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Church won’t cease its efforts for better safeguarding, says Bishop of Rochester

05 October 2022

Dr Gibbs responds to the long-awaited second Past Cases Review of clergy files

Dr Gibbs

Dr Gibbs

THE Church of England’s journey of changing its practices to protect children and adults from abuse will never end, the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, the Church’s lead bishop for safeguarding, has said.

He was speaking at a press conference on Wednesday after the publication of a national report summarising the findings of the long-awaited second Past Cases Review (PCR). This considered the files of every living cleric and church officer in the Church of England. It encompassed the 42 dioceses, the residences of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the National Safeguarding Team (NST).

The review identified 383 new cases of church-related abuse, more than half of which involved children. Most cases also involved sexual abuse and related to clerics. Executive summaries of more detailed reports from each diocese were being published separately from Wednesday afternoon.

Dr Gibbs described the national report as “unflinching in its criticism” of the Church, particularly surrounding culture — of deference, bias, and protectionism — and said that “it is absolutely right that the whole Church should hear that criticism and recognise that the journey is a constant one.”

He continued: “We cannot just say, ‘We have done safeguarding’: this is part of our ongoing journey rooted in our belief in the justice and mercy of God. Trenchant comments, rightly made, and they need to be acted upon and heard.”

Each of the 383 newly identified in the report had been referred on to the relevant diocesan safeguarding teams and, where appropriate, to the statutory authorities: the police and social services, he said.

Dr Gibbs chairs the National Safeguarding Steering Group, whose membership includes church representatives and on whose behalf the report was published. The Group established a project-management board to oversee the work of PCR2. The board is chaired by the Principal of the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, Bishop Mark Sowerby, but is otherwise made up of members independent of the Church, including safeguarding advisers, and survivors of church-based abuse.

One of these members, John Bakker, who is a survivor of childhood abuse, said that the fact that each of the cases identified had been “followed through” was more important than data. “These are human beings, people who have suffered at the hands of individuals within the Church. . . It’s not simply numbers, it’s [the question of] are people safer as a result.”

Commenting on the genesis of PCR2, Bishop Sowerby said that, after the first Past Cases Review of 2007-09 (News, 24 February 2010) was criticised by Sir Roger Singleton in 2018 (News, 29 June 2018), “it was necessary to go back and check those things which would not necessarily be at the top of the of the mind of the diocesan safeguarding advisers. . .

“We think we’ve done it well; it shouldn’t be necessary to repeat that, but the constant monitoring of live cases, I think, is part of what the Church of England must do, as things unfold.”

Dr Gibbs emphasised the substantial growth of safeguarding in the Church since the first PCR. He pointed out that the NST existed only since 2014.

“The real, live work has been ongoing,” he said. “This report represents the Church undertaking an exercise in digging and looking for things. . . What is crucially important is that people who do have concerns know that they can come forward.”

One of the main recommendations in the report — adopting a recommendation from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse — was ensuring consistency in safeguarding practices across 42 dioceses with 16,000 parishes.

Dr Gibbs said that the national safeguarding case-management system had been established “so that we have good and consistent information available to professionals across the whole of the Church of England. And the other issue is the introduction of a system of national supervision and quality assurance of the work of individual diocesan safeguarding teams.”

A pilot project was already under way to ensure consistency of good practice across the whole of the Church of England, he said.

Mr Bakker concluded that it was vital for the report to gain survivors’ trust and acceptance. “If survivors are not involved, and their views not fully taken into account, then there is a serious risk of mistrust and disaffection which would be a tragedy for a Church which aims for inclusivity, equality, and to treat individuals with compassion.

“Many survivors are angry and disappointed, among a range of other emotions, and there is a strong possibility of re-traumatisation if we do not fully consider their views. A further element is that the Church at all levels needs to listen to survivors in a way that demonstrates active listening, with an appropriate sensitive and caring response. . . Tokenism needs to be avoided.”

Survivors, especially those who were unaware of the report, needed support, and dioceses needed to be prepared for more survivors to come forward after the publication of PCR2, he said.

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