Church of England failures 'allowed child sexual abusers to hide'

IICSA Image - The inquiry's chair, Prof Alexis Jay, also led investigations into child abuse in Rotherham


The Church of England failed to protect children from sexual abuse, and created a culture where abusers "could hide", a report has concluded.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse's report says the Church's failure to respond consistently to abuse victims added to their trauma.

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

The Church said it felt "shame" over the failings detailed in the "shocking" report.


Church 'protected its reputation'

The report, which is the latest in a series of publications from the IICSA, said 390 clergy members and other church leaders were convicted of abuse between the 1940s and 2018.

The Church defended alleged perpetrators instead of protecting children and young people from sexual predators, the report added.

It cited the example of the late cathedral dean, Robert Waddington, about whom serious allegations were made in 1999. The then Archbishop of York said there was "simply no possibility" of the claims being correct.

It also cited Reverend Ian Hughes, from Merseyside, who was convicted in 2014 for downloading 8,000 indecent images of children. His offending was played down by a senior colleague.

The report also found examples of clergymen being ordained despite a history of child sexual offences.

The inquiry said the Church did not take allegations seriously and neglected the "physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation" - which was in direct conflict with its mission "of love and care for the innocent and the vulnerable".

In 2018 there were 2,504 safeguarding concerns reported to dioceses in England about either children or vulnerable adults.

The IICSA's report is based on the inquiry's public hearings held in July 2019, and investigated safeguarding issues in the Church of England and the Church in Wales - each of which sit within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The inquiry's chairwoman, Prof Alexis Jay, said: "Over many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome.

"Within the Church in Wales, there were simply not enough safeguarding officers to carry out the volume of work required of them. Record-keeping was found to be almost non-existent and of little use in trying to understand past safeguarding issues."

The report conceded there had been "a number of important improvements" in child protection practices in the Church of England in recent years, but Prof Jay added it was "vital" that the Church improved how it responded to allegations of child sexual abuse.

One victim of abuse, who says he was raped by a clergyman in London more than 40 years ago, told the BBC it would take "courage" from the Church and its leaders to "salvage itself and redeem itself".

Gilo - who asked us not to use his surname - previously told the BBC he had made more than 20 attempts to contact senior members of the Church after his decision to report the assaults, but often received no reply. The Church eventually agreed it was at fault and reached a financial settlement with him.

On Tuesday, Gilo said many survivors still felt a "tremendous sense of anger and lack of trust" in the Church.

Gilo, whose abuser has since died, said he believed the Church's recently-appointed lead safeguarding bishop, Reverend Dr Jonathan Gibbs, was keen to make a difference - but that "there needs to be a real turnaround" in the Church's culture.

"Once survivors see real help, and real support beginning to reach them from a Church that has mouthed support for a long time but not delivered it... there could be a turning point."


Analysis

By Callum May, BBC News

The explicit moral purpose of the Church is to teach right from wrong, this inquiry states in its conclusions. It failed and it is still failing.

In 2018, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 449 concerns raised about recent child sexual abuse. A significant number of these involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said they will not make excuses, and offer their sincere and heartfelt apologies. The Church of England, they say, is ready to support anyone who comes forward and will honour its commitment to change.

The independent inquiry's recommendations are likely to be endorsed in full by the House of Bishops, and put to its governing General Synod in November.

This will probably lead to an extension of a pilot support scheme for a small number of survivors who are already receiving financial help.

But survivors' groups say the inquiry's findings represent only the tip of an iceberg. Today's findings will prove a heavy cost for the Church.


Home Secretary Priti Patel praised the strength and courage of victims and survivors and pledged to review the report before considering how to respond "in due course".

The report made several recommendations, including:
  • the Church of England should improve how it responds to safeguarding complaints - by, for example, reintroducing a rule to expel any member of the clergy found guilty of child sexual abuse offences
  • responsibility for safeguarding should be taken out of the hands of diocesan bishops and given to safeguarding officers employed by the central hierarchy of the Church
  • the Church of England and Church in Wales should share information about clergy who move between the two institutions
  • both Churches should introduce policies for funding and support of survivors of child sexual abuse whose perpetrators had a connection to the Church



Prof Jay said she hoped the report and its recommendations would help to "ensure these failures never happen again".

The Church of England said the report "makes shocking reading" and that the entire institution "must learn lessons from this inquiry".

"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," said Dr Gibbs, the Church's lead safeguarding bishop, and Melissa Caslake, the Church's national director of safeguarding.

In a joint statement, the pair said there had been some improvements to safeguarding in the Church in recent years, but added: "We wholeheartedly regret that in some areas, most importantly support for victims and survivors, progress has been too slow."

They said the Church endorsed and was "completely committed" to the report's recommendations for improving such support.


What is the child sexual abuse inquiry?

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales is investigating claims against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions - as well as people in the public eye.

Following the death of BBC presenter Jimmy Savile in 2011, hundreds of people came forward to say he had abused them as children.

The spotlight has also fallen on sexual assaults carried out in schools, children's homes and at NHS sites.

At the same time, there have been claims of past failures by police and prosecutors to properly investigate allegations.

The IICSA was established in 2015, with the then Home Secretary Theresa May saying it would "expose those failures and learn the lessons" from the past.

In 2018 the inquiry published an interim report with 18 recommendations - some of which have been acted upon. Its other regular publications include overarching investigation reports and statistics.



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