THE Church of England’s long-awaited redress scheme for survivors of church-based abuse could be up and running by the end of next year under new proposals published on Tuesday.
Speaking shortly before their release, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, who chairs the Redress Project Board, told the Church Times that he would be “disappointed” not to meet this timeframe. Implementing a scheme that was “robust and fit for purpose” was a “challenging task, but one that we’re absolutely committed to pursuing to the end”, he said.
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 support scheme for survivors would be implemented as a pilot, which would inform the creation of a full redress scheme (News, 2 October 2020).
An outline of the proposals released on Tuesday afternoon explained that the full redress scheme would offer financial payments, therapeutic, spiritual, and emotional support, acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the Church, and apology and support for rebuilding lives. It would run for an initial five years.
The Church Commissioners are to provide the Archbishops’ Council with £150 million “up front” to finance the scheme, the Bishop explained — but ultimately, the proposals state that, “to be as meaningful as possible, at least some responsibility for offering redress should be taken as close as possible to where the abuse was perpetrated, or harm was done.”
This means that responsibility will in some cases lie within the PCCs, parishes, and dioceses in which the abuse was perpetrated. In the same way, “where possible, apology will be from the institution where the abuse took place (or from a part of the Church appropriate to the survivor’s needs) in a format which is most appropriate to the survivor.”
Asked whether this was fair to certain institutions or dioceses such as Chichester which have a particularly extensive history of abuse, Bishop Mounstephen said that the scheme would rely “not wholly but in a significant part” on the insurance policies of individual church bodies.
“We cannot outsource our moral responsibility to a third-party, whether that be the Church Commissioners or someone else,” he said. “Church bodies of whatever nature should already be covered by public liability insurance, and we would expect that insurance will cover some of the redress.”
If, however, one body was particularly vulnerable, he said, “we’re in a position to support one another. . . This is not creating fresh and new liability for bodies and for institutions; we are already liable. It is about recognising our liability.”
Legislation is needed to implement this, involving parliamentary approval. Proposals would therefore be brought to the General Synod either this November or in February 2024. Bishop Mounstephen said that he would be “extremely disappointed” if the scheme was not operational by the end of 2024.
Survivors and their advocates have criticised both the delay in creating a full redress scheme and inadequacies of the interim support scheme (News, 22 July 2022).
Bishop Mounstephen said that the Board had been working to a “consistent timetable for a good long time now, and that timetable hasn’t slipped; we’re sticking to it. It’s a demanding timetable, but . . . this is a scheme of a very significant complexity — as far as we’re aware, probably more complex than any other scheme that has been put in place.”
It required addressing “the fundamental principle that safeguarding is everybody’s business” across the multiple independent legal bodies that make up the C of E, he said.
The proposals for the scheme have been informed by a paper, Principles, Priorities and Processes, from the redress-scheme-survivor working group.
Unlike the interim support scheme, the full redress scheme will be administered by “a third-party firm”, which will be selected by means of a procurement process and contracted by the Archbishops’ Council. This would likely be a law firm with significant experience in the area, Bishop Mounstephen said.
“This will not be the Church administering the scheme itself. And I would quite understand why some survivors would be sceptical about that. Independence, transparency, robustness: these are all things that we want to build absolutely into the heart of the scheme.”
Would this mean that lawyers would be making decisions about how much financial and emotional support each survivor should receive?
“I wouldn’t want people to think that, because these are law firms, people will be interacting with lawyers. I will be very surprised if that was the case. My clear expectation — and we’ve yet to go through the procurement process — is that these are the kinds of questions we will be analysing and digging deep into during that process of procurement. We want to make sure that survivors deal with people who are sympathetic and experienced.”
The full redress scheme will run for “at least five years” with regular reviews on its delivery, including a “major review approximately two-thirds of the way through the contract period to assess the effectiveness of the scheme and to advise on whether the scheme should be extended”.
Bishop Mounstephen said that he wanted the scheme to be as “user-friendly” and “accessible” as possible. There would be a “single point of access” for applicants, whose eligibility for the scheme and subsequent support would be assessed on agreed criteria.
Despite the lack of proposals at the forthcoming July Synod, the sessions, which include an item on safeguarding, would, he said, be “a really key opportunity for us corporately, as a Church, to get behind this scheme; to signal our commitment, not principally to the scheme but to our deep commitment to survivors of church-based abuse, and to signal our genuine regret and repentance of what has happened to them.
“The more we can do that in as collective a way as possible — listening, but above all else, expressing our corporate regret — the better I think it will be.”