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Released On 7th Oct 2020

Inquiry report finds Anglican Church failed to protect children from sexual abuse

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, (“IICSA”) was set up because of serious concerns that some organisation had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.

The Inquiry Chaired by Professor Alexis Jay has taken evidence from many survivors and people in authority.  The Inquiry has published many reports and made numerous recommendations.  The latest publication entitled “the Anglican Church Investigation Report” was released on 6 October 2020.

The Inquiry found The Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual predators within their ranks.  The report cites examples of clergy or in others in positions of trust associated with the Church who were convicted of sexual offences against children.  Indeed between 1940 to 2018, some 390 people in the employment or associated with the Church were convicted or serious historical sexual offences.

The Church came in for specific criticism because of its apparent failure to take sexual abuse by its members seriously.  In turn this created an environment in which abusers from the Church were able to hide “in plain sight”.  The report concludes that unbelievably abusers were often were given more sympathy than survivors, who were often turned away or made to feel foolish if they tried to report the abuse.  In short survivors were frequently face with insurmountable barriers to reporting their experiences.

In the instances when the Church did take accounts of sexual abuse seriously it often failed to respond consistently to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.  This arbitrary approach by the Church often added to the trauma survivors felt.

The Inquiry also found instances in which the Church responded to accounts of sexual abuse in entirely inappropriate ways.  An example cited by the Inquiry is that of Reverend Ian Hughes who was convicted in 2014 for downloading 8,000 indecent images of children.  At the Inquiry the recently serving Bishop Peter Forster sought to explain away Hughes’ behaviour on the basis that as  pornography is freely available and viewed on the web then Hughes must have been misled into viewing child pornography”.  This is a shameful explanation and made all the more worse by the fact that the Bishop was still trying to exonerate Hughes in 2017.  In truth the reality of Hughes’ involvement was that he downloaded more than 800 indecent images some depicting the most serious level of abuse.

IICSA has concluded the Church was more concerned in protecting its own image than in safeguarding children who had been abused by its own officials.  Of course, this self-serving approach by the Church is made doubly repugnant because the Church has so often set itself up as the moral standard bearer.  The report considered the Church of England was in direct conflict with its own underlying moral purpose to provide care and love for the innocent and the vulnerable.  

This report contains a number of important recommendations.  The Church should:-

1.  Set up the role of diocesan safeguarding officers to replace the diocesan safeguarding advisers. Diocesan safeguarding officers should have the authority to make decisions independently of the diocesan bishop in respect of key safeguarding tasks; 

2.  Change and improve the way in which it responds to safeguarding complaints;

3.  Implement a formal information-sharing protocol, including the sharing of information about clergy who move between Churches;

4.  Introduce a Church-wide policy to fund and provide support to survivors of child sexual abuse within the Church;

5.  Introduce and continue independent external auditing of its safeguarding policies and procedures, to ensure the continuing effectiveness of safeguarding practice in dioceses, cathedrals and other Church organisations.

It remains to be seen how the Church will respond to the very strong criticisms of the Inquiry and whether it will adopt a responsible attitude to child sexual abuse within its ranks.  As the report noted if the Church is to rebuild the trust of victims, there remains a long way to go.

If you have been the victim of child sexual abuse by the clergy you can contact either Samantha Robson or Robert Shaw at Robson Shaw Solicitors for a confidential, free and no obligation discussion. 

You can also email the Inquiry direct at solicitors@iicsa.org.uk, or telephone the Inquiry information line on 0800 917 1000.

Tags: Child abuse