On 6 October 2020 the much awaited report detailing the outcome of IICSA’s investigations into whether the Church of England and the Church in Wales had protected children from sexual abuse in the past and the effectiveness of current safeguarding arrangements was published.
The report found that the Church of England had failed to protect children and young people from sexual predators within their ranks.
It was noted that from the 1940s to 2018, 390 clergy or people in positions of trust associated with the Church have been convicted of sexual offences against children.
IICSA said that its investigations demonstrated the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures by or about children or to refer allegations to the statutory authorities creating a culture where abusers could hide.
Deference to the authority of the Church and to individual priests lead to an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims and created barriers for victims trying to report their abuse, which they could not overcome.
IICSA was also of the view that there was a perception in the Church that the moral authority of the clergy was beyond reproach and this was another factor that contributed to the Church failing to protect children from sexual abuse.
The Church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was according to IICSA “…in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and the vulnerable”.
IICSA was clear that cultural change was essential in the Church and that it will take more than platitudes to make it clear that child sexual abuse will not be tolerated within the Church and confirm how important it is to have appropriate safeguarding in place in all Church settings.
IICSA said that the Church of England had not properly resourced safeguarding in the past though IICSA accepted that increased funding had been provided for safeguarding since 2015 onwards, which had led to increased numbers of safeguarding staff.
While recent changes now mean that the advice of safeguarding staff should not be ignored by senior clergy if they do not like the advice they are given, IICSA said examples of this were still evident in the file sampling it undertook for the purposes of this investigation.
The report is clear that diocesan safeguarding officers – not clergy – are best placed to decide which cases to refer to the statutory authorities, and what action should be taken by the Church to keep children safe. While IICSA accepted that Diocesan bishops play an important role in safeguarding, in its view they should not hold operational responsibility for safeguarding. IICSA went on to say that while the Church has made recent proposals to integrate safeguarding in cathedrals into the mainstream of the Church’s safeguarding structures, it noted that there is much that needs to be done in this sphere to ensure better protection of children in cathedrals and their linked choir schools.
The failure by the Church to consistently exhibit sympathy and compassion when dealing with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse coupled with a failure to provide practical and appropriate support has, according to IICSA, often compounded the trauma suffered by those who were abused by the clergy or those in positions of trust associated with the Church. In its report IICSA referred to the fact that Archbishop Justin Welby himself accepts that this failure is “profoundly and deeply shocking”.
IICSA found that on occasion excessive attention was often paid to the circumstances of the alleged perpetrator in comparison to the attention given to those who disclosed that they had been sexually abused. Sexual offending was minimised and public support was given to offending clergy regardless of the evidence that was to hand.
IICSA acknowledged that while the Church has made some improvements in how it protects children, there is still a distance to be travelled before it gains the trust of victims and survivors, which has not been assisted by the fact that actions taken to deal with past failure, like the 2009 Past Cases review were flawed and inadequate.
In its commentary on the Church in Wales IICSA noted that in recent times a number of clergy have been deposed from holy orders following convictions for sexual assaults on children, or for offences concerning indecent images of children, although no precise data are available. It observed that each parish should have a safeguarding officer. The findings of a Historic Case Review that was published in 2012 established the need to improve existing safeguarding policies in the Church in Wales and following a further review in 2016 a new safeguarding policy was adopted. It was a finding of IICSA that to date the Church in Wales has never had an external audit of its safeguarding practices and so there has been no independent review of those practices.
As in the case of the Church of England IICSA is of the view that there is still room for improvement particularly in the area of record-keeping, which was found to be almost non-existent. IICSA said that the Provincial Safeguarding officers who operate in the Church in Wales lack the capacity to fulfil the wide range of tasks assigned to them and need additional support. The obligation to comply with advice from the Provincial Safeguarding Panel in Wales must be reinforced, and reviewed in terms of compliance. However, IICSA noted that since the public hearings have concluded, the Church in Wales has proposed to introduce a new disciplinary heading of “failure to comply with advice from the Provincial Safeguarding Panel without reasonable excuse” and it is hoped that this will encourage better adherence to safeguarding.
IICSA’s report on the Anglican Church set out eight recommendations addressed to both the Church of England and the Church in Wales, including a recommendation that both Churches fund mandatory support for victims and survivors that takes into account their needs throughout their life.
The findings and recommendations of this report are mirrored in the IICSA report published on 10 November 2020 following its investigations into the Catholic Church in England and Wales. In its report on the Catholic Church IICSA found that the Catholic Church had prioritised its reputation over the welfare of vulnerable children for decades.
In a series of blogs over the coming week we will compare and contrast IICSA’s treatment of common themes in both reports and comment on the final conclusion and recommendations made by IICSA in respect of both the Anglican and Catholic Church in England and Wales.