In May 2007, the House of Bishops recognised the need for a review of past cases of child abuse. This followed court appearances by several clergy and church officers, charged with sexual offences against children. What became known as the Past Cases Review 2007-2009 (PCR) was intended to ensure that any risks to children were identified, support provided to survivors and lessons learned.
In 2016 concerns were expressed about just how well it had been conducted and an independent assessment was undertaken. This found the Past Cases Review to be well motivated and thoughtfully planned given the limited resources available at the time. However, there were limitations in relation to its execution and recommendations were made to address these shortcomings. They were accepted by the Archbishop’s Council and in 2019 a Past Cases Review 2 (known as PCR2) was designed to help dioceses take a proactive approach to identifying cases of concern and to evaluate safeguarding responses.
The aim of PCR2 is to ensure that any file that could contain information regarding a concern, allegation or conviction in relation to abusive behaviour by a living member of the clergy or church officer, (whether still in that position or not) will have been identified, read and analysed by independent safeguarding professionals.
At the completion of the review it will be possible to state that:
• all safeguarding cases have been appropriately managed and reported to statutory agencies or the police where appropriate
• that the needs of any known victims have been considered and that sources of support have been identified and offered where this is appropriate
• that all identified risks have been assessed and mitigated as far as is reasonably possible.
The October National Safeguarding Panel meeting considered PCR2 with the main focus on how its outcomes will be used to improve safeguarding in the Church. We welcomed members of the Project Management Board and members of the National Safeguarding Team to discuss the project.
The Panel were told that there is a standard format for reporting which aims to ensure the objectives are met across all dioceses.
Panel members had previously raised the issue of deceased clergy, particularly with a focus on understanding where there may have been links between offenders. It was explained that the terms of reference did not include review of deceased clergy files. A compromise has been reached that, if an independent reviewer finds a link from a living Church officer to a deceased one, then the reviewer can investigate in as much detail as needed to resolve the matter. It was accepted that this falls short of what a number of survivors have requested. It was however noted that a review of deceased clergy files was completed in 2015 and links to current clergy and Church officers should have been identified then.
The Panel were keen to know whether referrals are being made to statutory agencies. We were reassured that the process is designed to identify where appropriate referrals to statutory authorities have not been made. The case would be referred now if necessary.
Questions were asked about the needs of victims and the Panel were told that the work of independent reviewers is being checked. Each diocese should have a survivor engagement strategy and this should be monitored to ensure there must be clear reasons if there has not been significant survivor input. Victims should have their needs assessed and action taken to meet those needs.
There was concern as to whether the process will be carried out in a consistent way across all dioceses. The development of common minimum standards is designed to address this concern.
The Panel were keen to learn about the work in relation to adult victims. We were told that the new reporting template is designed to identify types of abuse and that this is already helping to identify the incidence of specific types of abuse such as domestic abuse.
The Panel asked whether the reports will also highlight discrimination, for example on the grounds of race or gender. The intention of PCR2 is to encourage independent reviewers to give subjective as well as objective evidence within their reports. There should be opportunities for in-depth analysis of victim trends from the data gathering. This will be used to inform preventive work in the future.
The Panel were reassured that there are no concerns with the Dioceses which had been previously designated as inadequate. There have been considerable changes in personnel and governance since the first review.
The Panel was keen to understand how the knowledge gained from PCR2 would be considered alongside the recommendations from reviews about individual cases. Both processes are managed within the same section of the National Safeguarding Team. The intention is to identify key issues and priorities across all reviews and external audits. Panel members also asked how the this would be disseminated and whether there is sufficient communication about the purpose and process of PCR2 both within and outside the church. We were told that there will be a communications strategy to disseminate the information that has been gathered. Local reports should highlight the situation in individual Diocese, which should include notes on improvements needed and how they will be actioned.
The Panel stressed that PCR2 must show that the Church is trying to uncover, in a thorough way, all issues of concern. There is a need to give clear simple messages on outcomes, to be honest about any limitations on change and to set out all the proposed actions. It was noted that the Methodist Church produced 10 key themes from their PCR process and this might be an option to consider.
We noted that when the report is published there will be links to helplines locally and nationally to support survivors affected by the report. The new project providing support to victims, Safe Spaces will also be ready to respond. It was noted that the expected completion of the project has been delayed due to the pandemic. The Panel will be kept updated on the progress of PCR2.
The Panel supports the need for openness and honesty regarding the findings and limitations of the process. It concluded the following:
- It is essential that all dioceses use the new template for final reports to promote comparison and the spread of best practice across all dioceses and church contexts.
- The PCR2 findings should be shared with other denominations and learning drawn from work by other Churches of a similar nature.
- There must be a clear survivor strategy to ensure support is available when outcomes are published.
- The Panel wishes to record continued concern that the deceased clergy issue is unresolved.
- The Panel hopes that a PCR3 will never be needed. However, there must be ongoing audit processes in place to accord with the IICSA recommendations.