Last week the Independent Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) produced its investigation report into the Anglican Church, which covers the Church of England and the Church of Wales. It is 170 pages long, with the conclusions running to 7 pages. There are eight recommendations of which two are solely for the Church of England, two solely for the Church of Wales and the remaining four for both churches.
This report details a thorough investigation. It is shocking and should be required reading for all who hold office in the Church. The callous indifference to so many victims and survivors, coupled with actions to protect the reputation of the church and individual perpetrators, tells of an organisation that dramatically failed to live out the values it professes.
Public apologies are important, and senior figures within the Church have made such public statements over the last week. That is the easy part.
In early 2019 I gave my first interview as the new Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel to the Church Times. I said “The Church can never again be trusted to protect children and adults under its care from abuse — not unless it relinquishes, at all levels, the unquestioned deference that comes with power, accepts accountability, and has the policies in place to reduce the likelihood of abuse.”
After two years in post I have seen a great deal being done in relation to improving policies. But little has been done to tackle deference, and to make those holding power accountable.
IICSA’s report identifies five concerns regarding the culture of the church – clericalism, tribalism, naivety, reputation and sexuality. It recognises that work is ongoing to address these and that further steps are planned but says that significant further work must be done.
The report’s recommendations solely for the Church of England concern changes to the structure of safeguarding and the Clergy Discipline Measure. It recommends changes to the structure of safeguarding such that only safeguarding professionals should make safeguarding decisions. Other recommendations include improved information sharing, better support for victims and survivors and regular auditing of safeguarding. These are all important issues, and if accepted and implemented, they will lead to improvements in the Church’s safeguarding. There are also conclusions that don’t lead to specific recommendations, such as how victims and survivors are compensated and the training and development of clergy.
However, it will not be sufficient to just change the rules. Profound change will not be established until there is complete acceptance across the whole of the church that striving for a safe church is at the heart of its mission. Consequently, the current structure which sustains unaccountable and powerful clergy must change. Without this, the Church will continue to have dangerous places for children and adults as I described in my interview nearly two years ago. There may never be a better opportunity for those with responsibility and influence to step up to this challenge. It will mean tackling long and dearly held principles, something some might not want to do. But not doing so will lead to more lives devastated, and more damage to the reputation of the church. Is this generation of church leaders prepared to accept that?