SURVIVORS of church-related abuse have questioned the independence, scope, and scrutiny of the second Past Cases Review (PCR2) of files on living clergy and church officers, published last week.
PCR2 searched through more than 75,000 files in 42 dioceses, the residences of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the National Safeguarding Team (NST) of the Church of England to find allegations of abuse or neglect and to understand how those allegations were identified and handled (News, 7 October).
The national report summarising the findings, published on Wednesday of last week, emphasises that each of the 65 reviewers were selected under strict guidelines to ensure that an “impartial and unbiased assessment of all the material” was carried out. It says that “an essential principle of those recruited was one of being ‘manifestly independent of any diocese or other church institution’.”
The diocese of Southwark, however, appointed a former safeguarding adviser and project manager in the NST (2018 to 2020), Martyn Burrell, to lead the review of its files. The executive summary of his conclusions, published on the same day, states that Mr Burrell and three other reviewers were all independent of the diocese and “had NST approval”.
One survivor, in Southwark diocese, told the Church Times on Tuesday that she had, over the past 18 months, “fought a battle” with the diocese, the PCR2 project board, and the NST over the appointment of Mr Burrell, whom she did not believe to be “sufficiently independent to gain the trust and confidence of survivors”, she said.
“The lead reviewer had left the employ of the NST only six months before accepting the commission, and had been a working colleague at the NST with the person who was the interim Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser for Southwark for the vast majority of the time PCR2 was taking place. This connection was perceived by me and others in the Church as making the reviewer not manifestly independent, a fault that Sir Roger Singleton found with another diocese in PCR1 [News, 29 June 2018].”
The six-page executive summary states that fewer than one per cent of the 2536 files reviewed in Southwark diocese were considered serious enough to pass on to the diocesan safeguarding team for further investigation — 19 cases, of which 16 remained open. It concluded that “no major issues concerning the safeguarding of children and adults” had arisen in the diocese.
The survivor said that this “seems extremely generous compared to some other dioceses, and yet they have notable safeguarding failures recorded on their website”. But her concerns, she said, had been “extremely poorly dealt with, meaning that my confidence in what initially looks like a thorough piece of work has been knocked”.
Jane Chevous, a survivor of clergy rape and co-founder of Survivors Voices, contributed to both the NST and Southwark reviews. She told the Church Times on Wednesday: “The reviewers were thorough, and it was validating to have my experience heard and clear recommendations result. [But] I was disappointed not to see much sign of my voice in the short summaries published.”
She had also raised concerns about the independence of a Southwark reviewer. “These were ignored, which, I know, prevented some survivors from participating.”
Andrew Graystone, an advocate for survivors of abuse, questioned why Southwark diocese had not reviewed files relating to perpetrators who had died, even where concerns had been raised about how living clergy had responded to allegations about the said deceased persons.
He gave the example of the late John Smyth. “I made reports to the independent reviewer about two bishops who had failed to act on what they knew about John Smyth. I was told that they wouldn’t be included in the review, because Smyth is dead. I don’t understand that, because my reports weren’t about Smyth’s failings, but the failings of the bishops.”
Responding, a spokesperson for the diocese of Southwark said on Tuesday that Mr Burrell “met all the criteria for independent reviewers, as outlined by the NST”, and that his appointment followed a “rigorous” process involving the Independent Chair of the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panel. “To ensure further scrutiny of the process and transparency, Martyn Burrell’s appointment was confirmed only after consultation with the Acting Director at the NST.”
The spokesperson added: “We are confident that any conflict of interest was appropriately declared by all of the independent reviewers.”
Regarding the files, the spokesperson described Southwark as a “geographically large and diverse diocese with many clergy, lay ministers, and officers. This, and the fact that the diocese began to keep thorough records as early as 2002, meant that there was an extensive number of files to review.”
The spokesperson concluded: “The diocese of Southwark confirms its ongoing commitment to learning from the Past Cases Review process so best practice can continue to be embedded into diocesan structures, and that our survivors and all those impacted by past cases will be listened to carefully.”
MS CHEVOUS is a representative on the National Safeguarding Panel, and attended two national PCR2 workshops. Many hours of work had gone in to ensuring that PCR2 followed an honest and robust process, she said, but “the report demonstrates what survivors have been saying for a long time: safeguarding and responses to survivors in the Church of England are a postcode lottery.
“We need to see more than good intentions to urgently address this. Each of the 383 new cases identified that should have been addressed but weren’t, represents a wounded person who has been abandoned at the side of the road.”
That just 65 survivors participated in the review suggested that the Church had a long way to go with survivor engagement, she said. “We were promised a survivor support strategy around publication, and that wasn’t forthcoming; we’ve had to organise our own. This is bitterly disappointing and doesn’t help to engender the trust that we need to have that this process will make a difference.”
Ms Chevous concluded: “The Church has revealed some of the truth, but not yet all of it; it has listened to some survivors, but not yet enough; it safeguards in some areas, but not yet everywhere. Taking part in the review and reading the report has reactivated the devastating trauma of my abuse, and I am still working out whether I can trust the Church to be safe and supportive again. The report highlights both the good work that has started and the immensity of the task ahead.”
Mr Graystone went further, saying that the Church had been complacent in its overall response to the national findings. “The discovery of 383 ’new’ cases of abuse that were already known to the Church but not adequately dealt with is deeply shocking,” he said.
Speaking in a PCR2 press conference last week, the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, who is the lead bishop for safeguarding, said that the Church was on a “journey of change” in its safeguarding practices (News, 7 October).
This had offended some survivors, Mr Graystone said. “After 20 years of battling, the complacency represented by this phrase is staggering. Instead of root-and-branch reform, it’s ‘If we all keep doing what we are doing, but try a little bit harder, do it a bit better, everything will be fine.’ . . . This isn’t a trip to the seaside. This is about people’s broken lives.”
PCR2 represented “a huge missed opportunity” for the Church, he continued. “Mismanagement of abuse is a running sore for the Church of England. It is agonising for victims and survivors, of course, and it is the single biggest hindrance to the mission of the Church. . . This review took years and cost millions. Why didn’t the Church use it to draw a line under the abuse scandal?”
Calling for the Church to hand over its safeguarding to an external body, he concluded: “The truth is . . . that the Church of England is ungovernable. And because it is ungovernable it can never be safe — because abusers love an ungovernable space.”
Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS) have long called for this independence, as well as mandatory reporting of abuse (News, 19 July 2019).
One of the group’s executive-committee members, David Greenwood, of Switalskis Solicitors, who represents survivors of clerical sex abuse, said on Tuesday that PCR2, “having taken five years to be published, cites consistency as lacking between dioceses in responses to safeguarding concerns.
“I emphasise the word ‘consistency’ for a reason. . . We have been trying to persuade decision-makers in the Church to adopt an independent model of gathering and responding to safeguarding complaints. Instead, the Church insists on dealing with matters ‘in house’. This is a fundamental error.”
Mr Greenwood was complimentary about the House of Bishops’ 2017 guidance on responding to safeguarding complaints, but said that its application depended “on the character, training, and motivation of personnel appointed to safeguarding posts. Responses will differ from person to person. Personal relationships within dioceses will be relevant. Uniformly robust responses to concerns are impossible within the Church’s system.”
Responding on Wednesday, Dr Gibbs said that his response had been “anything but complacent. As I said, the evidence, particularly the case studies, shared by the independent reviewers, made harrowing reading and is a reminder that we still have much work to do. The report highlights a Church too willing to believe its own, or to take matters in their own hands without consulting professionals.”
He emphasised that he had also apologised for the Church’s failures. “We are profoundly grateful to the contributions of survivors, victims, and those with a lived experience of abuse within the Church of England who came forward to speak to the PCR2 independent reviewers, acknowledging the cost to them in supporting this work,” and the response to the IICSA recommendations. “I remain committed to working with all my heart and strength to make the Church a safe place for all.”