Archbishops and Bishops

The National Safeguarding Panel invited both Archbishops to answer questions on safeguarding. They attended our December meeting via Zoom for around an hour each. Below is a summary of the key areas of the discussions.


The first question was ‘what they thought had gone well with safeguarding?’ – which wrong footed both Archbishops. Within the Church of England there is concern about its very real failings, so this was an unexpected question. Stephen Cottrell reflected that in his first year of ordination disclosures of abuse were made to him, and he had had no relevant training of what to do. Fortunately, there was help available in the parish so that they could be dealt with properly.  But that was luck not judgement. Now training is in place with expert advice available to every priest and parish.

Safeguarding is also better understood, and embedded as a core value of the Church. Justin Welby said he was reluctant to say that anything had gone well, but acknowledged the significant additional resources now being invested. He sees a wider acceptance of a zero-tolerance approach, especially with new clergy, and also audit and scrutiny processes.

There is an understandable focus on past failings, and a recognition that much remains to be done. But failing to recognise progress denies the efforts of many who have worked hard to achieve change, including survivors, safeguarding staff and clergy.

Accountability and cultural change

A number of questions were linked to the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). First, we discussed issues of accountability and responsibility. Both Archbishops are supportive of greater independence in safeguarding and this has been agreed in principle.

Stephen Cottrell said that everybody must be accountable, including bishops, and safeguarding must be integral to Church activity. Bishops must retain responsibility for safeguarding in dioceses but it should be subject to independent scrutiny and audit. He did not have a clear picture of what independence would be like. What is clear, is the need for cultural change, with victims and survivors embedded in the process.

Justin Welby responded that safeguarding must be at the core of pastoral care, and where there is failure the bishop is responsible. Safeguarding work must be financed by the Church, which creates a difficulty in achieving full independence, but he believes it is solvable. He recognises that it is a challenge achieving national compliance in a diverse Church, but there must be clarity about what happens when something goes seriously wrong. The Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor needs to be on the senior management team to influence culture and thinking on all matters. These posts must be embedded in the structure of dioceses. In summary there must be independence in decision-making but local influence and resourcing. Panel members pushed for extensive consultation on proposals for independent oversight.

Justin Welby spoke of the need to take action, small and large, to challenge the culture of deference. This should include dropping the trappings of power and ensuring transparency so that there is greater accountability through reporting publicly. Stephen Cottrell spoke of trying to get off the pedestal of power and look from other perspectives – personally driving a new vision of what a Christian community really looks like. Safeguarding is of the gospel. He expressed concerns about an unhealthy culture, it is important to hold a mirror up to see it as others do.  

Panel members asked the archbishops about attitudes to homosexuality in the church and the link to safeguarding issues, something highlighted in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report. Stephen Cottrell said the Church had failed to acknowledge links between safeguarding and human sexuality, they must be part of the same conversation, especially over cultures of secrecy. There is a lack of healthy conversation, and a need to make clear what is wrong with prejudice and diversity-based hatred.

The Church is working towards getting rid of secrecy and encouraging openness. Justin Welby said that the Living in Love and Faith project is the Church’s response. There will be a huge consultation. The Church is dealing with societal matters and has a role to change people’s thinking on diversity. It is a process of spirituality and teaching but there must be allowance for free speech or it drives dangerous views underground. If there is active prejudicial behaviour it must be subject of discipline.

Responding well

Both Archbishops recognised the need for significant improvements in responding to victims and survivors. Stephen Cottrell spoke of the need for more humanity, a need to react appropriately at the start of the process, avoid the abused person being the complainant, give them support from the Church. There is a need for training, particularly in talking to survivors.

Concerns about the Clergy Discipline Measure were accepted by both Archbishops with support for work that is currently being undertaken to revise how it is used in safeguarding matters.


The National Safeguarding Panel has raised the importance of prevention in a number of its previous sessions. The Archbishops believe that progress has been made, younger clergy are showing different responses and that safeguarding is becoming better embedded. There is greater awareness now of safeguarding risks and control measures. Panel members advocated the use of reflective supervision for all clergy.

Justin Welby spoke of the importance of the Church improving awareness through youth work with well trained staff. The Church needs to set a good example and be seen as a place of safety and refuge. There will always be sinful people – the Church must ensure they have no access to commit sin. There may be system failures, but control measures must be in place to minimise harm.


The Archbishops supported the need for redress in all its forms, not just through money but through addressing the range of needs that survivors have. They were keen to see this happen quickly, recognising that the Church moves too slowly. There can be no hint of protectionism, no Non-Disclosure Agreements or gagging orders. Funding for redress must be found and it must be run independently with transparency and no consideration of protection of reputation.

Panel reflections

There is a tension in how to achieve independence and retain accountability. While the Archbishops have contrasting styles there are no conflicts of opinion. They both demonstrated real concern about safeguarding in the Church and a commitment to improvement with significant changes. As Archbishops they have less contact with the detail of safeguarding at the front line, and we questioned whether there are ways in which they can influence safeguarding beyond being spiritual leaders. What should they be doing to ensure that safeguarding is at the heart of Church for all bishops?

The Panel also reflected that it is important to consider our role in helping address the issues deriving from IICSA recommendations. We will be considering whether there are ways in which we can support the sharing of good practice as it develops.

House of Bishops

In December I also attended the House of Bishops for their session on safeguarding.

The first part of the session focused on addressing matters arising from the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). I then reported on the work of the National Safeguarding Panel identifying the need to look beyond structural change to address some of the themes in IICSA’s report alongside issues raised at Panel meetings. These included the importance of cultural change, the need for greater transparency and accountability and the need to focus more on prevention. 

After my presentation a discussion took place. This included the importance of accountability, tackling deference and thinking more about respect than deference. There was support for supervision for clergy to enable them to reflect regularly on their work.  Some examples of good practice were given such as clergy reading books on safeguarding as part of their leadership meetings.

This was a welcome discussion. I am concerned that in seeking to address structural issues, the responsibility of everyone to address safeguarding issues could be lost. This discussion demonstrated that there is much that everyone can and should do to change the culture and put safeguarding at the heart of the church.