SURVIVORS of church-based abuse and their advocates have expressed dismay both at further delays to the national redress scheme promised by the Church of England and that the cost of it is to be met by dioceses and PCCs.
In 2020, in response to a recommendation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), the Church’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) announced that an interim pilot scheme for survivors would be implemented, which would inform the creation of a full redress scheme (News, 2 October 2020).
The idea was that any victim of church-based abuse could apply for “immediate and urgent” support through the scheme, including sums of money, though the emphasis was on funding support financial/debt counselling, therapy, seed funding to help with employment, and other forms of support. Survivors have criticised its administration, however, complaining that the stress and anxiety caused had in some cases compounded the original abuse (News, July 2021).
In a written question to the General Synod, published two days before the meeting in York, Tina Nay (Chichester) asked whether the timeline for the full redress scheme was on track, in line with the “15 to 18 months” given by the lead bishop for safeguarding, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, in a BBC interview in October 2020.
Responding, Dr Gibbs wrote that the comments had been made before a project team had been employed (in April 2021), and that, having researched other schemes of a similar scale, and owing to a planned procurement process and possible legislation, the full scheme was now due to be final completed in 2024 or 2025, with a pilot phase to be completed in 2023.
Another Synod question, from Paul Waddell (Southwark), asked: “What arrangements are in place to ensure the welfare of distressed survivors who are dependent on the Interim Support Scheme, but whose eligibility will expire before they receive the redress we owe them?”
Dr Gibbs said that a review of the terms of reference had been conducted because of the temporary nature of the pilot scheme, “and in response to feedback in May 2022, the Archbishops’ Council agreed to extend the Scheme’s provision of professional therapy until the Redress Scheme is in place. This is intended to sustain the benefits resulting from the provision of urgent and immediate assistance provided over the six or twelve-month support period.
“The terms of reference are being updated to reflect this. Further work is also being done to assess whether support other than therapy might also be extended beyond 12 months in exceptional cases.”
Mr Waddell then asked the chair of the Finance Committee, John Spence, whether his statement to the Synod in February, that “the funds for redress will be found” (News, 12 February 2020), was still true. Mr Spence replied: “Appropriate responsibility for redress needs to be taken at every level of the Church. On the subsidiarity principle, costs should be met by the most appropriate body and all responsibility should not fall on the national Church.”
On the same day as the questions were published, an update on the redress scheme was posted on the safeguarding pages of the Church of England website announcing these changes. A paper, Principles, Priorities and Processes, from the redress scheme survivor working group had been presented to the National Safeguarding Board, chaired by the Bishop of Truro, the update says.
The board “considered whether a legislative process would be needed to underpin the Scheme. This followed a previous decision by the Project Board that the principle of subsidiarity should apply — that appropriate responsibility for redress needs to be taken at every level of the Church as well as national; this would include dioceses, PCCs, theological educational institutions, and religious communities.
“It was agreed to pursue the legislative route but, following a discussion where concerns were raised about timescale and the lengthy legislative process, Board members agreed to aim to have a pilot up and running before completion of legislation.”
In a letter to the Church Times this week, a survivor advocate, Andrew Graystone, said that survivors had not been given this information in advance. “One of the many problems with the current safeguarding polity is that people who may want nothing more to do with the Church are forced to scour through Synod papers to find the clues to their future treatment.”
He likened this to waiting for an ambulance, only to be told a new A&E department had to be designed and built first.
“Still more alarming,” he continued, “was the news from the Chair of the Finance Committee that the costs of redress will not be met wholly by the Church Commissioners, but by individual parishes, dioceses, cathedrals, colleges, and so on. Nothing in the Church’s recent history of caring for victims suggests that this will go well. When the scheme eventually opens, I fear that we will see an ugly and protracted scramble as each institution seeks to minimise its responsibilities.
“Some colleges, cathedrals, and dioceses that are likely to face multiple claims, such as Sheffield, Chester, and Chichester, may well be bankrupted by it. More importantly, this process will pitch survivors into a nightmare of long and costly legal battles, sometimes with multiple church bodies.
“This is not what redress should look like. The re-dressing of survivors’ wounds is not a drag on resources, but a missional opportunity for the national Church. It is a chance to do justice.”
A C of E spokesperson said on Tuesday: “We apologise to victims and survivors that the timescale is not as soon as we would have hoped. The standard time for the creation of other schemes of a similar scale was three years, and we will continue to provide updates on the website. The Redress Board is committed to looking at a pilot project in the mean time, along with the continuation of the interim support scheme to ensure that there is no gap in this vital support for victims and survivors.
“The principle of subsidiarity — that appropriate responsibility for redress needs to be taken at every level of the Church — is one that has been supported by all involved in the redress project, including survivors. However, as it was stated at Synod, the national Church could step in where appropriate, but full details have yet to be agreed.”