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Abuse survivors unhappy with their treatment by Lambeth Palace, audit finds

28 February 2023

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Lambeth Palace

Lambeth Palace

THE disparity between the Archbishop of Canterbury’s moral authority and his lack of executive power over church safeguarding has contributed to survivors’ “universal distress and disappointment” with Lambeth Palace, an independent audit has found.

A report by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), dated 30 January, was published by Lambeth Palace on Tuesday. It finds that, despite the Archbishop’s “unique position to set the tone” of relationships between survivors of abuse and the Church, “in Lambeth Palace as a whole, some of the very basics of good practice were clearly often missing” in this engagement.

The SCIE was asked in 2015 to carry out a national audit of safeguarding in the C of E. Covering the 42 dioceses, 42 cathedrals, and two palaces (News, 4 April 2019), its aims were to understand what was working well and what had gone wrong in the past, as well as to improve safeguarding by questioning current practice (News, 11 February 2022). This was done by reviewing documents and recording first-hand experiences of safeguarding in each location, for example, through focus groups and one-to-one interviews.

The audit of Lambeth Palace focused on both its internal safeguarding work and the overarching leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury in this area.

It finds that Archbishop Welby has demonstrated strong theological and moral leadership in acknowledging past failings, but that “his ability to turn his expressed personal commitment into visible action is constrained by the constitutional reality of the Church of England, and leaves the Archbishop open to accusations of inconsistency regarding safeguarding.”

This has been damaging to his attempts to promote a culture of openness and transparency, it says. His “considerable moral authority” and “broad public platform” led one survivor to comment that “his words — and his silence — have disproportionate weight.”

The SCIE report acknowledges that the Archbishop’s lack of “a direct safeguarding role or managerial power, where so much power and responsibility sits with the dioceses, is a significant challenge”.

It continues: “Having no formal access to independent and expert safeguarding advice is a significant disadvantage.”

The report finds that Archbishop Welby’s position as “moral leader” also conflicts with his lack of any formal managerial or governance role over the bishops. “His public position has been undermined on occasions by the actions of individual bishops which have been perceived as out of step with good safeguarding practice.” His recognition of the need for the bishops to hold each other to account “would benefit from a higher profile”.

The chief executive of SCIE, Kathryn Smith, explained on Tuesday: “Lambeth Palace and the role of Archbishop of Canterbury are critical in progressing safeguarding across the Church of England, but the role is not straightforward given the structure of the Church. Pointers in the audit report published today are aimed at clarifying as well as strengthening the role.”

The absence of “independent, experienced, and expert safeguarding advice” for the Archbishop and the Palace is noted again under issues of strategic leadership. “Many of the kinds of public and private missteps made by the Archbishop and his senior staff, particularly when responding to victims and survivors, and to media scrutiny, would be less likely if such experienced advice was made available.”

Responding to this, Martin Sewell, a retired child-protection lawyer and General Synod member, said: “It is extraordinary that there is not a single expert secular safeguarding lawyer employed in either Archbishops’ Palace, at Church House, or any diocese. Why the Church refuses to key into 50 years of secular legal culture and expertise in these areas is totally inexplicable.”

 

THE audit of internal processes at Lambeth Palace are taken first in the report, under various themes, including physical security, operational management, training, recruitment, correspondence, and engagement with victims and survivors.

Generally, the auditors found that most experiences of safeguarding at the Palace and in the Church were negative. “People described not being listened to, feeling disbelieved, being treated with cruelty rather than compassion, encountering an absence of clear process — ‘every process is difficult’, ‘as a survivor you keep getting put in touch with a new person’ — or processes that felt designed to hurt rather than help, a lack of transparency and accountability, perceived conflicts of interest, being treated as if they were the problem, feeling the Church was looking after itself rather than victims of abuse.”

The report continues: “Throughout it all, the auditors were struck by how little most victims and survivors, especially, were asking for. People wanted to be listened to and heard, to be cared for and supported, to be treated with humanity; for the Church to tell the truth, be concerned about their wellbeing and to keep its promises.”

It goes on: “Although some had lost their faith as a result of their experiences, and others had retained their faith but lost confidence in the Church of England, the majority were keen to emphasise that they wanted to contribute to positive change by the Church.”

Of the 32 people who contributed to the report, eight were clergy, eight were lay church officers, and one person was under 18. “A small number had been accused of abuse or misconduct themselves; or spoke on behalf of another who was an alleged perpetrator,” the report explains.

Most, however, were victims or survivors of abuse by a church officer. Among these were several victims and survivors of John Smyth. “Their views and experiences of the responses they received from individuals within Lambeth Palace and beyond, in the wider Anglican Church . . . were extremely negative,” the report says.

Detailed descriptions are given of current structures and protocols in the Palace, including how correspondence is managed, such as letters, calls, and through the online form and various email addresses. Many survivors were “highly critical” of the responses they received, the report says.

The triaging system has improved, but pre-2019 sensitive emails were being lost in a quarantine system which is still being trawled through by a small team.

On complaints and whistleblowing, the report says: “Arrangements for identifying and responding to complaints about safeguarding received by the Palace are hampered by the lack of a comprehensive complaints system which applies across the whole Church.”

Despite significant efforts to improve safeguarding in recent years, including financial investment, the report says that “the continuing lack of clear structures in the Church for raising and addressing historic grievances about responses to knowledge of abuse and to survivors, can present real and pressing problems in terms of addressing past injustices and in rebuilding destroyed lives.”

It says that most complainants “felt that the response (or lack of it) added to the abuse and trauma they had already experienced and are still waiting for some kind of resolution”.

Internally, Palace staff are “not confident to make a complaint to senior staff and clergy”, either formally or informally, “partly because of deference and partly because of a lack of confidence that their concerns would be taken seriously and properly responded to”.

The need to challenge deference is a consistent theme. The auditors observed that interactions between senior and junior staff were “less open and relaxed” than among senior staff. “Some staff expressed the view that ‘the little people’ were rarely listened to, not consulted or communicated with systematically by the leadership, and had little influence on decisions.”

On record-keeping, the reports finds this to be “historically poor” at the Palace, “reflecting an inadequate understanding of both legal requirements and good practice. . . Until relatively recently, there does not appear to have been a consistent understanding of good record keeping.”

Praise is given for the work of the Lambeth Palace safeguarding officer, including their correspondence with survivors, and progress in “filling in gaps” in safeguarding. “Previous efforts by Lambeth Palace to engage with survivors have been insufficiently thoughtful and thought through,” it says.

The position, which was created to work towards the SCIE audit, was due to end last June. The report warns that “had the current postholder not been as energetic, the outcome of aspects of the present audit would have been very different, given what the internal audit revealed about what areas needed addressing”, and that “the auditors were extremely concerned at what this appears to indicate about the lack of priority given to safeguarding at Lambeth Palace.”

Auditors were not granted access to Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) files at Lambeth. This was said to be as a result of a recent clarification by the Information Governance Officer (IGO) following advice from the Church’s legal office. This put a “significant limitation” on their assessment of best practice, the report continues.

SCIE asks how an independent audit of CDM files could be achieved. “Without the possibility of independent scrutiny and quality assurance, learning from the current CDM practices will not inform the new processes.”

In other areas in the report, physical security was found to be generally comprehensive and safeguarding of internal events good, with room for strengthening. Operational accountability was found to be clear, and training generally also good, but safer recruitment practice needed improvement, including assigning responsibility for this.

Children and vulnerable adults among the 30 residents and 50 workers at the Palace were kept safe, it says, but key staff would benefit from training to safeguard better adults at risk of harm. Hospitality events and visiting, including to the library, were clear, although “a small number of staff indicated that they felt unsafe on occasions during events involving external visitors, who they considered could be more stringently checked.”

On the communities of St Anselm and Chemin Neuf, the report says that understanding of safeguarding among the Dean and staff was good, but guidance on the disclosure of abuse needed to be clearer, particularly given that “members come from many different countries, with very different understandings of safeguarding, and its implications for individuals, the community and for the Church as an institution”.

Thanking the SCIE team for their “constructive and helpful” report, Archbishop Welby said on Tuesday: “Safeguarding must be central to the life of the Church, and we are committed to striving for the highest possible standards at Lambeth Palace. We welcome the encouragement and, quite rightly, the challenge from SCIE to continue our ongoing learning and improvement of safeguarding practices.

“I am adamant that this report must underpin and strengthen our continuing efforts to ensure that Lambeth Palace treats safeguarding as a top priority. . . I also want to acknowledge and give my personal thanks and gratitude to the many survivors and victims who engaged in this valuable process.”

His Chief of Staff, the Revd Ijeoma Ajibade, was “grateful for its informed analysis and constructive recommendations” about the complex structures of the Church and position of the Palace and Archbishop. Its own internal safeguarding review had already identified “several areas where more work was needed”, and progress had been made to address these, she said.

Mr Sewell concluded: “The report seems to confirm that despite words and good intentions, the fundamental structures of the C of E continue to obstruct meaningful progress in safeguarding. A survivor just said to me that too often the Archbishops exhibit ‘capitulation to the status quo, not leadership’.”

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