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Review of Archbishops’ files reveals safeguarding progress since ‘poor’ practices of 1950s

06 October 2022

Findings at Lambeth and Bishopthorpe published as part of national review of clergy files


Lambeth Palace in 2013, before the Church began to invest significantly in safeguarding

Lambeth Palace in 2013, before the Church began to invest significantly in safeguarding

A REVIEW of more than 25,000 clergy and church-officer files at Lambeth Palace, dating back to the 1950s, found a “historically poor safeguarding culture within the Church of England”, and inconsistent record-keeping up to the present day.

An executive summary of the findings at the Palace was published on Wednesday as part of the second Past Cases Review (PCR2). This national undertaking looked through the files of every living cleric and church officer in the Church of England for allegations of abuse and neglect, and to understand how those allegations were identified and handled.

This included files from all 42 dioceses, as well as from the residences of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the National Safeguarding Team (NST) of the C of E. “Local context” reports summarising the findings of each of these were published separately from the main national report on Wednesday. The numbers of cases were so small in each diocese or context that there was a risk of identification if each of the reviews was published in full.

The Lambeth files, reviewed by three independent reviewers, made up one third of the more than 75,000 files reviewed nationally. This included the Archbishop’s List: a record of all clerics who have received a penalty after disciplinary action, under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) and under previous arrangements, and those who are barred from ministry or deemed by the Archbishops to be unsuitable for ministry.

The executive summary notes that there were “many examples” of files “which illustrate, historically, a poor safeguarding culture within the Church of England. Personal and disparaging remarks were often recorded within reports contained within the older files. Documents, particularly within the older files, demonstrated the use of antiquated attitudes and vocabulary.”

Although this was “less apparent” in more recent files, “evidence of bullying of clergy and by clergy was apparent within some of the more recent complaint files reviewed. These did not however, relate to Lambeth Palace and did not involve Lambeth Palace staff.”

On record-keeping, the report notes: “Historically, the lack of consistency, integrity and security of files was a recurring theme during the PCR2 review.” Much duplication and repetition was found and, except in the most recent files, “there was a lack of consistency within the clergy personnel files regarding evidence of safeguarding training.”

It acknowledges that file management and file security had vastly improved at Lambeth in recent years. Reviewers identified a small number of loose documents in Lambeth offices, however, where “The potential for personal data being lost or accessed by an unauthorised third party was problematic.” It recommended a clear-desk policy to prevent potential breeches.

The “bureaucratic and complex nature” of the CDM, which is due to be replaced (News, 13 July), was a key theme of the review. So, too, was “the lack of cohesion, coordination, and liaison nationally between the dioceses, regarding the recording and sharing of information in relation to clergy who were/are the subject of safeguarding concerns. It would be extremely beneficial for the Church of England to have one secure national database.”

The National Clergy Register — a publicly available list of all active authorised ordained ministers — was first recommended in the 2017 Gibb review, which investigated the Church’s handling of allegations against the disgraced former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball (News, 30 June 2017). It was later discussed at length at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), and went live in May (News, 15 January 2021).

In total, 27 recommendations are made to Lambeth, including some that are already being implemented. Among others: all safeguarding communications should be logged on the Lambeth Palace database; files should be stored in a large secure records depository, which should be sufficiently staffed; retained files should be digitalised; and all files should be reviewed regularly in line with GDPR.

The reviewers also ask that there should be “a system in place that identifies and captures clergy members, who pose a risk but do not meet the criteria for entry on the Archbishops’ List”.

Archbishop Welby said that he “wholeheartedly” accepted the recommendations, and that a plan was already in place for monitoring them.

Bishopthorpe — the residence of the Archbishop of York — reviewed comparatively few files: 620, most of which were disciplinary files from the Archbishops’ List (486) but which also included 24 clergy files, 43 HR files, and 41 safeguarding files. These were spread over 65 years.

Again, inconsistencies in record-keeping were identified, as were the well-documented issues with the CDM. More specifically, from the 1980s to the 2000s, independent reviewers “observed a pattern of decision making that demonstrated a culture that sought to protect the reputation of the Church, its members and to rehabilitate offenders, whatever the nature of their offence. This was often at the expense of the victim.”

The improvement of church safeguarding since significant investment began to be made in it in 2015 is acknowledged. “There has been an evolution rather than a revolution in relation to the wider safeguarding agenda reflected in today’s standards of practice,” the summary notes.

The Northern Province is given 11 recommendations, including electronic record management, a complaint-management strategy and “living document”, and a proactive involvement in raising awareness of domestic abuse.

Archbishop Cottrell said: “The Church of England recognises that its approach to safeguarding needs to be regularly scrutinised as it continues to learn how to respond well to those who have been abused. . . I have read the report and welcome the 11 recommendations which are being addressed both at a national level and some by those working in local partnerships.”

From June 2021, 68 cases were reviewed within the NST. At the conclusion of the review, no new safeguarding cases were identified that had been previously unknown to the NST. There were some cases, however, “where the service given to individual victims and survivors was insufficient and their needs were not met”.

All 20 recommendations from independent reviewers were accepted by the NST, including a survivors’ safeguarding charter, a more consistent approach to the government and management of core groups, and defining safeguarding language more closely — for example, “vulnerable adult” — as well as avoiding references to “low-level allegations”.

Engagement with statutory authorities, risk management, and safer recruitment were found to have vastly improved.

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