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Church of England's shame over damning child sex abuse report

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An Anglican service at St. Mary's Church, Northchurch in Berkhamsted, England, on Sunday, July 5, 2020.
An Anglican service at St. Mary's Church, Northchurch in Berkhamsted, England, on Sunday, July 5, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel
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The culture at the Church of England made it a place where perpetrators of child sexual abuse could hide and receive more support than victims, according to an independent report.

The report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) released on Tuesday says that "the Church has failed to respond consistently to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse with sympathy and compassion" which often "added to the trauma already suffered by those who were abused by individuals associated with the Church".

It found the culture of the Church of England "facilitated it becoming a place where abusers could hide" and that deference to the hierarchy and individual priests, as well as taboos over sexuality, created an environment "where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims". This in turn, created "barriers to disclosure that many victims could not overcome".

"Another aspect of the Church’s culture was clericalism, which meant that the moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach," it added.

"In the context of child sexual abuse, the Church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and the vulnerable."

Strip offenders of clerical titles

According to the report, 390 people associated with the Church were convicted for child sexual abuse between the 1940s and 2018.

In 2018, there were 2,504 safeguarding concerns reported to dioceses about either children or vulnerable adults as well as 449 concerns about recent child sexual abuse.

The inquiry found that in many of the cases it examined, the Church failed to take the disclosures seriously or refer the allegations to the statutory allegations.

The report recommends that:

  • safeguarding concerns be raised to appointed officers, outside of the diocese;
  • funding of safeguarding be increased;
  • penalties for convicted offenders be reviewed. The penalty of deposition from holy orders — when members of the clergy are stripped of their clerical title — is currently not available but "retains symbolic importance, particularly to victims and survivors."

'Shocking reading'

Andrew Lord, a solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, said the report "makes clear just how significant an issue abuse within the Anglican Church has been".

He welcomed the recommendation that bishops not hold operational oversight for safeguarding and also argued for deposition as a penalty.

"It is important for a victim and survivor to feel that they have genuinely listened to, and this can be significantly diminished if after all is said and done the power and status of the perpetrator is left intact. We would argue that it is of more than symbolic importance that members of the clergy who are found to have committed abuse face deposition from holy orders, so that they do not continue with an air of prestige and respect," he said.

The Church of England also reacted to the release of the report, saying it makes for "shocking reading".

"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. The whole Church must learn lessons from the Inquiry," it added.

It also said that it is looking at how to best implement independent oversight regarding the structure of safeguarding and improve support for victims and survivors.