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General Synod digest: members hear Church’s progress on IICSA recommendations

30 April 2021

The Synod discussed work done since October in response to IICSA’s Anglican Church report

The Synod discussed work done since October in response to IICSA’s Anglican Church report

PROJECTS and workstreams responding to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) were debated on Saturday afternoon.

The General Synod took note of a report on the work undertaken by the Church national in response to the recommendations made by the IICSA investigation report published last October (News, 9 October 2020). This includes support and redress schemes, changes to policy and practice, the introduction of diocesan safeguarding officers, and the creation of an independent safeguarding board.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs (Northern Suffragans), who is the lead bishop for safeguarding, said that, though he was pleased with the range of reforms already in progress, “none of this can take away the shame of our past failure,” and “what is under way and planned can never go quickly enough or go far enough.”

Church of EnglandThe Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs (Northern Suffragans), who is the lead bishop for safeguarding, introduces the motion

Bringing about change in an organisation as large and complex as the Church was never going to be easy, he said, especially given the unhealthy culture exposed by a series of reports. “We can only do this with you, and with your active help and support,” alongside the guidance and assistance of victims and survivors. He acknowledged a feeling that the national safeguarding authorities had not always worked well with the grass-roots Church, and wanted to put on record his gratitude for the efforts made in each diocese and parish.

“I am well aware of the deep frustration and anger there is over the Church’s failures, not just in the past, but in the slowness and inadequacy of the present,” Dr Gibbs said. This determination should be channelled by the Church into pushing safeguarding reforms further and faster.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, thanked the National Safeguarding Team (NST) for their work and paid tribute to the “tenacity” of survivors in holding the C of E to account. The Church had made progress, she said, but there was much ground left to cover. “Culture change does not happen unless it is owned by those who are part of the culture.”

Safeguarding must not become a bureaucratic checklist, but a culture of openness and transparency, Bishop Mullally said. There were useful connections to be made between this culture change and the pastoral-principles work coming out of Living in Love and Faith.

Peter Adams (St Albans) said that, while he would vote to take note of the report, he remained concerned by issues that did not appear in it. Culture change and the challenging of “toxic celebrity leadership styles” was vital and extended beyond the remit of the NST, he said.

The Synod, like the rest of the Church, needed this same culture change to transcend partisan thinking and focus on safety for all. More work was needed in particular on how licensing of ministers happened with proprietary chapels and peculiars, to ensure that men such as the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (at Emmanuel, Wimbledon) could be constrained by rules even if they were outside the parish system.

“These irregular structures are being used by partisan networks, and extend to churches which self-describe as Anglican but are not part of the C of E,” he said. “Are we willing to consider ways to bring these people to account?”

James Cary (Bath & Wells), a member of the National Safeguarding Steering Group, said that the work going on was “consistently excellent”. If churchpeople did not take responsibility for this issue for themselves, the hard work of the NST and others would be in vain, and more abuse would happen in the future, he warned. The words of Jesus in St Matthew’s Gospel on what happened to those who harmed children should be motivation enough, he said. “This one’s on us, where we are, right now.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury thanked survivors, who, he said, continued to “fight against the intractable slowness of so much of the Church while carrying the burden of their pain”. The culture of safeguarding would change significantly in the coming years, he predicted, with more transparency, more justice, and more independence. “Those are the IICSA recommendations, and they are essential.”

Church of EnglandThe Archbishop of Canterbury contributes to the debate

Independence, however, did not liberate the Church from responsibility for its own culture, he said. “There is deep resistance within the culture of the Church,” he said: people still dismissed safeguarding as “wokeness” and a burden.

Archbishop Welby continued: “Do not believe you are any where near the end of this.” New examples of past abuse had been exposed in the past few weeks which were so horrific, he said, that he would “carry them to my grave”. These would be investigated and disclosed publicly in due course, but it was clear that there was a long way to go. “Let us persist with courage, because every step we take is a step following our Lord and Saviour.”

Canon Judith Maltby (Universities and TEIs) said that there was a need for “joined-up thinking” between work on attitudes towards LGBT people and safeguarding.

Endorsing all that had been said so far, Martin Sewell (Rochester) said that safeguarding interacted with everything in the Church, from homophobia to racism and bullying. There was unanimity in the Synod on how to approach this issue, including voting, which was very encouraging, he said. He thanked in particular people in the conservative Evangelical constituency who had “taken up the baton” on safeguarding in recent times and exposed what had gone wrong in their churches. “What we are developing is an axis of integrity which stretches from the queer to the ConEvo,” he said. This was what “living in love and faith” looked like, to work together for the good, and this should be celebrated.

Plenty of statements claiming independence of safeguarding procedures had emerged from the national Church since IICSA, Canon Rebecca Swyer (Chichester) said. The IICSA recommendation, however, was about empowering diocesan safeguarding officers to make decisions independently of bishops, not that safeguarding should be spun off independently from the C of E. She asked whether the Church had started drafting the legislative changes necessary to implement IICSA’s recommendations.

In his post as safeguarding lead for a theological training institute, the Revd Charles Read (Norwich) had seen many issues arise from the content of student assignments that reflected on case studies in their own parishes. “Safeguarding concerns crop up in places where you wouldn’t expect to find them,” he said. “Do not think you can box safeguarding in.”

It was good, he said, that the theology of safeguarding was now included in senior leadership training. Many problems in safeguarding had come from faulty theology in the past, including unhealthy leadership and mistaken thinking on forgiveness; but could the theology be made accessible to people across the C of E, not just senior clergy, he asked.

Josile Munro (London) feared that there were gaps in how many dioceses were engaging in the leadership training pathway. She asked whether this could be delivered nationally instead. She was also concerned about how rigorous the training pathways were and whether dioceses could tell who was taking them.

The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Gavin Kirk (Lincoln), welcomed the shift to diocesan safeguarding officers and the change of emphasis in the training pathways. The national case-management system was also long overdue and would improve decision-making and consistency of approach, he said.

The Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler (Southwark), said that reading the report had made him think again about his own behaviour and culture, as well as the necessary institutional reform. “We must continually be bearing down on our own behaviours, perhaps in a future penitential season,” he suggested. The Church must not end up with good processes, but be full of people entirely unaware of their own behaviour.

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) said that it would not be fair to survivors if safeguarding suffered from “scope creep”. There was no clear definition of a vulnerable adult, and this should be urgently addressed, she said. “We must avoid the mindset which regards all adults as vulnerable and every adult relationship in our Church as subject to safeguarding formalities.” Safeguarding must not be a Trojan horse for a world-view grounded in “critical theory”, which, she suggested, divided everyone into either the oppressed or the oppressors.

Rosemary Lyon (Blackburn) commended the new wording of safeguarding “learning” rather than safeguarding “training”. Safeguarding must be conscious and active, she said.

The Revd Andrew Lightbown (Oxford) resisted Miss Dailey’s argument. Culture change could not happen in a vacuum: it needed doctrinal and liturgical changes, too. Ecclesiology flowed from belief, he said.

Kathryn Winrow (Oxford) also emphasised the importance of joined-up thinking between safeguarding and Living in Love and Faith.

The motion was carried 295 nem. com.

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