Released On 23rd Oct 2019
Update on Sexual Abuse in the Christian Church
The Religion Media Centre, an independent and impartial body, has released a fact sheet dated 9th October 2019 that seeks to help journalists and other media professionals to cover religious issues. The fact sheet gives an insight into some of the more recent and high profile cases involving allegations of sexual abuse against members of the principal Christian faiths in the UK.
The Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church has a chequered past when it comes to childhood sexual abuse. Although there are no published statistics of the incidence of abuse in the church as a whole or region by region the National Safeguarding Commission, a body set up by the Roman Catholic Church, has stated that 465 allegations of sexual abuse have been reported between 2003 and 2012. Between 2001 and 2015, 55 priests were defrocked for sexual abuse, according to the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission Annual Report of 2015. We suggest this is a woeful underestimate of the true number of survivors who were abused by clergy during their childhood.
The Church of England
In 2016 the Church of England dealt with 3300 complaints of sexual abuse. Most of the concerns involved allegations from survivors who as young children and vulnerable adults had been abused within church communities.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse (“IICSA”) has received 102 allegations of sex abuse and 10 of child abuse images during 2016 alone.
Individuals in the News
There have been notable investigations of child sex abuse involving senior clergy who either partook in the abuse themselves or failed to act properly and by so doing covered up the abuse.
In October 2015, Peter Ball the former Bishop of Lewis was jailed for 32 months for abusing 18 young men. An independent review by Dame Moira Gibb that was published in 2017 found the church had, on occasions, protected Ball by failing to respond appropriately to allegations of misconduct against him.
Ball is one of 15 members of the clergy from the Diocese of Chichester convicted of child sex offences.
Robert Waddington who died in 2007 was a former Dean of Manchester. Some 6 years after his death it emerged that allegations had been made against Waddington by victims of sexual abuse in Australia where he once lived. Upon learning of the allegations, the then Archbishop of York, David Hope removed Waddington’s right to officiate at services but failed to report the allegations to the police.
In 2015 an individual known to the media as Joe (not his real name) was paid £35,000 in compensation by the church following complaints of sexual abuse. Joe alleged that in 1976 he been the victim of sexual assault by a senior cleric. Over the course of 40 years of Joe’s adult life he complained about the abuse to many senior church figures including, it was suggested, three serving Bishops and a senior cleric who subsequently became a Bishop. In a report commissioned by the church, Ian Elliott an acknowledged safeguarding expert referred to the churches “deeply disturbing” failure to respond meaningfully to Joe’s allegations despite his repeated efforts to bring the sexual abuse to the attention of Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 1994 Stephen Brooks, a former vicar from Swansea was jailed for 4 years after admitting 19 sexual assaults against children. 22 years after the conviction one of his victims brought a civil claim for compensation. In an out-of-court settlement in July 2016, it is understood the church agreed to pay the victim £58,500 compensation.
In 2013 Brooks was forced to resign from his job as a Regional Director of Education and Healthcare Communities at the Santander bank after a national newspaper revealed his history as a paedophile.
Styler was a former headteacher at a Church of Wales primary school near Newport in South Wales. In 2007, Styler was arrested on suspicion of historic sex offences alleged to have been carried out 27 years earlier. It was known that Styler had expressed anxiety that his family and friends should not find out about his arrest and the allegations of sexual assault. On his bail return date, Styler failed to show up at the police station was later found to have committed suicide. In May 2018 a BBC programme investigated Styler’s past and included an allegation from a solicitor that he may have committed 100 assaults on boys over a 25 year period.
In 1985 allegations of child sexual abuse were made against Father Michael Hill. These reached the ears of Cormack Murphy-O’Connor the then Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. Murphy-O’Connor did not inform the police or other safeguarding agencies and simply moved Hill to another parish where he believed Hill would not be a danger to children.
In 1997 Hill was convicted of further sex abuse against children and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
In 2002 Hill was again convicted historic sexual offences against 3 boys and received a 5 year jail term. One of the victims alleged that had Murphy-O’Connor properly notified the police when he first learned of the allegations against Hill then Hill would not have been able to sexually abuse the victim. Murphy-O’Connor apologised for the “error of judgement” but the Crown Prosecution Service declined to take any further criminal action against Murphy-O’Connor.
Murphy-O’Connor died in September 2017. Troubling allegations then began to emerge against Murphy-O’Connor. In 2018 the UK Catholic media alleged that Murphy-O’Connor had abused a young girl aged 13 who was also one of Hill’s victims.
Further allegations emerged that Murphy-O’Connor had been interviewed by under caution by Kent police, but a decision had been made to take no further action.
More latterly it was claimed that a Vatican investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse by Murphy-’Connor have been discontinued on the orders of Pope Francis.
All the above cases bear the common distinction that the actions of the perpetrators were covered up or at least not reported when suspicions were first aroused. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (“IICSA”) has looked at mandatory reporting. Mandatory reporting is a legal requirement to report knowledge or suspicions of a crime to a designated authority. Currently there is no requirement of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. Here at Robsonshaw, we are firm supporters of mandatory reporting and believe that numerous children could have avoided sexual abuse if mandatory reporting was a legal requirement. Samantha Robson who has been specialising in sexual abuse compensation claims for the past 20 years comments, `We can no longer rely on someone’s conscience to protect children. It is evident from the wrongdoings within the church, that people who knew about longstanding sexual abuse of young people and children failed to act on it and in many cases turned a blind eye. In my view, the benefits of mandatory reporting far outweigh the shortfalls.’
If you, a friend or a family member would like to speak about sexual abuse by a member of the church, to one of our expert solicitors on a free, confidential and no obligation basis claim please call on 01392 345333 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sam at email@example.com or Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org