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Survivors of abuse in the C of E still feel threatened — and so do church staff helping them

24 January 2023


The survivors write: “We asked for bread, but you gave us stones.”

The survivors write: “We asked for bread, but you gave us stones.”

SURVIVORS of abuse in a church context have described the Church’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) as a “costly, chaotic, impenetrable mess” in which confidentiality is “routinely breached”.

In a briefing document provided for members of the General Synod before they meet in London next month, the survivors summarise their own views on the safeguarding projects and processes in the Church of England.

Published on Tuesday by Andrew Graystone on behalf of 13 anonymous victims and survivors of physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse, the briefing says: “Our abusers include bishops, deans, clergy and other church employees. You will understand our scepticism when we are told that bishops, deans, clergy and other church employees are the right people to sort this out.

“We are offering you this account because we have learnt to have no confidence in the briefings that Synod members receive from the bishops or the Archbishops’ Council. You need the truth about how your safeguarding apparatus is working.”

Safeguarding is one of the final items on the agenda on the last day of the Synod — Thursday 9 February — and will include a presentation on the work of the NST. The presentation will be based on a discussion paper, which was published alongside the other Synod documents last Friday (News, 20 January). It describes safeguarding as “one of the highest priority programmes” in the C of E.

The paper points to the National Safeguarding Casework Management System, saying: “13 dioceses and the NST have access to the software and are using it to record all information pertaining to new cases.” It also refers to a recent survivor survey and newsletter to survivors and advocates. The NST is “committed to developing and implementing a survivor engagement framework with victims and survivors”, it says.

The NST paper goes on to say that “Survivors are essential part of the work of the NST, including the national Redress and Interim Support Schemes, the Responding Well to Survivors Guidance implementation group, safeguarding training delivery, communications, staff recruitment and wider consultations.”

Survivors disagree. In their briefing, they describe the NST as “a bloated, costly, chaotic, impenetrable mess. Communication with victims and survivors is terrible. Individual victims are pushed from pillar to post. Our confidentiality is routinely breached.”

They add: “Perhaps if there were a properly constituted Survivor Reference Group, relationships between survivors and the NST would be less toxic.”

The poor relationship between the Church and some survivors is taken up in a separate paper to be presented to the Synod, written by the Church’s current National Director of Safeguarding, Alexander Kubeyinje. He says that he has been “taken aback” by the “amount of abuse, bullying and harassment that colleagues receive, and threat to life on occasions. This has predominately been from a small number of survivors, advocates, and others, who have concerns with regards to safeguarding.”

Mr Kubeyinje suggests that Church House staff are currently not “protected” from this, and that there has therefore been a breakdown of communication between staff and survivors which had a “detrimental effect” on both. He adds: “It is not always clear who is responsible for elements of safeguarding or services and who makes the decisions. This in turn leads to a blame culture and issues with trust and reputations.”

He concludes: “The Church is still very much on an improvement journey to make the Church a safer place for all. It has to accept that a cultural shift is needed. Safeguarding has to become a part of the Church’s DNA and this at times will mean difficult and uncomfortable conversations are needed.”


THE survivors’ Synod briefing points to the much-delayed National Redress Scheme as an example of areas which need attention (News, 22 July 2022). “A delivery date of summer 2022 was promised,” they write. “But we are now told that this date will be missed by at least two to three years. We are left in the dark.”

In 2020, in response to a recommendation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), the NST announced that an interim pilot scheme for survivors would be implemented, which would inform the creation of a full redress scheme (News, 2 October 2020).

The NST paper states that, since the interim scheme was established, “the Archbishops’ Council has paid £1,229,423.07 through the scheme, which has benefited 62 survivors.” This amounts to an average of just under £20,000 per survivor.

Survivors say, however, that “Other things that survivors often need — meetings, apologies, information — are now out of scope” of the terms of reference, and that financial support is time-limited.

Delays are a common grievance. The briefing points to the learning-lesson reviews for the late John Smyth (“the Makin review”) and Trevor Devamanikkam (”the Humphry review”), for which publication dates have yet to be set.

The NST paper says that these reviews are “both in the final stages”. Consultation processes with the people involved have taken or are taking place this month, and the date of the publication for reviews would be published once this was completed, it says.

Survivors go on to describe the Past Cases Review 2 — a safeguarding review of the files of every living cleric (News, 7 October 2022) — as “the bad sequel to a terrible movie”, and suggest that “no support or follow-up has been offered to the 383 or more newly-discovered victims.”

The NST paper describes PCR2 as “closed”. The 383 new safeguarding cases which were identified are being “monitored and reviewed by each diocese to ensure the relevant safeguarding action has been taken”. The 26 recommendations of the PCR2 are being “overseen” by the National Safeguarding Steering Group, it says.

Problems with the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) are also raised in the briefing.

In conclusion, the survivors write to Synod members: “Whatever you are told at Synod, we want you to hear our pain and frustration. The Church of England’s treatment of victims and survivors of abuse is chaotic, cruel, and dangerous. For many of us, the way we are treated by the system today is worse than our original church-based abuse. Your safeguarding apparatus is broken beyond repair.”

Responding to Mr Kubeyinje’s comments, Mr Graystone said that he had never met him, “but if what he says is true, this is a very serious matter. I hope that any church staff who have been treated in this way will take their complaints to the police. It will also be important for the Church to think carefully about what has brought survivors and others to a point where they feel they need to engage with safeguarding staff in these unacceptable ways.”

He added, however, that he was sorry that Mr Kubeyinje had made the allegation “in such broad terms, in a public setting, and without any specific evidence to which those he accuses can respond. There is a real risk that victims and survivors and their advocates will feel they are being further stigmatised by the NST.

“Some have already expressed this to me. His statement has been perceived by some as an attempt to reverse the perceptions of victim and offender — a technique with which is all too familiar from our understanding of domestic and institutional abuse. I am afraid that this can only fuel the toxic relationship that the Church has with people it has harmed.”

The Church’s lead safeguarding bishop, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, said that Mr Kubeyinje’s paper “is based on his personal experience and observations from his first few months in the role and highlights the unacceptable harassment of staff that he has witnessed.

“Alex is part of ongoing work at the National Church Institutions to ensure that proper support and processes are in place when such behaviour occurs, and his paper also acknowledges that the Church has not been a safe place for all. He fully recognises that the experience of trauma often underlies how people may respond and he is absolutely committed to strengthening the Church’s ongoing safeguarding work, including through better engagement with victims and survivors.”

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