Church of England told to print sexual abuse helpline on service sheets in landmark review

Largest ever survey of victims of vicars and bishops paints a damning picture

Tim Wyatt
Thursday 04 April 2019 17:42 BST
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Abuse in the Church of England is so widespread all parishes should print the safeguarding hotline number on service sheets, an independent report has concluded.

The idea of every parish having to publish the phone number to report paedophile priests is one of a string of recommendations from a review of the church’s safeguarding practices, as details of its repeated failures to protect people from child abuse emerge.

The largest ever survey of victims of abuse by vicars and bishops paints a damning picture of how the national church had dealt with the problem: only 11 of 60 respondents said they had received a meaningful response within a year after they disclosed their ordeals to a church figure.

Twenty said they had never had such a response, and more than half of those surveyed said the timeliness and quality of responses were “unsatisfactory”.

Among the other suggestions was for the church to adopt a public target for zero abuse, similar to building sites reporting how many days had passed since an accident.

The stories emerging from the survey reveal how dysfunctional the church has been in addressing the concerns of victims of abuse who have come forward in recent years.

One vicar, who was themselves abused by a more senior cleric, was attacked by their bishop for daring to come forward.

The unnamed bishop, who took no action against the abusing priest, told the victim: “The scent of failure will follow you throughout your ministry.”

Another survivor of abuse was told to attend prayer ministry sessions to “be healed of my problem with men” when they divulged a male vicar had attacked them.

When another person came forward to tell their local church authorities who had abused them, they were reminded the alleged perpetrator was a very high-profile figure and implied his role meant he was above suspicion.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence, the independent charity that carried out the review and survey on behalf of the Church of England, has recommended, partly as a result of these findings, the church no longer allow its 42 local dioceses to carry out safeguarding, and instead centralise the services to a more experienced and senior national team.

But the church has rejected this recommendation, insisting that local bishops must remain in charge of the process.

This decision comes just weeks after the longest-serving bishop in the Church of England, the bishop of Chester, Peter Forster, stepped back from all safeguarding responsibilities because it emerged in court he had been told about a paedophile priest in his diocese 10 years ago but did nothing.

In a statement, the Church of England admitted the review made for “very difficult reading”.

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“The church acknowledges that victims and survivors of church-related abuse have not received a consistently good response from the church, and this can lead to being retraumatised,” it said.

The bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, who leads the church’s safeguarding work, said: “It is essential that victims have confidence anyone coming forward to disclose abuse to the church is treated with compassion, offered support, and their concerns and allegations are taken seriously.

“The church recognises that significant changes will be required before survivors will have this level of confidence in the church. However, this undertaking is one that I and my fellow bishops are absolutely committed to.”

Among the reforms already agreed to is the creation, jointly with the Catholic Church, which has long struggled with its own abuse scandal, of an independent hotline and online counselling hub for victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The church is also in the process of setting up an independent ombudsman who survivors can contact if they feel their case has been mishandled by the internal church authorities.

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