The decision by the Church of England Synod spurred on by Justin Welby and John Sentamu, archbishops of Canterbury and York, to apologise for past sins of child sexual abuse is welcome. But it is not nearly enough.
The words are fine. They offer to apologise unreservedly” for the failure of the Church of England’s systems to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by its clergy and others and for the failure to listen properly to those so abused.
They add: “The sexual and physical abuse that has been inflicted by these people on children, young people and adults is and will remain a deep source of grief and shame for years to come.”
They are big fears as the Stop Church Child Abuse put it : “is this a game, another in the decades of games played out in the public,to present a church responsive to its past failings and moving forward in harmony with survivors; until the next time, the next case that reveals further abuse, cover up and denial, and the inadequacy of effective procedures?”
Unless there is a real rethink by all the churches and public institutions we are going to get nowhere. In my view from limited investigations into historic child sexual abuse the temptation to cover up abuse is enormous. Perpetrators are often subtle, cunning and very plausible. They know how to get around systems – and are often helped by institutions that don’t want to face up to the shame of public disclosure.
We need to go much further and involve all churches including the deeply reluctant Roman Catholic church to tackle what amounts to a tidal wave of historic abuse in this country with no fewer than four police investigations involving hundreds if not thousands of cases that have been uncovered.
That is why I am delighted that Tom Watson, Labour MP who made the original allegations about a historic sexual abuse ring in Parliament is now going to concentrate on pursuing this investigation – and will no longer be drawn into the time-consuming battles that are at present engulfing Labour’s campaign machine.