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General Synod digest: Bishop Mounstephen tells Synod that grace and law will work together in Redress Scheme

14 July 2023
Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, answers questions on the National Redress Scheme

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, answers questions on the National Redress Scheme

WORK on developing the safeguarding National Redress Scheme was discussed by the General Synod on Sunday afternoon, paving the way for draft legislation to be brought to a future group of sessions.

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, led a presentation on the scheme, which would offer compensation, therapy, apologies, and support for victims and survivors of abuse in a church context.

First, he handed over to Jane Chevous, a survivor of church-based abuse, who reminded the Synod that abuse was a betrayal of trust which ruptured the relationship with both a faith community and God. Full healing must require repair from that community, she said. “Redress is so much more than throwing money at survivors and hoping we then go away.” Redress must be generous, timely, non-litigious, and, above all, focused on survivors, she said.

Non-financial redress was also very important, she said. This might be a public apology, memorials, provision of therapy and spiritual support, or a corporate truth and reconciliation process. “In short, whatever it takes to rebuild shattered lives.” The scheme had to support all survivors, while also being financially sustainable without crippling parishes.

“To me, redress represents freedom from trauma after my abuser told me that this was what God wanted for me,” Ms Chevous said. “It represents hope that the Church does care and I can perhaps find healing. I don’t have much faith in the Church any more, but I do have faith in God.” She urged members to back the continued development of the scheme.

Bishop Mounstephen explained that he was bringing a motion to test the support of the Synod for the work done over the past three years. The Church Commissioners had allocated £150 million to fund the scheme (News, 23 June), but that was a floor, not a ceiling, he said. What each survivor received would be determined by their need, not by what was available in the pot.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesJane Chevous, a survivor of church-based abuse, addresses the Synod

The theology underpinning the scheme was that of covenant, Bishop Mounstephen added. Grace and law would work together, hand in hand.

The Church’s National Director of Safeguarding, Alex Kubeyinje, explained that anyone who had been the victim of sexual, physical, psychological, spiritual, or emotional abuse by someone representing the Church of England would be eligible. They could be overseas, as long as the person accused was working on behalf of the Church. Survivors would then make an application through a third-party, independent of the Church, he said.

Their claim would be assessed on the balance of probabilities, with consistent criteria across claims. Financial claims would also be standardised across pay bands, applied consistently so that victims of similar abuse received similar amounts. The scheme would run for five years at first, and it would be possible to extend that, if required.

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell (Southern Suffragans), who is the lead bishop for safeguarding, acknowledged that many questions remained to be answered before formal legislation could be brought to future Synod meetings. More consultation was needed with survivors, so that an agreement on the criteria for abuse could be recognised, and the types of redress available. The procurement process for a supplier to run the scheme would also begin soon, she announced. Finally, the whole Church needed to contribute financially to the scheme, both through insurance and other means.

Bishop Mounstephen concluded that a whole-Church approach towards repentance would be taken, and that “safeguarding is everyone’s business.” The Church could not put right historic wrongs, but could express genuine repentance, going beyond simply confession or contrition.

Questions followed.

Canon Mark Bennet (Oxford) welcomed progress on the scheme and asked what research had been taken to find out what forms of care and support were effective and worth funding.

The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Beverley Mason (Northern Suffragans), asked whether a national service of repentance might be considered.

Canon Judith Maltby (Universities and TEIs) asked whether there was an agreed definition of spiritual abuse.

Bishop Mounstephen confirmed that other redress and support schemes were being researched to see what worked. A national service of repentance had begun to be explored, and spiritual abuse was currently being categorised under the broader heading of psychological abuse.

The Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis KC, paid tribute to the survivors who were helping the Church to design the scheme, and praised their graciousness in collaborating.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) asked what the governance concerning the third-party supplier would look like. He also asked about confidentiality of payments, foreseeing “competitive pain emerging when different payments are disclosed”.

Emma Gregory (Bath & Wells) asked for clarification on “where safeguarding begins or ends”. For instance, what about a person who was over the age of 18 when their abuse took place? Would they be eligible?

Bishop Mounstephen said that such a person would be eligible. He acknowledged that there would be governance issues, and that there would have to be an audit function overseeing the third-party supplier.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesThe Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis KC

The Dean of St Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Joe Hawes (Southern Deans), asked who would be responsible for setting good safeguarding culture once the Archbishops’ Council was replaced by new central governance structures.

The Revd Chantal Noppen (Durham) welcomed the project, and asked whether the Church’s exemption from the Equality Act would lead to LGBTQ+ survivors’ being excluded from the scheme.

Nicola Denyer (Newcastle) asked how far the Church had consulted other charities about their safeguarding practice.

Bishop Mounstephen said that the scheme would be widely advertised and had built on good practice seen elsewhere. The Equality Act would not limit the scheme at all, he said.

Robert Perry (Truro) noted that parishes with no history of abuse might object to being told to take out insurance to fund the scheme.

Canon Lisa Battye (Manchester) said that some respondents to complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure would see themselves as victims of abuse. Would they be eligible for redress?

Michaela Suckling (Sheffield) said that she had struggled to find appropriate counselling for victims of abuse with whom she had worked as a parish nurse. Was the Church raising hopes that could not be delivered, she asked.

Bishop Mounstephen acknowledged the challenge of procuring support. He said that the scheme would clearly define what was and was not abuse, but declined to comment on hypothetical cases. Any church institution, no matter what, ought already to have public-liability insurance, he insisted. “This is not about creating greater liability: this is about sharing liability. We do not want anybody to be hung out to dry in delivering this scheme.”

Martin Sewell (Rochester) asked whether the scheme would look only at claims that were nailed on legal certainties. Some cases wouldn’t pass muster in law, he said, but the victim would need help anyway. He hoped that the scheme would have enough “wiggle room” for this.

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Michael Beasley, asked whether it was known how many people were likely to use the scheme.

Bishop Mounstephen said that a civil standard of proof was used because that was what insurers worked by, but he agreed that there should be an element of discretion regardless. “We know that abuse thrives on secrecy: there won’t be witnesses. So we need to make an assessment which is just, fair, and gracious.” The Church did not yet know how many people would come forward, though.

Peter Adams (St Albans) asked the Bishop to consider a process of “truth and reconciliation”. There was a growing sense of “ill temper” within the Church, and the toxicity in the system required some kind of healing process.

Daniel Matovu (Oxford) asked whether it was fair to exclude survivors who happened to meet their abuser first outside a church context, for example, when abuse may have happened inside a church location.

The Revd Mae Christie (Southwark) said that the law firm hired to deliver the scheme should not have any conflict of interest by working on safeguarding or abuse cases with any diocese or the national Church. Also, would parents have access to the scheme on behalf of their children?

Bishop Mounstephen said that he was sure that this would be the case. The procurement process would assess reputational risk for the Church and the independence of the scheme. The idea of a truth and reconciliation process had been considered in a paper for the redress-scheme board. “It would be a huge piece of work, but it might still be a significant thing for us to do.”

The Bishop then moved his motion. “This is one way we can look survivors full in the face and say sorry,” he concluded.

In the debate on the motion that followed, Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) spoke as a survivor who was worried about how the scheme would work. She would vote for the motion; but many victims had no proof of their abuse. Criminal cases’ being dropped for lack of evidence was very traumatising, she said. Having to persuade the Church that it should recompense her on the balance of probabilities “filled me with dread”. Could it be handled by someone other than church lawyers?

The Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Julie Conalty (Northern Suffragans), who is the deputy lead bishop for safeguarding, said that survivors should not have to beg or sue to get the redress that they deserved, and quoted Jesus’s words about giving those who want your coat your cloak as well.

The Revd Lindsay Llewellyn-Macduff (Rochester) said that redress would not “end the cycle of mistrust and injury”. The Church needed to address its collusion with power, and the solution must be repentance, not just an “apology with a price tag”.

Mr Sewell suggested that children’s guardians — well-trained and regulated social workers, who were used to working with traumatised victims through court processes — could be the independent experts that Ms Ozanne was looking for.

Bishop Mounstephen said that he understood some members’ scepticism and that he did not want to promise too much on what the scheme could achieve. Redress would not be a solution to “draw a line” or end the cycle of mistrust, but it could help.

The motion was carried by 324-0, with one recorded abstention.

 

That this Synod:

(a) acknowledge and deeply regret the safeguarding failures of the Church of England and especially their effect on victims and survivors, noting the vital importance of their voice in the Church’s ongoing safeguarding work;

(b) welcome the work undertaken to develop the Redress Scheme as a proper expression of that regret and look forward to its further development.

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