MORE than 380 cases of church-related abuse, almost half of which involved children, have been newly identified in a long-awaited national review of the files of every living cleric and church officer in the Church of England.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a formal apology to victims of abuse and their families, saying: “Our faith compels us to take safeguarding with the utmost seriousness.”
The second Past Cases Review (PCR2) searched through 75,253 personal files (commonly known as blue files) — some dating back to the 1940s — in each of the 42 dioceses to find allegations of abuse or neglect and to understand how those allegations were identified and handled.
Unlike its predecessor — the first and heavily criticised Past Cases Review of 2007-09 — PCR2 also included files from the National Church Institutions (NCIs), cathedrals, theological-training institutions, religious communities, and other church bodies, as well as from the residences of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the National Safeguarding Team (NST) of the C of E.
The results of the PCR2 were summarised in a national report published on Wednesday.
It analyses 383 new cases which were identified by independent reviewers as requiring further action under current safeguarding practises, and which had subsequently been referred to individual safeguarding teams under the House of Bishops guidance, the police, or statutory authorities.
Of these, 168 related to children, 14 to vulnerable adults; 27 were recorded as relating to both, and 39 were unidentified.
Information gathered on the alleged perpetrators found that 242 of the cases related to clerics, 53 to church officers, and 41 to volunteers whose work involved children. Twenty diocesan and parish lay employees and lay ministers were also involved.
Of all the cases identified, most originated in the years between 2000 and 2020.
Originally, the files of deceased clergy were not included in the scope, but some dioceses chose to review these files anyway — hence the backdating of cases to the 1940s. Any allegation that was brought in the context of PCR2 concerning a deceased cleric or church officer was investigated.
Most cases (181) also involved sexual abuse. Other common forms of abuse were physical (33), emotional (39), and financial (21). Domestic abuse, exploitation, DBS breaches, discrimination, and neglect were also cited among the 383 cases.
The severity of cases ranged from harmful behaviour, criminal offences, and grooming from a position of trust — to a person being “unsuitable” for work with children or vulnerable adults, and low-level concerns that individually would not meet the threshold for investigation but together would justify further exploration.
A review of 41 of the HR records of the NCIs found issues with record-keeping. The independent reviewer identified inconsistency in HR practice which “needs to be addressed”.
The 128-page report lists 26 national recommendations that have been developed from the more than 800 recommendations across 45 reports — executive summaries of which were “published locally” on Wednesday — from each of the 42 dioceses, bishops’ residences, and the NST. (Numbers of cases were so small in each diocese that there was a risk of identification if each of the local reports was published in full.)
The recommendations are categorised under 11 themes: survivors and victims; safer recruitment; safeguarding teams; support and accountability; leading and development; strategy; leadership, governance, culture; managing those who pose a risk; and managing risk, cases, and information.
Each is prioritised under three headings: must improve; continue to do, but more effectively and consistently; and keep doing well. Most recommendations were to carry on existing practices but more effectively and consistently. There were four recommendations listed under must improve, however. The first is to the NST: to create a national survivor-and-victim charter to instruct church bodies on how to seek children’s views — to “truly hear” them when they are distressed — and to create cultures and practices to identify children being maltreated or at risk.
The second is on managing risk: to develop the information sharing agreement (recommended by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) between employers of lay or ordained ministers who hold the bishop’s licence and to include chaplains.
The third, under support and accountability, is also to the NST “to provide guidance on the reflective conversations that should be considered when safeguarding situations are explored during Ministerial Development Reviews”.
The fourth, under culture, is to all church bodies to raise awareness of domestic abuse, including the harmful effects of this abuse on children.
The report was particularly critical of the culture of the Church surrounding safeguarding. It lists several examples of deference, disbelief and inertia of allegations, bias, protectionism, inaction, and victim-blaming.
On bias, one reviewer recalls the testimony of one woman, who said: “The misogynistic behaviour of clergy towards me (a female member of the clergy); I was made to feel it was my fault because of how I looked. I was told I would be good for the parish with legs like that, I would draw in the parishioners.”
On victim blaming, one reviewer reported: “When interviewed by the bishop about the abuse, the victim was unaccompanied, they were not heard, that they were the person made to feel responsible for what had happened and was accused of being manipulative.”
EACH diocesan review and those of Lambeth and Bishopthorpe Palaces, and the NST was carried out by 65 independent reviewers — described as “impartial and unbiased” safeguarding professionals — under scrutiny and with reference groups; 65 survivors and victims of abuse informed these reviewers. The Archbishops’ Council maintained oversight of this work.
Files in the diocese of Europe were also reviewed. The findings are due to be reported separately later this year.
Theological education institutions and religious communities are legally separate from the governance of the national Church. These, therefore, were invited to volunteer, not instructed, to assist PCR2: 30 and 52 took part respectively. Fourteen Royal Peculiars and ten non-Royal Peculiars were also involved. The files of chaplains were reviewed only where the person had permission to officiate (PTO).
In a foreword to the report, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York write that were “no possible excuses” or rationalisation for the continued safeguarding failures of the Church in both its processes and leadership.
“We sincerely apologise for our failures and want to reach out to those who are still suffering from the pain and misery they endured. We extend this apology to wider family members affected from this past abuse. We are so sorry that this ever happened. It was not your fault and you are not to blame. We should have been better at listening and responding to survivors’ and victims’ concerns.
“Our faith compels us to take safeguarding with the utmost seriousness; to prevent abuse from occurring; responding appropriately where it has in support of our undertaking to making church communities and institutions safer places.”
The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, who is the lead bishop for safeguarding, said that the Church was “indebted” to people who had a lived experience of abuse. “The evidence, particularly the case studies, shared by the independent reviewers makes 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.”
Safeguarding practices had improved since the original PCR, he said. “I have been assured that all the new cases, whether failure to follow due process or take professional advice, or allegations of abuse that should have been referred to the statutory authorities, are all being managed.”
He 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. This is chaired by the Principal of the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby. Other members are independent of the Church, including safeguarding advisers and survivors of church-based abuse.
In his introduction, Bishop Sowerby writes that PCR2 had “resulted in considerable financial cost” but that “this pales into insignificance compared with the emotional, physical, and mental anguish that survivors, victims, and their families have suffered”.
“Their anger, frustration, and criticism should act as a stark and timely reminder of the ongoing need to improve, develop and remedy our safeguarding measures to ensure that persistent mistakes and failures are not repeated.”
One of the Board members, John Bakker, a survivor of childhood abuse, said on Wednesday that the review process had been “robust” and went “a long way to correct the deficiencies of the first PCR process, and overall means that the Church will be a safer place as the recommendations continue to be implemented”.
PCR2, which began in April 2019, was originally due to be completed by December 2020, but was delayed, partly because of the pandemic. Its scope was set out in guidance published by the House of Bishops in 2019 (News, 2 August 2019), when an independent helpline for survivors of church-related abuse was also opened, operated by the NSPCC (and separate to the Safe Spaces project with the Roman Catholic Church).
It follows the first PCR of 2007-09, which looked through more than 40,000 files on diocesan staff, clergy, and lay ministers dating back 30 years for any evidence that clergy or church workers had abused children (News, 24 February 2010).
Almost a decade later, it was found by Sir Roger Singleton, then part of the Independent Scrutiny Team (IST), to be fundamentally flawed, because, among other issues, it was too narrow, not comprehensive, did not speak to abuse survivors, and did not include some cathedrals or employees working with children in some parishes (News, 29 June 2018).
Sir Roger recommended that an updated review be carried out in seven dioceses, and that a “whole-Church” approach to safeguarding be taken. His report and recommendations informed the Independent Inquiry for Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which published the findings of its Anglican Church investigations two years ago (News, 9 October 2020). Its final report, covering all 15 of its investigations, is to be published later this month.