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General Synod digest: Survivor Redress Scheme pushed forward, with reservations

24 November 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, lead bishop for safeguarding

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, lead bishop for safeguarding

DRAFT legislation for the National Redress Scheme for survivors of abuse in a church context was debated by the General Synod on Tuesday morning, and referred to the revision committee.

Introducing the debate on the draft Abuse (Redress) Measure, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, described the scheme as an expression of the Church’s regret over past safeguarding failures. As well as a draft Measure for first consideration, there would be rules that would govern how the scheme operated. Bishop Mounstephen did not want to present a fait accompli, to be rushed through, but give the Synod the chance to scrutinise the Measure properly and amend it. Survivors would be involved throughout, he said.

A funding formula and means test had been worked out that would ensure that no parish was asked to contribute more than it could afford. “Every parish will be included in the process equitably and fairly,” he said.

The Church Commissioners had already put aside £150 million supplement this (News, 23 June). Much, however, still remained to be determined, including whether financial contributions to the scheme would be mandatory or voluntary. The Bishop urged members to give their views on these questions. “We must learn from our failings, and determine together to take a better course,” he concluded.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) agreed with the need for a redress scheme, but opposed the motion, which, he said, would bring the Measure straight to the revision committee, meaning that the wider Synod would not be given the chance to comment on whatever policy decisions the committee made until revision by the full Synod. This would prevent detailed consideration, he said.

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell (Southern Suffragans), the Church’s lead bishop for safeguarding, suggested that members step back and consider wider issues before going into the detail of the Measure. Survivors longed for a “whole-Church approach to safeguarding” and for more attention to language instead of preserving the Church’s reputation, she said. If this was reduced down to “money someone else should pay”, then the importance of cultural change and collective responsibility would be lost. Restitution had deep biblical roots, she argued, and the Church’s actions on redress should speak of God’s yearning for justice.

Welcoming the draft Measure, the vice-chair of the House of Clergy, the Revd Kate Wharton (Liverpool), repeated the mantra that safeguarding was everybody’s business and everybody’s responsibility, and that this extended to finance. It was appropriate that a local body involved in a case accepted liability by making a contribution to any redress payment, even for churches such as hers, with “no money to spare”. She praised the scheme for including a safety net for parishes that were genuinely unable to offer any money.

Dr Nick Land (York) raised the issue of the determination of cases and the standard of proof required to enact liability. The civil standard of proof — the balance of probabilities — was to be used in the redress scheme, but this was more complex than simply being 51 per cent sure, he said. The courts ruled that the standard should be more onerous, the more significant the issue.

Dr Land said that the risk was that when survivors came forward who had undoubtedly been abused, allocating blame to an individual or parish — given the seriousness of the crimes against them — would unintentionally lead to a higher and unattainable standard of proof, more akin to the criminal standard, and thereby preventing redress.

Canon Bruce Bryant-Scott (Europe) had experience from Canada of dealing with lawsuits concerning abuse in church settings. The Anglican Church of Canada, decades ago, had had hundreds of cases piling up against it because of abuse in indigenous residential schools, posing an existential threat to many dioceses. Without a properly established redress scheme, “this could be our situation in the Church of England,” he warned. It had already taken too long; he urged the Synod to work out the details as it went along rather than quibble over who would pay now.

Caroline Herbert (Norwich)

Caroline Herbert (Norwich) welcomed the fact that the redress scheme offered not just financial compensation, but also non-monetary elements. She also queried why, when abuse had taken place in a church school, a PCC would be deemed the accountable body rather than the governing body. She echoed some of Dr Land’s concerns about standards of proof and the ability to challenge a determination of which body was accountable.

The Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis, said that the Rules Committee, which she chaired, would concern itself only with the “nuts and bolts”, and be the servants of the Measure and scheme rather than leading it. Her prayer was that God, not the devil, would be in the detail. “Please pray for us as we embark on complex but necessary work.”

The Archbishop of York thanked the survivors who had helped to shape the Draft Measure, and said, in response to Fr Benfield, that it was a deliberate choice to work out the policy alongside the legislation, so that survivors could be involved throughout.

Dr Simon Eyre (Chichester) supported the intentions of the legislation, but was worried that it would hit parishes too hard. Often, the abuse was non-recent, and no current PCC members would have been around when the incident had occurred. He also raised several questions about insurance. Some parishes would have already used their insurers to cover initial direct claims. Would they now be able to claim on their policies a second time to cover a financial contribution to a redress payment?

The Vicar-General of Canterbury, the Rt Worshipful Timothy Briden, said that the scheme should avoid conflicts of interest: the panel assessing the compensation claim should be perceived to be totally independent of the body making the payment. Also, compensation awards should be assessed according to established principles rather than “plucked out of the air”, so that an applicant understood why their redress payment had been set at a particular level. Finally, payments should be quick and efficient: staffing should be sufficient, to avoid backlogs.

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) backed the creation of a Redress Scheme, but echoed Dr Eyre’s concerns about contributions. Some churches might feel a strong sense of culpability, and be keen to make payments, but there were other cases in which a parish might not feel any guilt or responsibility for a non-recent case. Most dioceses did not have any spare funds beyond present-day ministry needs, and some churches might not be able to insure themselves against such liabilities. She suggested that survivor anger was aimed at the national Church rather than at the local level, and the Church Commissioners had “plenty of money not currently earmarked”. Should they not fund all redress, she asked.

Clive Billenness (Europe) said that redress payments must be made quickly and be seen to be fair. But the draft Measure was not ready, and needed “more time in the oven” before it moved to detailed revision, as Fr Benfield had argued. Members should vote against it today, Mr Billenness urged, in part because of Dr Land’s concerns about assigning liability to parishes. Parishes were often themselves victims of the abusers, too, but this proposed scheme would turn the parishes into perpetrators. The Synod should also be given sight of the rules that would govern the Measure, and not vote it through in the trust that, in the future, these would be drawn up well. “Let’s not rush it: let’s get it right.”

Emily Hill (Hereford) said that any stepchildren of applicants who had died before a claim was complete should be permitted to continue the application (currently only biological children could do this). It should also be the diocese’s responsibility for redress, she suggested, given that the diocese both approved and trained any abuser priest, before sending them to a particular parish.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesGabriel Chiu (Liverpool)

Gabriel Chiu (Liverpool) asked that the definitions of what amounted to a Church of England institution be “tightened”. In some cases — particularly concerning the activities of ordinands in TEIs — there could be some ambiguity.

James Cary (Bath & Wells) said that, as a representative of the House of Laity on the Archbishops’ Council, he represented the voice of “concerned parishes” on the Redress Scheme Board. “This is something in which we all have to play our part and share responsibility,” he said, and this Measure was the start. He urged members to remain engaged with the process of developing the scheme, and urged them to vote in its favour.

The Archdeacon of Ludlow, the Ven. Fiona Gibson (Hereford), repeated that the whole Church was responsible. Abuse was a “collective failure”; so it was right that the scheme should also be collective, she said. She asked, though, for clarity about some of the obligations that might be imposed on a PCC, referring to issues relating to insurance, and how redress scheme claims might correspond to legal claims. “I offer these questions to help make the legislation as good as it can be,” she said.

The Archdeacon of Bath, the Ven. Dr Adrian Youings (Bath & Wells), said that many PCC members were survivors of abuse or related to survivors. He, therefore, urged caution about allocating responsibility to small PCCs, in which individual members might feel this personally.

Canon Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) supported the motion, and criticised members who, he said, were “blame-shifting” and putting up barriers to the scheme. This was not about where blame lay, he said, but getting on with taking responsibility and beginning to be a “healing Church”.

Canon Mark Bennet (Oxford) agreed with others that the Redress Scheme had taken too long to come about, but still had concerns. People had ended up betrayed and divided in his own parish when it had dealt with a case of abuse and many had refused to believe that it was true. How could divided PCCs handle these redress conversations, especially when the incumbent was not appointed by the PCC or accountable to it, he asked.

Carolyn Graham (Guildford) asked about the connection between the abuser and the accountable body, particularly in grey areas where the abuser was not the incumbent of a parish or not strictly acting in a church capacity when the abuse happened. She also urged the Synod to stick to the civil standard of proof on the balance of probabilities.

Dawn Brathwaite (Birmingham) praised the progress made towards the scheme, but warned that it must be properly resourced and “stress-tested” before it went live. She also asked why there were no time-limits for appeals, which would make planning difficult. Could an executor also pursue a claim on behalf of the estate of a deceased applicant, she asked.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) said that the scheme needed much more work to improve it, and that survivors were divided on the Measure: some backed it; others opposed it. He read out comments from survivors whom he had consulted on the legislation: some positive, others negative.

Dr Christopher Angus (Carlisle) said that, in its process, the Rule Committee should listen to the voices of survivors. The Measure could not be enacted until the still-to-be-drafted rules were signed off by the Synod, he said; so there should be no concern about members’ being cut out of oversight.

Penelope Allen (Lichfield) said that children in care without responsible adults to look after them were given legal representatives, and asked whether something comparable was being offered in the scheme.

Dr Andrew Bell (Oxford) said that repentance and redress should be held together. Should the Archbishops’ Council permanently delegate its functions in the process to someone else, to build in more independence, he suggested.

Responding, Bishop Mounstephen thanked the Synod for its “helpful contributions”. A lot of benchmarking against comparable schemes had been done, he reassured members — the Church was not trying to reinvent the wheel, but learn from others. When it came to liability, this was solely corporate, and never about individual PCC members or trustees of any other body.

Redress was also much more than just money, Bishop Mounstephen emphasised. “An apology can be worth its weight in gold.” Culpability and guilt were also not helpful language, he said. Parishes could be responsible for something without it being the parish’s fault. He accepted that there was more work to be done on the Draft Measure, but urged the Synod not to vote for any further delays. “Rejecting this motion would send a catastrophic message to survivors and the wider Church.”

The motion to refer the Measure to the revision committee was carried by 309-21, with 13 recorded abstentions.

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