some dioceses. Were background checks and training carried out for these members? And what pastoral and theological guidelines were they working to, he asked.
The interim national director of safeguarding, Zena Marshall, said in reply that, while communications professionals attended core groups, they did not have a decision-making role, and they adhered to national guidance.
Canon Pat Hawkins (Lichfield) asked on behalf of “hard-pressed clergy” for updates to safeguarding guidance to be made obvious on the Church of England website, in the same way as existing coronavirus updates.
Potential conflicts of interest for those working in insurance or ecclesiastical law in relation to safeguarding was raised by Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford). Canon Simon Butler (Southwark and Prolocutor) also raised this, asking for thought to be given to tenders to legal and insurance services to avoid potential conflicts.
Canon Elaine Chegwin Hall (Chester) asked for clergy to have access to a redress scheme similar to that for survivors, when they have had public allegations against them which have proved to be unfounded.
Dr Gibbs said that it was “important to recognise the huge impact allegations could have on members of the clergy. How we care for people who face allegations which are proven to be unfounded is hugely important,” he said.