Today the Church of England faces yet another crisis and like other recent events it has a common origin.
In March 2022, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) conducted an independent audit of Lambeth Palace’s safeguarding arrangements.
Today, after the all but inevitable delay, the SCIE have published their findings.
They make horrific reading, most of all for the survivors of abuse within the Church of England. And they come as the Makin Report by the Church into the abuse of John Smyth shamefully passes more than 1,000 days overdue.
The SCIE report analyses the policies and culture of safeguarding that exists at Lambeth Palace – which is recognised to be both the residence and workplace of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
That anyone, absolutely anyone, could have their home, workplace and a decade of work described in the way the report does would be a disgrace. That this is the home, workplace and work of a senior global Christian leader should be unbelievable.
The report sets out that, Lambeth Palace does not have, and is not part of the, “comprehensive complaints system” which is needed for the whole church. [para 5.3.11]
Within the Palace itself the most basic requirements of good safeguarding are absent, and that for the very worst of reasons,
“Record-keeping arrangements have historically been poor, reflecting an inadequate understanding of both legal requirements and good practice.” [para 6.4.13]
“…there are several staff who have either completed no safeguarding training at all, not even at the most basic level, and many for whom their training is well out of date. Important specialist training, such as safer recruitment, have not been completed by all those whose responsibilities require it.” [para 6.2.10]
Imagine, if it is possible, a parish church or primary school that does not yet have even half-decent record-keeping arrangements or safeguarding training. And yet this is Lambeth Palace, the (present) epicentre of the Anglican Communion, which we are told has a fundamental lack of understanding of what the law requires and what victims deserve.
A lack of understanding of what it means to be a survivor resonates throughout the report. At Lambeth Palace,
“… they had been disregarded, fobbed off, not believed or viewed as a nuisance. Some told the auditors they had not received a response at all, despite repeated attempts to contact the Archbishop and other Palace clergy and officials” [para 5.1.22]
Just as dreadful, the report reveals, that,
“Bullying emerged regularly in interviews as a significant issue within and across the Church, in respect of both clergy and lay staff, or members of wider Church communities. Victims and survivors, both clerical and lay, gave testimony about the range of circumstances in which they had experienced bullying behaviour at the hands of both clergy and lay people, at all levels of seniority, and described to the auditors the devastating impact it had had on them.”[para 5.3.10]
What hope is there for the “average” survivor of clerical bullying, when at the very heart of the Church,
“The potential for bullying to be a safeguarding issue is not fully understood. The lack of confidence of staff in using the whistleblowing procedure is of concern.” [para 5.3.11]
Anyone who has visited the Palace will know that its corridors are replete with staff. The archbishop is surrounded by a vast phalanx of advisors of all types – but most particularly evident are the teams of media and public relations specialists. And yet, according to the SCIE amongst the army of expertise, one area is noticeably missing, “… independent, experienced, and expert safeguarding advice”. [para 7.2.20]
Just let that sink in: a lack of safeguarding advice that is independent, a lack of safeguarding advice that is experienced, a lack of safeguarding advice that is expert. It might be wondered what, if any, manner of safeguarding assistance there is at all.
Apparently, had Justin Welby and the Palace devoted more resources to such independent, experienced and expert advice, “…public and private missteps made by the Archbishop”, could have been avoided. [para 7.2.20]
It is perhaps no wonder that the perverted priorities of Lambeth Palace and its primary resident have meant that,
“Previous efforts by Lambeth Palace to engage with survivors have been insufficiently thoughtful and thought through” [para 7.6.14]
Even couched so politely, such a sentence can only cause any reader to wonder how it could possibly be that money is spent on Public Relations rather than minimising the survivors’ pain.
As the review makes clear the answer to that question lies uncomfortably close to home for the Palace. It is the Archbishop of Canterbury who,
“…in particular, has considerable moral authority as well as access to a broad public platform from which he is able to speak on behalf of the Church. In the words of one victim, ‘his words – and his silence – have disproportionate weight’” [para 3.2.4]
How can it be that such authority and platforms has availed so little? In part it is that refusal to speak out, but there is an arguably worse problem when Welby professes to do so,
“This positive picture has been undermined on occasions when the Archbishop is perceived to have not followed through on commitments he had previously made publicly on behalf of the Church, when he has appeared to change his previous decisions or statements, or issued contradictory statements about safeguarding-related matters in which he may have been personally involved. This has led to disappointment, frustration and anger for many victims and survivors. As one contributor commented, this can lead to a perception ’… that the reputation of the organisation is a determining factor in his responses’.” [para 7.1.7]
But it is not just the victims and survivors who see this as a problem:
“In his national leadership role, the auditors noted that the Archbishop’s public statements were not always consistent, nor seen through. While there may have been good reason for why he was unable to act, given the lack of managerial authority of the Archbishop’s role, it can seem to reflect ongoing denial by the Church about what is needed to create a safe Church and rebuild broken lives of victims and survivors of Church abuse.” [para 7.5.14]
Put simply, and this is a harsh thing to say of someone who is supposed to be, above all a holder out of truth, the utterances of Justin Welby are simply not credible.
And in the testimony of survivors this meant,
“The majority recounted negative experiences, some of which were specific to Lambeth, others more general in relation to the Church and its processes. People described not being listened to, feeling disbelieved, being treated with cruelty rather than compassion.” [para 2.2.3]
Given that judgement, these words of the archbishop today can only have the hollowest echo of the least resounding of gongs,
“Safeguarding must be central to the life of the Church, and we are committed to striving for the highest possible standards at Lambeth Palace. We welcome the encouragement and, quite rightly, the challenge from SCIE to continue our ongoing learning and improvement of safeguarding practices.”
Few can ever know the archbishop like his fellow Primates and they echo the words of the heroic survivors. The Archbishop of Uganda said recently that,
“The Church of England is very good at making contradictory statements and expecting everyone to believe both can be true at the same time.”
Even more forcefully, the Primates of the Global Anglican Futures Conference said, that they did not regard Welby as even keeping sacred vows,
“The Archbishop of Canterbury has abrogated his fiduciary responsibility and violated his consecration vows to “banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word”.
The reality is stark – living at and running Lambeth Palace there is an Archbishop of Canterbury who is widely believed to have a tenuous grasp on the truth. Whether this is due to “A lack of clarity about the scope and limitations of the Archbishop’s strategic leadership responsibility…”or the limitations of the “context of its constitutionally devolved structure” [8.1.14], or not, matters very little.
The lack of confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury means what he says is at the root, not just of this catastrophe, but of the wounds inflicted on the whole Communion.