THE Church of England has expressed shame and apologised after an inquiry found it had failed to protect children from sexual predators within its ranks for decades.
“Its shameful and disgraceful and reveals exactly what they said — a culture in which there was cover-up and hiding — and it is deeply shaming,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told BBC on Wednesday (7).
“It didn’t come at as a surprise,” he said, adding that the Church had begun what he cast as “a journey of change”.
“We have not gone quick enough or far enough yet,” Welby observed.
On Tuesday, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said 390 people who were clergy or in positions of trust associated with the Church from the 1940s to 2018 had been convicted of sexual offences against children.
“Over many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome,” Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry, said.
“If real and lasting changes are to be made, it’s vital that the Church improves the way it responds to allegations from victims and survivors, and provides proper support for those victims over time.”
According to the report, the primary concern of many senior clergy was to uphold the Church’s reputation.
“Senior clergy often declined to report allegations to statutory agencies, preferring to manage those accused internally for as long as possible,” the report concluded. “This hindered criminal investigations and enabled some abusers to escape justice.”
The report recommended that both the Church of England and the Church in Wales should each introduce a Church-wide policy on the funding and provision of support to victims of child sexual abuse concerning clergy.
“It should make clear that support should always be offered as quickly as possible, taking into account the needs of the victim over time,” the report said.
Within hours of the findings being published, Bishop of Huddersfield Jonathan Gibbs said: “The report makes shocking reading and while apologies will never take away the effects of abuse on victims and survivors, we today want to express our shame about the events that have made those apologies necessary.”
He stressed that the “whole Church must learn lessons from this inquiry”.
“Our main focus in response must be recognising the distress caused to victims and survivors by the Church’s failures in safeguarding,” the bishop added.
A victims group said the Church had a long way to go as it still dealt with too many allegations in-house, and should also recognise life-long needs of those abused.
“It will take more than platitudes to rebuild trust in the Church,” said the Minister And Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors group. “Apologies and expressions of shame and sorrow are welcomed, but what is needed is practical and well resourced action.”