Child sex abuse in the Church: alliance demands full inquiry

Anglican and Catholic churches have lost the right to police themselves, say victims

Survivors of childhood abuse by members of the Anglican and Catholic churches have called on the government to conduct a full independent inquiry which would force religious institutions to disclose any files they have on clergy who have been accused of sexual exploitation.

It is the first time abuse victims have joined forces with lawyers, charities and child safeguarding specialists to launch a dedicated national campaign demanding such an inquiry.

Members of the newly formed Stop Church Child Abuse campaign argue that both the Anglican and Catholic churches have “lost the right to police themselves” following a long history of covering up abuse claims.

They also say safeguards which were put in place following a string of sex abuse scandals in the late 1990s are not strong enough to reinstate trust in the institutions. 

Both churches have countered that their current safeguards are some of the strongest in the world and have been used as a blueprint by other religious organisations following abuse scandals.

Yesterday a coalition of survivor groups – including the Minister and Sexual Abuse Survivors (Macsas), the Lantern Project, Survivors Voice Europe and the National Association of People Abused in Childhood – collectively argued that only an independent inquiry can assess the full extent of abuse within organisations run by the Anglican and Catholic churches.

They point to the fact that governments in Ireland, Australia, the Netherlands and Canada have all ordered some form of independent review which helped shed further light on abuse and cover-ups that were not uncovered by the church’s own investigations.

Both the Anglican and Catholic churches insist that the vast majority of abuse allegations are historical and have now been effectively tackled.

But a string of recent convictions and renewed scandals have reinvigorated demands to hand over investigation of abuse claims to an entirely independent body.

There is also widespread anger that both churches have vigorously resisted attempts by victims to seek compensation in the courts.

Richard Scorer, a Manchester based lawyer who has fought on behalf of abuse victims for the past 15 years, said yesterday: “The one thing I’ve learned on these is that the churches only act on the issue of child abuse when they face external pressure. There is no internal momentum within the churches to deal with this issue.”

Within the Anglican community a string of historical abuse scandals centred around the Diocese of Chichester has continued to blight efforts by senior leaders to assure the public that they have learned from the abuses of the past. A report which was commissioned following the conviction of a serial sex offending priest has never seen the light of day whilst a second report by Baroness Butler-Sloss found that senior clergy, including bishops, showed “a lack of understanding about the seriousness of historic child abuse”.

The Catholic Church has also seen new abuse scandals spring up. In the past five years Downside, Ealing and Buckfast Abbey have all seen monks or employees jailed after admitting sexual molestation charges in the past five years.

Earlier this year Father Richard White, a monk from Downside, was jailed for sexually assaulting school boys in allegations that stemmed back to the 1980s.  He was removed from teaching when the allegations first surfaced but was not prosecuted.

Lucy Duckworth, from NAPAC, explained why she believed child safety in schools is still not taken seriously enough. All schools, including ones run by churches, are advised to report any abuse allegations to the local authorities. Yet they are under no statutory obligations to do so. “Technically it is not against the law to not report a rape,” she said. “If a headmaster is aware that a priest has raped a child within their school they legally do not have to do anything else about it. The public don’t really know this.”

To highlight discrepancies in child protection policies, she has polled a random sample of 39 faith schools around the country and found that only one said it would automatically report all abuse allegations.

“We’re told time and time again by the church that they are taking all possible measures to prevent historical abuse ever repeating itself again,” she said. “What we have found is that this is simply not true.”

Both the Catholic and Anglican churches defended their safeguarding record.

Danny Sullivan, chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, said that the church “deeply regrets [the] hurt and damage” caused by abuse and “remains committed to working as effectively as it can with victims and survivors and to ensuring their needs remain its priority.” He added that regular audits “monitors the quality of safeguarding processes and systems within Dioceses.”

Elizabeth Hall the Church of England's national safeguarding officer added:

“We continue to both promote the safest possible arrangements now and try to respond well to people who come forward from the past. This involves working closely with the statutory authorities involved and with organisations that support the victims, which is why we made contact with NAPAC when we heard about the Stop Church Child Abuse campaign.”

She added that the church would “of course co-operate with any public inquiry and work closely with those setting it up” if it was given the go-ahead.

Case Study: 'I believe the abuse was known about'

Phil Johnson, from Eastbourne, suffered abuse at the hands of two Anglican priests over a period of around nine years.

Colin Pritchard was convicted in 2008 and Roy Cotton died before coming to trial.

“It was my belief that the abuse was widely known within a circle of friends associated with the church,” Mr Johnson said. “I went to the police and reported my abuse and my suspicions about the others.

Both vicars were arrested in December 1997. They both denied everything. In March 1999, I was informed that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to proceed as there was insufficient evidence.

Another victim had come forward who had been abused by the same two vicars as me and my brother.

After another police investigation there was a trial in 2008. I was informed by the church that Cotton had a previous conviction and they had known about this for many years. People like me have been through five years of police investigations, four years of inquiries, all driven by the victims and survivors.

“The church cannot be trusted to investigate itself. We need honesty, transparency and clear external oversight. And we will get that only with a fully independent public inquiry.”

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little