IICSA, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and safeguarding

As noted in our blogs last week on 12 November and 13 November, this week we are looking in more detail at some of the topics which IICSA has covered in its Anglican and Roman Catholic reports. Although the reports refer to some progress by both the Anglican church and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Inquiry concludes that there is still significant need for improvement in safeguarding in each.  Several common themes arise in the reports which are explored here.


Anglican – The Church of England

There are national and diocesan safeguarding structures in place.  The national safeguarding structures include an advisory panel made up of external experts, a steering group which provides strategic oversight, and a national safeguarding team (NST) which provides advice and support about policy, training and casework. Within each diocese there is the designated safeguarding adviser, advisory panel and diocesan bishop. 

Despite all the above, the Inquiry found that the church has struggled to develop a model for effective safeguarding within its organisational structure.  It concluded that the church has not resolved the need for safeguarding to function at a diocesan level, with sufficient accountability to and oversight from the NST to ensure a consistency of decision making. 

There remained a potential conflict of interest between a bishop’s pastoral responsibility towards their clergy and the responsibility of ensuring good safeguarding and disciplinary practice. The Inquiry agreed with the church’s suggestion that Designated Safeguarding Advisers should become Diocesan Safeguarding Officers which would mean they make safeguarding decision based tasks such as risk assessments, suspension and reports to statutory agencies without the approval of the bishop.  It also recommended the introduction of a national body to appoint and manage safeguarding officers to increase their independence. 

Anglican – the Church in Wales

The governing body of the Church in Wales, which is the policy making body and supreme legislature of the church, is made up of the Bench of Bishops (six diocesan bishops, 51 representatives from the clergy and 86 lay representatives.)  One member of the Bench of Bishops has specific responsibility for safeguarding.  Each parish has a safeguarding officer and the Church in Wales has a full time safeguarding manager and two part time provincial safeguarding offices.  There is also a safeguarding panel which meets every six weeks.  All safeguarding cases are referred to the panel with reports prepared for the provincial safeguarding officers. 

The Inquiry commended the use of the safeguarding panel and concluded that there were not enough provincial safeguarding officers to meet the demands of the role and that greater resources in funding and personnel are required.

The Catholic Church

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church includes a bishop in each diocese and major superiors in the religious institutes, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC), the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) and  Archbishop Vincent Nichols who acts as a figurehead. The NSCS sets the church’s strategic direction and monitors compliance with safeguarding standards and the CSAS is responsible for driving and supporting improvements in practice.

The Inquiry found that the leadership has too often focussed on child protection structures and processes and there is insufficient focus on the substance of its response.  They say the delays in implementing major change suggest that the leadership has not prioritised aspects of safeguarding.  The absence of a dedicated safeguarding lead within the Bishop’s Conference may be a contributing factor to this.  The Inquiry found that Church leaders need to do more to encourage and embed a culture of safeguarding throughout the entire Church.


Anglican – The Church of England

The safeguarding polices, practice guidance and training framework have undergone comprehensive revision since 2015.  The Inquiry found there are still improvements to be made to the development of these and to practice. There remains a number of concerns including that clergy should be required to comply with safeguarding guidance rather than have “due regard” to it under the current wording.  The guidance also requires clarity regarding timescales, the survivor’s ability to speak directly and alone with safeguarding officers and advising that conflicts of interest are to be avoided.   The Inquiry also found that the volume of guidance has created some confusion and should be rationalised into one simple accessible set of procedures.

Anglican – the Church in Wales

The Church’s first safeguarding policy was developed in 2000.  In 2009 it was agreed the content was insufficient and an independent consultant was commissioned in 2014 to prepare the new safeguarding policy which was published in 2016 and is reviewed annually.  It was noted there are no information-sharing protocols in place with the police or social services and the Inquiry made a recommendation to implement this. 

The Catholic Church

The church introduced the One Church approach following the Nolan report in 2001.  It is a single set of polices, principles and practices.  Whilst the Inquiry heard no evidence to suggest the policies were deficient or inadequate two problems emerged.  Firstly, the CSAS website and wording of policies and procedures were sometimes difficult to follow so the website requires review.  Secondly the evidence in case studies and the results of CSAS audits suggest compliance is inconsistent.  While the NCSC is tasked to monitor compliance it has no enforcement powers to ensure compliance.

Audits and compliance

Anglican – The Church of England

In May 2015 the church commissioned the Social Care Institute for Excellence to deliver a national programme of diocesan safeguarding audits.  A report of its findings were published in 2019 and concluded there had been a major improvement since 2015.  However, there were a series of systemic underlying vulnerabilities as diocesan bishops were largely autonomous so could overrule the decisions of their advisors.  In addition survey of survivors found that the overwhelming majority were dissatisfied with the church’s response in terms of time and quality. 

The Inquiry acknowledged that the church’s programme of external audits has provided a valuable source of independent scrutiny of its safeguarding policies and procedures as well as its practice on the ground.  The Inquiry states the church would also benefit from a programme of regular internal progress reviews. 

Anglican – the Church in Wales

The church does not presently have a system of auditing safeguarding actions.  The Inquiry found that regular external auditing would be useful and the church has indicated it is investigating the commission of an external provider to audit policies, procedures and case work on a regular basis.

The Catholic Church

Auditing of the diocesan safeguarding commission by CSAS was introduced in 2006 and there have been three further rounds of audits since then.  The most recent audits in 2019 identified a number of commissions did not review safeguarding plans in accordance with national policy.  There was also insufficient evidence of liaison with safeguarding commissions and a wide variation in standards of recording.  Poor recording standards were particularly apparent in religious institutes.  In some dioceses there was evidence that safeguarding files had not been reviewed.  There is currently no independent assessment or evaluation of CSAS’ audit programme and the Inquiry recommends this is put in place that such independent audit reports should be published. 

Engaging with victims and survivors

Anglican – Church of England

The Social Care Institute for Excellence concluded in July 2019 that the church does not attach adequate value to the contributions of survivors and often reacts defensively to evidence of safeguarding failures which inhibits growth of an open and transparent learning environment.  It also concluded that church processes do not support a survivor centred approach. The Inquiry comments the church has been slow to find ways to engage effectively with victims and survivors or to learn from their experiences.

The Inquiry also found that The Safe Spaces project, which was first proposed six years ago as an online resource and national helpline for survivors in partnership with the Catholic Church has taken too long to implement.

The Inquiry recommended the introduction of a church-wide policy on the funding and provision of support to survivors which should set out the circumstances in which different types of support, including counselling, should be offered and timescales for the same.   

Anglican – the Church in Wales

Any survivors should be automatically referred to provincial safeguarding officers who are responsible for reporting to statutory authorities where required.  During the investigation it was found that although the policy states survivors are to be offered support immediately, including counselling if required, examples of counselling were few and far between.  After the third public hearing the church entered an agreement with New Pathways to provide access to specialist advisers from January 2020. 

As in the Church of England the Inquiry recommended the introduction of a church-wide policy on the funding and provision of support to survivors which should set out the circumstances in which different types of support, including counselling, should be offered and timescales for the same. 

The Catholic Church

The Inquiry concluded that the experiences of some survivors demonstrate ongoing failings by parts of the church to respond promptly and properly to their inquiries, concerns and complaints.  There was also evidence that on too many occasions the response to survivors had insufficient focus on their needs.  Safeguarding coordinators are responsible for meeting the needs of the survivor and bishops and religious leaders provide pastoral support for the accused. However it was found that there was an imbalance in the support offered to survivors, which was in some cases entirely absent in stark contrast to the extremely comprehensive support offered to alleged perpetrators.  It concludes that there remains a lack of focus on the needs of the survivors.

Seal of the confessional

Anglican – The Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York both advocated a Church of England internal policy of mandatory reporting.  The Inquiry heard powerful evidence that the seal of the confessional should be removed in cases of child sexual offending.  Whilst there has been considerable discussion of this topic within the church, it cannot agree internally. 

Anglican – the Church in Wales

The ministerial guidelines state that where abuse of children is admitted in the context of confession, the priest should urge the person to report their behaviour to police or social services and should make this a condition of absolution.  It also states that in exceptional circumstances there may be an overriding duty to break confidence, especially where the safety of children is involved.  Archbishop Davies accepted that the ministerial guidelines about the need of clergy to refer matters to safeguarding officers (even if this information is given under the seal of the confessional) are “unsatisfactory and insufficiently clear”.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church maintains that a law which required the clergy to break the seal would cause fundamental conflict with the sanctity of the confessional.

The Inquiry will return to this issue in its final report along with considering further redress and accountability.  In the meantime all churches have actions to take to improve their safeguarding offerings and they will be expected to report to IICSA within six months what steps have been taken to implement the recommendations.

Written by Catherine Davey, Associate at BLM catherine.davey@blmlaw.com

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