Friday, 30 Oct 2020

Church of England ‘failed to protect children from sexual predators’ for decades

The Church of England put its own reputation ahead of protecting children from sexual predators as it created a culture where sick abusers “could hide”, a bombshell report has claimed.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse report found that the Church failed to respond to vulnerable victims and survivors of horrific abuse – often adding to their trauma.

It added that alleged perpetrators were more often given support than the abused.

The Church was accused of being “in direct conflict” with its moral purpose of providing “care and love for the innocent and vulnerable”.

In failing to act on serious allegations of sexual assault, the church neglected the “physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing” and created a culture where predators could “hide”.

The report was part of an ongoing investigation into the Church of Eland and the Church of Wales protection of children from sexual abuse.

In the latest publication, it was found that: “The culture of the Church of England facilitated it becoming a place where abusers could hide.

“Deference to the authority of the Church and to individual priests, taboos surrounding discussion of sexuality and an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims presented barriers to disclosure that many victims could not overcome.

“In the context of child sexual abuse, the Church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and the vulnerable.”

In the past year there were 2,504 safeguarding concerns reported to diocese about children and vulnerable adults, and 449 concerns about recent child sexual abuse.

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The report added: “The Church has failed to respond consistently to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse with sympathy and compassion, accompanied by practical and appropriate support.

“This has often added to the trauma already suffered by those who were abused by individuals associated with the Church.”

The IICSA said that many members of the church regard forgiveness “as the appropriate response to any admission of wrongdoing”.

And it was found that “many allegations were retained internally by the Church, rather than being immediately reported to external authorities.”

Until as recently as 2015, the Church failed to properly fund safeguarding, and advice given by safeguarding staff was often overlooked or ignored in favour of protecting the Church's reputation.

The report states: “Power was vested chiefly in the clergy, without accountability to external or independent agencies or individuals. A culture of clericalism existed in which the moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach.

“They benefited from deferential treatment so that their conduct was not questioned, enabling some to abuse children and vulnerable adults.

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“…Within the Church, there was disproportionate loyalty to members of one's own 'tribe'. This extended inappropriately to safeguarding practice, with the protection of some accused of child sexual abuse.

“Perpetrators were defended by their peers, who also sought to reintegrate them into Church life without consideration of the welfare or protection of children.”

The report suggested that pubic support was often given to the offending clergy and reports of abuse were often “dismissed without investigation”.

Citing the example of former bishop Peter Ball, it said: “Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, simply could not believe the allegations against Ball or acknowledge the seriousness of them regardless of evidence, and was outspoken in his support of his bishop. He seemingly wanted the whole business to go away.”

In an open letter ahead of the report publication, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York apologised to survivors of abuse, saying they were “truly sorry for the shameful way the Church has acted” against those who have suffered.

And Bishop of Huddersfield, Jonathan Gibbs, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, and Melissa Caslake the Church’s national director of safeguarding, further apologised following the report.

In a statement they said: “The report makes shocking reading and while apologies will never take away the effects of abuse on victims and survivors, we today want to express our shame about the events that have made those apologies necessary. The whole Church must learn lessons from this Inquiry.

“Our main focus in response must be recognising the distress caused to victims and survivors by the Church’s failures in safeguarding. We wholeheartedly endorse the importance of the report’s recommendations for improving our support for victims and survivors, to which we are completely committed.”

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