The Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual predators within their ranks, according to a report published today (6 October) by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
From the 1940s to 2018, 390 people who were clergy or in positions of trust associated with the Church have been convicted of sexual offences against children.
Many of these cases demonstrate the Church of England’s failure to take the abuse seriously, creating a culture where abusers were able to hide. Alleged perpetrators were given more support than victims, who often faced barriers to reporting they simply couldn’t overcome.
The Church’s failure to respond consistently to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse often added to their trauma. Archbishop Justin Welby described this failure as “profoundly and deeply shocking”.
The report also cites recent cases where the Church’s response was entirely inappropriate. Reverend Ian Hughes was convicted in 2014 for downloading 8,000 indecent images of children. Bishop Peter Forster, who retired last year, suggested to the Inquiry that Hughes had been “misled into viewing child pornography” on the basis that pornography is freely available and viewed. More than 800 of the images downloaded by Hughes were graded at the most serious level of abuse.
The Inquiry finds that to date, the Church in Wales has never had a programme of external auditing, so there has been no independent scrutiny of its safeguarding practices. It also highlights record-keeping as a significant problem for the Church; the Inquiry’s sampling exercise demonstrated both poor record-keeping and a total absence of records in some cases.
The report concludes that in neglecting the well-being of children in favour of protecting its own reputation, the Church of England was in direct conflict with its own underlying moral purpose; to provide care and love for the innocent and the vulnerable. Whilst improvements in child protection practice have been made within the Church, if it is to rebuild the trust of victims, there remains a long way to go.
This report contains eight recommendations, directed to both the Church in England and the Church in Wales, including a recommendation that the Church in England and Wales funds mandatory support for victims and survivors that takes into account their lifetime needs.
The report is based on the Inquiry’s public hearings held during July 2019.
Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry said:
“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.
“Within the Church in Wales, there were simply not enough safeguarding officers to carry out the volume of work required of them. Record-keeping was found to be almost non-existent and of little use in trying to understand past safeguarding issues.
“To ensure the right action is taken in future, it’s essential that the importance of protecting children from abhorrent sexual abuse is continuously reinforced.
“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.
“The panel and I hope that this report and its recommendations will support these changes to ensure these failures never happen again.”