Clergy abuse survivors ask General Synod for redress

Your apologies are hollow, and your promises are empty because nothing changes.

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An open letter to all members of the Church of England General Synod, from victims and survivors of abuse in the Church of England

At your meeting next week, you will once again debate safeguarding in the Church of England. In February 2018 and February 2019, we sent you booklets called We asked for bread, but you gave us stones. In them, we spoke to you about the experience that victims of abuse face in dealing with your church. We also spoke to you in our book Letters to a Broken Church. We haven’t produced a booklet this year, because we have nothing new to add. For all the TV documentaries and shocking headlines, all the money wasted on undelivered schemes, and all the synod motions, not to mention the handwringing of archbishops, almost nothing has changed during this synod for victims of church abuse. The church still treats us as if we are a problem to be fixed. The restorative approach suggested by last year’s helpful ‘Ad Clerum’ from Blackburn Diocese (which you were prevented from discussing last time you met) is nowhere to be seen. 

The motion that you will be asked to approve at this synod simply says that you will endorse the Archbishops’ Council’s response to the five recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Our response is – is that all? IICSA has been a traumatic and costly experience for many of us. The minimum we would expect is that you will accept its recommendations wholeheartedly and without hesitation. And we expect and demand that you accept whatever further recommendations come from IICSA in the report they will publish this Summer. Shame alone ought to be enough for you to do that.

We believe that you should go much further. 

We hear repeatedly that the church is spending more and more money on safeguarding. Of course, we agree that preventative safeguarding should be given a high priority. But you also need to give attention to what happens when safeguarding has failed. You need to know that as far as we can see, the church has made no progress at all in caring for victims and survivors of clergy and church-related abuse. The much-vaunted “Safe Spaces” initiative has swallowed hundreds of thousands of pounds, and five years on nothing has been delivered.  Without the dogged and costly work that survivors do in caring for each other, there would be even greater tragedies to report.

Synod members, please don’t issue another apology. Please don’t tell us how important it is to “listen to survivors.” Please don’t set up another half-baked inquiry or a working group. Your apologies are hollow, and your promises are empty because nothing changes. Please don’t leave this to the House of Bishops either. We don’t trust them. Too often our experience is that a small group of men at the heart of the church deploy their power, with the help of the church’s lawyers and insurers, to cover up wrong-doing and avoid caring for victims.  We find ourselves constantly re-abused by the church’s responses to us.

We need you to acknowledge that you do not have the competence or the right to clear up your own mess.  We need independent people we can go to to report abuse and find support; people who are not part of the church, and don’t wear the same uniform that our abusers wore. We need you to use your power as a synod to establish a properly funded scheme for support, compensation and redress for victims of church abuse. This is not because we want your money. It is because being abused in church (or anywhere else) not only steals the victim’s dignity and self-respect. It also robs them of their livelihood, their security, their future, their health. More than half of all victims of abuse suffer long-term illness. We need you to pay for counselling; we need you to help us with living costs; we need you to fill in the gaps in our pensions. These are debts you as a church have incurred.  Why should we routinely have to go cap in hand to bishops for help, only to be told you have no money and no resources? Why should we have to worry about housing costs, while our abusers live securely in vicarages and palaces? Why should so many of us find ourselves worse off as a direct result of disclosing our abuse to the church? A properly-funded redress scheme will cost many millions of pounds. But please don’t say that you have no money. It hasn’t escaped our attention that before they have attended to the needs of victims, the Church Commissioners have found £21million for a new library at Lambeth Palace.  

If there is any good news, it is that an increasing number of General Synod Members in all three Houses know that radical change is necessary. Perhaps the best thing you could do for us is to set a clear and purposeful direction of travel for the next Safeguarding Bishop, and for members of the Synod to be elected later this year. The motion before you is anodyne, but the amendments we have seen seem to have some teeth. Perhaps, if enacted, they could lay the groundwork for progress. We urge you to adopt these amendments and begin the task of reconciliation with those who have been wronged.

Signed by victims of abuse by

Rt Revd Peter Ball

Rt Revd Victor Whitsey

Rt Revd Michael Fisher

The Venerable Tom Walker

The Very Revd ******* ******* (action ongoing)

Revd Roy Cotton

Revd Colin Pritchard

Revd Chancellor Garth Moore

Revd Jonathan Fletcher

Revd Trevor Devamannikam 

John Smyth QC

Revd ***** ******* (name withheld at victim’s request)