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Member’s motion to tackle exclusion of Independent Safeguarding Board from Synod

02 February 2023

Clive Mear/Church Times

Members of the General Synod listen to a presentation on safeguarding in Church House, Westminster, in February 2022

Members of the General Synod listen to a presentation on safeguarding in Church House, Westminster, in February 2022

THE question why the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) has been excluded from the General Synod next week has been raised in a following motion from a Synod member.

Safeguarding is one of the final items on the agenda on the last day of the Synod, next Thursday, and will include a presentation on the work of the National Safeguarding Team (NST), based on discussion papers published last month (News, 20 January). These describe safeguarding as “one of the highest priority programmes” in the C of E.

The Synod will be asked by the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs (currently lead bishop on safeguarding) to “take note” of these papers.

A following motion has now been introduced by Martin Sewell (Rochester) under Standing Orders. His motion asks the Synod to “note with concern” the “complete absence” in the NST papers of any reference to the ISB, which was set up by the Archbishops’ Council in 2020 to hold the NST to account (News, 15 December 2020). It has since been riddled with disputes over its independence and functionality (see separate story).

The ISB has not been invited to speak to the Synod next week. Instead, it plans to publish an update on its website. This absence is noted in the following motion from Mr Sewell, as is “the continuing confusion over the constitutional independence of the ISB” and “the current failure and/or incapacity of the ISB to initiate and resource inquiries into issues of safeguarding on its own initiative”.

Last October, the ISB “paused” indefinitely its planned lessons-learned review of the C of E’s involvement in the dispute at Christ Church, Oxford, because it was not confident in its own independence, and lacks resources (News, 21 October 2022).

On Wednesday, shortly after the Church Times learned of a third complaint of a data breach made by a survivor against the ISB, the Archbishops’ Council announced that the Christ Church review “should be led by another person” (see separate story).

Mr Sewell’s motion also asks the Synod to note with concern the briefing document collated for members by survivors of abuse in a church context, last week (News, 27 January), who summarise their own views on the safeguarding projects and processes in the Church of England.

Finally, his motion asks the Synod to note the second Past Cases Review (PCR2) of living clergy files completed last year, and the “many” lessons learned reviews of safeguarding delivered and pending “which Synod has not yet had the opportunity to consider and debate”.

The motion is being seconded by the Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn), and Helen King (Oxford), but can be debated only if the Synod passes the preceding take-note motion from the NST. No other members are needed to support the follow-on motion. By the next sessions in July, this will likely change so that any follow-on motion would be debated only with the agreement of the person responsible for the original motion (in this case the NST), or if at least 25 Synod members stood to indicate their wish for it to be debated.

An accompanying briefing paper points to an article, “Reflections on the Workings of General Synod”, by the former Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, published in last month’s issue of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal.

In it, Bishop Broadbent writes: “The platform tactic (from those leading debates and carrying forward the business of Synod) has been to attempt to keep questions about the Church’s safeguarding practice, past and present, off the floor of Synod. Attempts to inquisite [sic] the shortcomings of the National Safeguarding Team, the past failures of Bishops and the various ‘lessons learned reviews’ (from which we never seem to learn very much) have been seen off and resisted, leaving victims, survivors and those campaigning on their behalf with the sense that justice will never be done or seen to be done. . .

“I suspect that this is one area of our national church life where we need to set up better ways of processing these concerns. They won’t go away.”

The briefing paper also invites the Synod, through the motion, to challenge the state of C of E safeguarding being presented, including that the ISB “has been brought into being in a hurried and ill-conceived fashion, resulting in distrust, confusion and sub-optimal functionality”.

Mr Sewell said on Wednesday: “Given its problems, the absence of any reference to the ISB in the Synod papers is startling. Some suspect that, post-IICSA [the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse], the C of E is reverting to type and hiding scandals. A much respected Bishop speaks of issues being kept off the floor of Synod. Our motion takes these matters seriously and seeks the help of our watchdog to investigate and report back, for a full debate in July.”

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