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General Synod digest: members agree to digest Jay and Wilkinson reports, and apologise to the ISB

01 March 2024
Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell

A VIDEO message from Professor Alexis Jay was shown to the General Synod on Saturday afternoon, introducing her report, The Future of Church Safeguarding, published last week (News, 23 February).

Professor Jay had spent six months consulting people across the Church to explore how to make safeguarding and its scrutiny “truly independent”, she said, and had drawn on the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which she chaired (News, 21 July 2023).

The need to act to improve safeguarding was urgent, Professor Jay said. She recognised that she was recommending sweeping change, but this was necessary after a “collapse in trust and confidence, principally among victims and survivors”. She spoke of poor data collection, inequity of funding across dioceses, varying approaches to identifying concerns, and other problems.

“Safeguarding in the Church today falls below the standards expected in secular organisations,” she said. “These weaknesses are not a reflection on the safeguarding professionals within the Church, but the processes they have to work within.”

A “person-centred culture” in which the welfare of the child or vulnerable adult was paramount must be created, she continued. “Regrettably, I must advise you that this still does not happen everywhere across the Church.” Some people still believed, wrongly, that the safeguarding failings of the Church were now in the past, Professor Jay said. She had interviewed people who had been caught up in safeguarding processes over the past five years and who still experienced harmful errors.

Her report recommended the creation of two new charities, both funded by the C of E, but operationally and legally independent, she explained, to deliver safeguarding and scrutinise its outsourcing. There would still be local safeguarding teams based in the dioceses, and no amalgamation into a centralised team.

Professor Jay acknowledged the efforts that had been made to improve safeguarding in the C of E in recent years, but said that too many victims and survivors felt that the situation was now at an “all-time low”. The 42-diocese model meant that there was too much inconsistency and variable treatment, and created too many conflicts of interest, which undermined confidence.

“Communication in general is seen as very poor. These weaknesses will persist until the delivery of safeguarding is removed from the diocesan management structure and placed into an independent body.”

She had also heard examples of the “weaponising of safeguarding”, which was why she had recommended that the Church standardise its definitions of safeguarding and challenge erroneous beliefs that continued to be held. She also criticised those who believed that safeguarding should be “rooted in scripture” and that all safeguarding officers must be practising Christians.

Professor Jay acknowledged that there would be many questions about how her new independent safeguarding model could be established, but she encouraged Synod members to review her report carefully and support its full implementation.

A debate on a motion from the lead safeguarding bishop, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell (Southern Suffragans), followed. The chair reminded speakers to conduct themselves in a sensitive and considerate manner.

Introducing her motion, Dr Grenfell conceded that the Church had “not yet gained the trust and respect” of survivors.

She thanked Professor Jay for her work, and Sarah Wilkinson for her report on the collapse of the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) (News, 15 December 2023). She could “hear the wisdom” of those who said that the Church should not rush its response, but also of those who emphasised the urgency of the need for change.

Some were “wary of outsourcing safeguarding” to a new independent body but Professor Jay’s recommendation would still mean that safeguarding was delivered at the local level, Dr Grenfell said.

“You’ll know from your dioceses the many improvements that have been made in safeguarding in recent years,” she said. It was “time to take the best of what we’ve learnt” and move forward, guided by best practice.

She also attempted to reassure Synod members that the decision remained in their hands, notwithstanding the involvement of a “response group” that had been convened to steer the implementation process. “Any recommendations from the response group would still come back to you for a decision,” she said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also acknowledged the “absence of confidence” in safeguarding. There would be victims and survivors in the chamber, he said; so members must tread carefully. “We have had a very long journey to where we are now, and it has not been a good journey.” As soon as he became Archbishop, he had realised how inadequate safeguarding resources were, and he praised the subsequently huge increase in spending. All the safeguarding professionals in the Church were trying to do the right thing, he said, and “deserved our confidence”.

“I have a profound commitment to setting up a system that has no conflicts of interest: independent safeguarding that cannot be blunted in its impact.” It must work well for victims and survivors, not just looking back at what had happened. but also preventing future events, he said.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesArchbishop Welby

Archbishop Welby deeply regretted and apologised for the crisis around the ISB, he said: he had been in “too much of a hurry”. The Church must, therefore, move only as fast as was wise this time, and resist the lure of a “quick fix”.

Of the ISB’s disbandment and its fallout, he said: “This was a long drawn-out terrible disaster for those involved.” In every disaster, there must be blame, responsibility, and accountability, he said. But “Please do not blame staff from the floor of Synod,” he continued: they were overworked and human, of course they made mistakes, but they could not answer back. Safeguarding staff had received “appalling abuse”, he said, driving some into breakdowns.

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, Dr Michael Beasley, suggested that two separate debates were needed: on whether independent safeguarding should happen, and on how. When it came to independent scrutiny, there was no doubt that this should happen, but how was more complex. He regretted that the Jay review had bypassed the “whether” question, going straight to the “how” of operational independence. This, he suggested, had “silenced and disempowered the people on the front line delivering the improved outcomes of safeguarding we all seek”: diocesan safeguarding officers (DSOs) and their teams.

The Jay report also risked a second round of “botched and rushed implementation”, Dr Beasley said. He pointed to a letter of concern sent to the Archbishops’ Council from 62 DSOs in 32 dioceses. Their concerns were not even mentioned in the report.

“Please, let us not repeat the mistakes made in setting up the ISB,” he said. “IICSA did not recommend operational independence of safeguarding decision-making.” The other IICSA recommendations were still being implemented by DSOs, he continued, and bypassing this with the Jay report would serve only to disillusion local safeguarding professionals and make safeguarding less effective. “I urge you to vote against the amendments and for the motion,” he concluded.

Ruth Allen (Guildford), a parish safeguarding officer, said that she was often unappreciated and heavily criticised. But, when she had had to launch a safeguarding investigation into an allegation of non-recent abuse a few years ago, she had been pleasantly surprised at how well-run it had been. Evidence had been collated and the allegation had been substantiated; appropriate action had been taken within months; the victims had been well-supported, and the person accused had been offered pastoral care; a lessons-learned review had been helpfully run; and a risk-management plan had been put in place. The Charity Commission had later acknowledged that all policies and procedures had been adhered to.

The diocesan safeguarding team wanted reassurance that any significant changes of safeguarding delivery would be “fully evaluated before implemented”, she said. Contrary to Professor Jay, Ms Allen strongly believed that the handling of safeguarding allegations should be “rooted in scripture”.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe interim chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, Kashmir Garton (Worcester)

The interim chair of the National Safeguarding Panel (News, 9 November 2023), Kashmir Garton (Worcester) said that its members had not been interviewed by Professor Jay. The Synod must respond and learn from past events, and make significant improvements, to “rebuild trust and confidence at every level”. The implications of the Jay report were to make “radical” changes, and it was important, therefore, that the response group “consult widely” and take into account work that had already been done to improve safeguarding structures.

In a maiden speech, the Revd Jenny Bridgman (Chester) said that safeguarding “had not been good enough”, but cited the overhaul of safeguarding in the diocese of Chester as an example of how it could be done well without complete operational independence. A “trauma-informed approach teaches us that it’s only as safety is more established [that] you might begin to heal”, she said. In Chester, there had been “culture change” led by the bishops and safeguarding staff, who had worked independently from clergy, but in a “holistic and integrated way”, ensuring that “no disclosure was left unanswered and no vulnerable person falls through a gap.” Independent delivery “might undermine the message that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility”, she said, and splinter the “holistic approach” to church safeguarding.

 

IN THE two days between the publication of the Jay report and the Synod on Friday, a series of mutually exclusive amendments had been tabled. Because later amendments would lapse if earlier amendments were carried, the proposers were invited to outline their propositions before the amendments were formally moved.

Peter Adams (St Albans) spoke to his amendment, to replace the motion entirely with one that, he said, was “unambiguous” in agreeing with Professor Jay’s plan for independent safeguarding. There was an urgent need for a renewed apology and a new group to oversee the delivery of a new safeguarding structure, he said. He proposed that a new board be formed immediately with survivor representation, elected Synod members, and figures from the House of Bishops and Archbishops’ Council. The concerns raised by DSOs would have to be addressed in this process, he said.

Clive Billenness (Europe) then spoke to his similar amendment, which would require the Archbishops’ Council to draw up a Measure immediately to implement Professor Jay’s recommendations, a Measure that could begin its synodical process in July. Survivors, as well as lawyers and academics, had mostly believed that safeguarding should not be under the Church’s control. “Why don’t we just accept the advice given to us?” he asked. Every minute spent debating this was another minute without independent safeguarding scrutiny, he said. “Please let us begin this process soon.”

Another amendment, from Martin Sewell (Rochester), would replace the motion with a simpler one accepting all the reports’ recommendations. Urgency was paramount, he reiterated. Professor Jay had spoken of the importance of a culture change, but the hierarchy were still trying to insist that they could control the process and that the Synod should simply trust them. “That doesn’t look like changing the culture. That needs to go,” he said. He understood the anxieties that DSOs felt, but this was merely a structural reorganisation; nobody was proposing to throw good DSOs out of the Church. “But the tail can’t wag the dog here: survivors are supposed to come first.”

All three amendments were then moved. Dr Grenfell resisted the first, despite welcoming “many of its constructive suggestions”. The work that needed to be done now was “deep and wide engagement”, not a rush to implement a report that had been published for barely 100 hours, she said. Not enough members stood to support a debate, so the amendment lapsed.

Mr Billenness then moved his amendment, but once again Dr Grenfell resisted it. Similarly, consultation and engagement were required before implementing any recommendations, she said. “There is a lot to digest, and there are a lot of views. Building a consensus gives us the most chance to build a lasting change. Please let this process of engagement happen.”

A debate on the amendment followed. The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Philip North, urged the Synod to vote against a proposal that, he said, would make the Church “less safe”. The Jay report moved straight from diagnosis to solution, without considering other options or what other organisations had done. His first reaction on reading the report was relief that he would be “released from sleepless nights” worrying about safeguarding issues: “But that’s bad,” he said, “because I should feel the heavy burden of responsibility.”

The best way to shirk responsibility would be to blame someone else, such as the proposed new charity. If the Church outsourced safeguarding, it would need a tighter definition, but a wider non-statutory definition had served the Church well, he said. This was a massive experiment, which had never happened in any other charity. “I want to be held accountable for my own safeguarding practice, and I need convincing these proposals will deliver that accountability.”

The Archdeacon of Liverpool, the Ven. Dr Miranda Thelfall-Holmes (Liverpool), a new member of the Archbishops’ Council, said that she had signed off on the response to the Wilkinson report, but now that she had seen the Jay report, she backed the amendment. “The time for debate on whether we need an independent body for safeguarding is past,” she argued. The breakdown of trust had made that question moot. “It obviously isn’t working. We need to do something else.” Professor Jay had told the Church what it needed to do. “Please can we just get on and do it.”

The chair of the Council’s finance committee, Carl Hughes (Archbishops’ Council), strongly opposed Mr Billenness’s amendment, which required an independent lawyer to draft a Measure to implement the Jay report. The Legal Office was more than capable of doing this, he said, and would do so more cheaply. “This would not be an appropriate use of charitable funds,” he said.

Mr Billenness then used the Standing Orders to retort that he did not lack confidence in the Legal Office, but wanted solely to build in further independence.

The Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, backed the amendment. Her DSO had welcomed the Jay report, and her diocese had pioneered collaboration with survivors over safeguarding. The Church had no choice, she said, but to implement the recommendations in full to rebuild the confidence of survivors. These new bodies might instead be a resource for other denominations for the future, and would show “leadership by the Established Church”. Delay was unacceptable.

Andrew Gray (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) also backed the amendment, despite its “punchy” timeline. He rejected the idea that outsourcing safeguarding meant that it was no longer the Church’s responsibility: it was commonplace for other organisations to outsource their HR work without abdicating their responsibilities as an employer. Both local safeguarding teams and the national Church had tried hard, but “we have to start making moves to get this right.”

Drafting a Measure could be done alongside a consultation with existing DSOs, he suggested. When it came to money, if the Church could afford to spend £100 million on apologising for its involvement in the slave trade two centuries ago, he said, it could surely find the cash to say sorry for inequities today.

A motion for the closure was carried, and the amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: it was lost by 27-8 among the Bishops, with two recorded abstentions, and by 95-62, with seven recorded abstentions, by the Clergy, despite being carried by 83-80 by the Laity, with eight recorded abstentions.

Mr Sewell moved his first amendment, that the Synod “accept the recommendation of [the Jay and Wilkinson reports] in full and the need to proceed with as much urgency as good governance will allow”. Dr Grenfell resisted this on the basis that more time was needed to “digest” the Jay report. “I do hear and take seriously the sense of urgency,” she said, but “there isn’t a consensus” about exactly how to proceed, and a wider consultation was required.

Jane Rosam (Rochester) said that the “failures” outlined in the Jay and Wilkinson reports made her want to hang her head in shame. The response group that had been assembled included “some of the very people who brought about this fiasco”, she said, and who could, therefore, not offer the change that was needed.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, urged the Synod to resist the amendment and not bypass proper consultation. He spoke of his experience in the Redress Scheme project. This had involved careful engagement with survivors, which had brought significant progress and a “sharpened focus”, he said. The Church must not take a “high-handed and autocratic” approach by sacrificing collaboration in the interests of speed.

The Revd Vincent Whitworth (Manchester) said that both reports highlighted important lessons. Time was needed for careful consideration of the options, and the Synod should reject efforts to rush into accepting all the recommendations. “Let’s not make the same mistake again,” he said. He was, in particular, unsure whether handing over operational safeguarding independence was wise. “Do we want an independent safeguarding system, or a more effective one?” he asked.

Nicola Denyer (Newcastle), supporting the amendment, said that the welfare of children and vulnerable adults must be paramount. “We need to get on” with this, she urged. Survivors and victims thought that any delay amounted to “kicking the can down the road”.

The amendment was lost in all three Houses: Bishops 26-4, with four recorded abstentions; Clergy 111-46, with nine recorded abstentions; Laity 87-73, with five recorded abstentions.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Revd Robert Thompson (London)

Mr Sewell then moved his next amendment, which listed individuals whom the Synod would hold responsible for the ISB debacle and the wider collapse of confidence in safeguarding, in order of priority: the Archbishops, the Archbishops’ Council, the Secretary General, the lead bishop for safeguarding, and the “senior secretariat” officers. He insisted that this was not an aggressive amendment, but about “clearing the air” that so the Church could move forward properly. “We have to say we are truly sorry corporately,” he said, so that survivors could hear it clearly.

In response, Dr Grenfell said that many of those named would happily accept that things should have been done better, but described it as an “indiscriminate amendment which has no constructive goal at its heart”. It was not helpful to disregard the systemic failings identified in the Wilkinson review and pin blame simply on a few individuals. The amendment lapsed.

Vicky Brett (Peterborough) then moved her amendment, which added two apologies to the existing motion, both endorsing the apology already made by the Bishops and adding a corporate synodical one for failures to properly scrutinise the ISB. Members had voted not to debate a paper brought by the former ISB chair Maggie Atkinson in 2022, she reminded the Synod. “We failed to listen to or understand the expert in front of us,” she said. By the time of the “car crash” of July 2023 (News, 14 July 2023), it had been too late, she said. “Saying sorry is just the first step: we need to take responsibility, as we were wrong.”

Dr Grenfell was happy to accept the amendment.

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, was ambivalent about the amendment, but criticised its wording as incoherent.

Nadine Daniel (Liverpool) thanked the Archbishops’ Council for apologising in the reports, and now urged them to be “brave” and implement the full independence as recommended by the Jay report.

The Revd Robert Thompson (London) said that apologies were owed not just to the former ISB members, but also to the survivors working with it. “This is our Grenfell Tower, but there are more than 71 people who have died,” he said. Not enough people in the chamber recognised the gravity of the situation, he suggested. “Apology after apology will not do,” he said. He had called for both Archbishop Welby and Mr Nye to resign; nothing else would come close to healing the breach after the “car crash” of last July’s meeting.

Alison Coulter (Winchester), a member of the Archbishop’s Council, supported the amendment and apologised herself. “I have felt the full fury of the Church upon me, I am very aware of my own shortcomings and I apologise to you, to the Church, and to victims and survivors.” It was important to accept corporate responsibility and apologise together.

The amendment was carried.

Mr Sewell then moved his next amendment, to add an apology directly to the former ISB members. “They came to serve us, to help us, to try and rescue us. . . They came with burnished credentials and they left in the most horrible way,” he said. Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves were continuing to offer unpaid support to survivors, which the Church was not. That was true Christianity, Mr Sewell said.

Dr Grenfell, resisting the amendment, said that, given the complexities of the collapsed relationships with the ISB, there was no point in an apology from the Synod, which had not been involved.

Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham) was unsure how to vote on the amendment, which would include both Maggie Atkinson and Meg Munn, as well as Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves. Not all of these people had been well treated by other members of the Board, he said. “We have to be aware of what an apology might signal to all four members.”

Mr Billenness said that the Wilkinson report told a story of well-intentioned people making mistakes, and “we are all responsible for that happening.” All four members of the ISB were owed an apology, he argued. He urged the Synod to support the amendment.

It was carried by 167-106, with 80 recorded abstentions.

Mr Sewell then moved his next amendment, to remove everything in the original motion except thanking Dr Wilkinson and Professor Jay. The Synod should be very wary about nodding through the Archbishops’ Council’s plan for responding to the two reports, he said, and raised questions about the credentials and records of some of those chosen to form the response group.

Dr Grenfell, resisting the amendment, said that it would quash any meaningful discussion of the two reports.

Archbishop Welby spoke again to say that some people, particularly Mr Nye, had been criticised who had no right to respond. “I do hope that there might be restraint, and even apology, for bashing around people who can’t answer. I just don’t think it’s a Christian, or a proper, way to behave.” He emphasised that he was not referring to himself: “Go for me by all means,” he said, but “please think about the staff, and all the work they do.”

The Revd Mike Tufnell (Salisbury) attempted to make a point of order to ask whether the consequence of carrying the amendment in question, then failing to carry any of the following amendments, would remove all requirement for further action in response to the reports.

The chair ruled that it was not technically a point of order, but confirmed that his analysis was correct.

Canon Mark Bennet (Oxford) said that a transition was needed to an independent pre-delivery body that would run the consultation needed on the recommendations. Other practical matters related to finance and governance should also be brought forward. The motion to achieve that had not been tabled, but, if the Synod wiped out the motion, as the amendment suggested, it would send a message.

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) echoed Mr Bennet’s speech, urging members to vote for the amendment so that later consequential amendments could also be debated. He noted that Synod had not been formally notified of the make-up of the Response Group, and that there was some lack of clarity as to what role other groups might have, including another newly convened group of survivors.

Mr Tufnell said that the Synod had “got into a bit of a pickle”, saying that it was too risky to carry the amendment in case nothing else passed and the motion was left empty with nothing but apologies and no call to action. “We have to trust due process and bishops with the original motion,” he said.

The Revd Darren Miller (Canterbury) asked whether apologies would be struck out if this amendment was carried.

After some procedural wrangling through points of order, a vote was eventually called, and the amendment was defeated.

The Revd Bruce Bryant-Scott (Europe) was now unsure about the main motion and the details. “I’m fearful we may cease to own safeguarding,” he said. Safeguarding professionals had not been properly consulted; their competence had been disrespected and disregarded, he said. He was also worried about the Jay report’s “dismissal of faith and theology”, which, he said, could prompt even greater resistance to safeguarding among church people.

The Archbishop of York said that he was “deeply sorry” for his part in the safeguarding crisis. “But what I really want is for there to be action.” The Wilkinson report told the Church how it had gone wrong, and the Jay report showed it “where it could get it right”. He personally backed the recommendations, but said that it was important to honour safeguarding professionals and conduct a proper consultation. Victims and survivors were probably “fed up” with words and apologies at this point, he said. He had bumped into a survivor earlier, who had said: “You are not my enemy, but you’re not yet my friend.”

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, welcomed both reports and the call to implement an independent safeguarding structure as soon as possible. This was no reflection on the ability of existing DSOs, but more was required, notably better involvement with survivors. She was concerned about comments made about fears of rushing: “How long have we had to get this right?” She also commended trauma-informed training for all.

Canon Judith Maltby (Universities and TEIs) said that a “sea change” in safeguarding was necessary, but would not be possible if the people previously involved were managing the next steps. A fresh approach was needed.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Bishop of Bath & Wells, Dr Michael Beasley

The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham (Southern Suffragans), said that she had “hesitations about the unintended consequences about operational safeguarding being removed from the dioceses”. She also said that the “steady, slow, unglamorous work” at parish level was crucial to making the Church safer, but operational independence risked setting up a narrative that safeguarding was “something that is done to them” rather than something in which they were actively involved. “Spiritual abuse is a thing, and it goes on in our churches,” she said.

“We need action,” Sarah Tupling (Deaf Anglicans) said, commenting on the additional challenges that a deaf person would face in making a safeguarding disclosure. “There are barriers they face before they even begin to speak,” she said, and, as a result, “it may be difficult to communicate the intensity” of what they have experienced.

Adrian Clarke (London) said that he was sexually abused as a child and fully understood the need for an independent body. But he had reservations about how safeguarding was being used as a weapon for those opposed to a “Christian message going forward”. He wanted the Church to adopt fully an approach of “innocent until proven guilty”. Anybody could be considered a vulnerable adult now, and clergy were fearful of the making of false or misleading allegations against them at any time.

One of the deputy lead bishops for safeguarding, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Julie Conalty (Northern Suffragans), said that there was a lack of humility in the Synod. External experts and survivors had both told the Church that safeguarding needed to be done differently. “I am struck that we are reluctant to let go of safeguarding,” she said. The Church still did not pay enough attention to power and conflicts of interest. “It is the desire to protect the institution that catches us out, when we cannot see clearly or independently.” Do not find reasons that these recommendations cannot happen, she said, but instead “move with haste.” Survivors were asking how the same people who disbanded the ISB could be trusted to take forward the Jay recommendations. “How can we ensure we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes we have made?” she asked

Summing up the debate, Dr Grenfell said that time to digest the recommendations did not amount to delay, but was necessary to work through the issues. “We know that so much still needs to change before we can say we have a healthy culture across the church.”

After a count of the whole Synod, the motion as amended was carried 337-21, with 20 recorded abstentions. It read:

That this Synod thank Sarah Wilkinson and Alexis Jay for their work and request that the process set out in paragraph 12 of GS 2336 for forming a response to, and considering any necessary implementation of, their recommendations be pursued as a matter of priority;

That this Synod adopt and endorse the apologies expressed by the Archbishops to the Survivors impacted by the matters described within the Wilkinson Report, and specifically acknowledge and apologise for its own collegiate shortcomings within the scrutiny process;

That this Synod apologise to all members of the former Independent Safeguarding Board for the stress harm and professional embarrassment they have endured which have arisen as a result of the ISB formation, structuring, resourcing, implementation, and management for which they were not responsible.

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