The Curate’s Egg: Child Sex Abuse inquiry reveals the Anglican Church has only half tackled the problem

Alexis Jay; Chair of the inquiry. Pic credit: iicsa

It is over six years ago that on Exaro News I worked with seven MPs from all parties to press Theresa May, then home secretary, to launch the Independent inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Now after two general elections only two – Caroline Lucas and Tim Loughton – remain as MPs.

Another Zac Goldsmith is now a government minister and peer. The remaining four Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk, Tessa Munt and John Hemming are Parliamentary history.

At the time with the help of Exaro colleague Mark Conrad, we drafted the letter that went to Theresa May – on behalf of the MPs- outlining the scale of abuse in the UK and citing specific cases and saying what needed to be tackled. She acted.

Tim Loughton MP

As Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, put it at the time:

“Virtually every week, the public is bombarded with new stories about sexual abuse of children coming to light, yet they stretch as far back as the 1960’s.

“Few areas have been left untouched with increasingly alarming stories involving schools, churches, care homes, entertainment, sport and of course politicians and celebrities.

“Most alarming is a consistent theme of the reluctance or, more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously.”

A lot has happened since – including the sentencing of Carl Beech, a paedophile , who made false allegations against prominent figures – as well as successful prosecutions in North Wales by the National Crime Agency – of paedophiles who got away with it for years.

Now the work of this inquiry has begun to bear fruit – and the publication this month of its over arching report into the Anglican Church and The Church of Wales is its most detailed investigation yet.

The report reveals both some progress and failure to tackle the problem. But I am pretty convinced without the catalyst of the national inquiry the Church would have continued to bury its head in the sand and still not taken half the measures it has.

The history of child sexual abuse in the church is damning. Since the 1940s as the report says 390 people have been convicted as sex offenders.

It goes on:” In 2018, 449 concerns were reported to the Church about recent child sexual abuse, of which more than half related to church officers. Latterly, a significant amount of offending involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children. The Inquiry examined a number of cases relating to both convicted perpetrators and alleged perpetrators, many of which demonstrated the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures by or about children or to refer allegations to the statutory authorities.”

As extraordinary are the figures spent on safeguarding children – see below. A pathetic £37,000 was spent for whole Anglican church in 2013 a year before the call for the inquiry . The last year for 2020 is not fully approved.

The report shows failings in the culture of the church which allowed paedophiles to hide and a highly complex devolved hierarchy which meant there are many gaps for allegations of child sexual abuse not to be reported because of the autonomy of different sections of the church. For example cathedrals are not as you might expect run by bishops but the Dean and Chapter. Also although safeguarding has now been highlighted, the people in charge are designated as advisers rather than officers, allowing the clergy the last word on whether action should be taken.

On the plus side it looks as though the Church is taking safeguarding seriously and training its staff about the issue. Newly recruited ordained priests seem to have the most detailed training and the church is at last doing criminal checks before appointing anyone to an important position.

There have been a number of attempts to check back on historical sex abuse allegations. The numbers checked look impressive at 40,000 but only 13 cases were identified as it was mainly a book keeping exercise.

Salisbury cathedral – one of seven dioceses where past cases of child sex abuse are being re-examined because they may not have been competently checked. Pic credit: Flickr

When this was re-examined by Sir Roger Singleton, a safeguarding expert, he recommended: ” An “updated version” of the PCR[ Past Case review} should be conducted in the dioceses of Ely, Lichfield, Rochester, Salisbury, Sheffield, Winchester, and Sodor and Man given “the absence of evidence that the Past Cases Review had been carried out competently in these dioceses”.

This is now being done again and will report in 2022.

counselling cancelled

The report also includes some rather horrifying cases because the system did not work properly. In one case a person who was claiming compensation from the Church’s insurers for past sexual abuse had his counselling cancelled because a lawyer advised the Church he shouldn’t have it since he was claiming against the Church,

It is also clear that much abuse was not revealed at the time. When the inquiry looked into a past case of Bishop Victor Whitsey, who died in 1987, but was during his career Bishop of Chester, Suffragan Bishop of Hertford at St.Albans and a priest in Blackburn and Manchester, some 19 people came forward saying he abused them including a brother and sister.

The report also discloses that there is still much to do . The Church is divided about mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, with even the Charity Commission thinking they could be flooded with too many cases; the position over insurance and compensation for victims is unresolved and the process of clergy discipline measures needs reform and artificial time limits covering complaints removed. The rules over disclosure of child sexual abuse during confessions needs to change – exempting it from the sacred duty of confidentiality. And record keeping in the Church of Wales needs a thorough overhaul as there is a serious problem there.

The inquiry plans to come back over these issues and rightly so.

But perhaps one of the most chilling and sad paragraph in the report is a description of the Church’s problems with sexuality.

fear and secrecy over sexuality

“There was a culture of fear and secrecy within the Church about
sexuality. Some members of the Church also wrongly conflated homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. There was a lack of transparency, open dialogue and candour about sexual matters, together with an awkwardness about investigating such matters. This made it difficult to challenge sexual behaviour.
Mr Colin Perkins, diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA) for the Diocese of Chichester, told us that homosexual clergy may have found themselves inadvertently “under the same cloak” as child sexual abusers, who sought to mask their behaviour “in the same cultural hiding place”.

For those who follow this blog this report signals that I am back keeping a regular eye on child sexual abuse issues. Those who follow me on the fight for 50swomen know I don’t give up easily.

Search for Justice: New Podcast on the 50s women struggle for their delayed pensions

BackTo60 at the Royal Courts of Justice before the pandemic set in. They are now applying to appeal to the Supreme Court after losing their judicial review

I have given a long interview to Dave Niven, one of the country’s leading figures on the safeguarding of children, for socialworldpodcast on the issue of justice for the 50swomen. This podcast is aimed at the social work and caring professions and is watched by 2000 people in the field.

Dave contacted me after a gap of over 20 years because he had seen my writing on the plight of the 50s born women and wanted me to do an interview for his podcast. We last collaborated on a story in the 1990s when I was on The Guardian though both of us can’t remember what the story was exactly about.

He now runs his own consultancy, David Niven Associates (info@dnivenassociates.co.uk) which provides media training, and consultancy on child protection and safeguarding.

The podcast can be listened to here. That is the link to his site where you will also find other podcasts.

regular series of podcasts

It is part of a regular series of weekly podcasts on Thoughts on the Social World. Previous people who have been interviewed include Jim Gamble, a former national policing lead for child protection and the architect and CEO of the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He is now  CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding Group. http://www.ineqe.com

He also recently interviewed Christopher Lamb, a former Australian ambassador and chief diplomat with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva. He is now an adviser.to IFRC and the Australian Red Cross.

My own interview covers the case I have made on my blog for justice and proper equality for the 50swomen. I also talk about the exposures I did on The Guardian which led to the resignation of Tory ministers Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith over the “cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s and the first resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Labour government over his hidden ” home loan” to buy a posh pad in Notting Hill. And also my award winning story on how the former head of the Student Loans Company devised a scheme for legitimate tax avoidance which led to the government discovering that they had 2500 civil servants doing the same thing.

Byline Times Exclusive: Charity Commission to condemn Oxfam over Haiti sex exploitation but ignore damning report exposing 23 other charities

Oxfam to be damned tomorrow while 23 other international charities could have a worse history of sex exploitation of women

 The Charity Commission will tomorrow issue an excoriating report on Oxfam’s mismanagement and failure to act over the sexual exploitation of victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2011.

But the Commission will ignore a much wider scandal that suggests that 23 of the world’s biggest overseas aid charities are hiding far worse sexual exploitation of vulnerable people by their own staff and of fellow women and gay aid workers.

The full story is in Byline Times here.

Is the Church of England getting the message on child sex abuse survivors?

Justin Welby: Is the church getting the message?

Justin Welby: Is the church getting the message?

Whisper it not too loudly but is the Church of England finally getting the message that it needs to fundamentally change its attitude to child sex abuse survivors?

Nearly two years ago the then new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby,issued warm words and an apology for all the harm the church had done to people by its priests. He was also pressing before the government finally agreed for an overarching inquiry into child sexual abuse.

Now there are going to be new laws to ensure that training of everyone from a vicar to a bishop in safeguarding, the scrapping of time limits in bringing child sex abuse cases and looking at the funding of help for survivors.

As I report on the Exaro website

The CoE is also to change canon law to make bishops accountable for the safeguarding of children in their diocese for the first time since it broke away from the Roman Catholic church during the reign of King Henry VIII. The changes mark what one expert called a wholesale “re-writing” of the CoE’s policy towards safeguarding children in the wake of scandals over paedophile priests.

One spokesman from the Church said :“These measures are part of wider approach by the church based on what the survivors of sexual abuse want us to do. The whole impetus is on tackling the problem from the survivor’s point of view.”

All this is good progress in the right direction. But much will depend how it is enacted. Often directives from the top are not implemented by people on the ground. People must make sure that they are or otherwise it will not work and we could do without more public relations exercises.

The Church of England’s approach is not being replicated by the Roman Catholics as the recent stories about the Salesian Order revealed- with the appalling Salesian response to further examples of historic child sex abuse exposed by the police after Graham Wilmer, a survivor and now a member of the independent panel into child sexual abuse revealed them in his new book The Devil’s Advocate.

The next few months will be  telling for the Church and the independent inquiry.