Last week the BBC screened two programmes about sexual abuse in the Church of England, focusing first on the former bishop, Peter Ball, and then on other abusers. The programmes outlined not only the abuse, but also the failures by some in authority to report relevant information which effectively protected the abusers.
The documentary exposed the devastating and lifelong impact of abuse. I think those who spoke out, showed incredible bravery. The failure to stop Peter Ball and other abusers, coupled with the lack of action by those in responsible positions to bring them to justice only compounded the hurt and damage. Not fully co-operating with the police by high ranking clergy, including a former Archbishop, is truly shocking. However difficult it may have been to believe that a bishop could do these things, basic human decency should have dictated some response and care. The excuses proffered are simply unacceptable. Those who failed victims should consider their position.
Since my appointment as Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel I have seen many of the Church leadership work hard to improve the culture and practice. There is investment in safeguarding resources and a comprehensive training programme is in place. These are necessary but not sufficient. Within the Church structure each diocese is effectively a fiefdom and significant power rests with diocesan Bishops. Last year one diocese refused to share safeguarding information with another diocese. It took a number of months to resolve the issue, possibly exposing people to risk.
The Church has to recognise that those in power have to be held to account for how they exercise that power. The greater the power, the greater should be the accountability. Bishops must be answerable for their actions at the time and not twenty years later when retired or dead. The Church will not be a safer place until there is transparency and accountability throughout all of its structures.
The Church Times published an article after the programmes including comments from me. https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/17-january/news/uk/bishops-shamed-by-bbc-documentary