In the last 18 months I have published a number of articles related to safeguarding issues in the Church of England. As someone who grew up within the C of E and continues to have close links, it is a subject that I care deeply about.
Last year, I wrote a parable Whistleblow and the Sheepguarders about how my brother’s concerns about safeguarding were weaponised against him by his diocese.
This was followed by the less oblique A tale of two vicars: one exploiting the status quo, the other challenging it which unpacked what had happened in relation to my brother’s wholly unjustified suspension.
And then earlier this year, I wrote about the broader problem underpinning the dysfunction, the almost complete absence of effective governance in the C of E: The ecclesiastical donut: why the C of E is ungovernable.
The article on governance got some interesting reactions. The influential writer and broadcaster Rev Angela Tilby, Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, tweeted in response:
To make the C of E ‘governable’ would be to make it not to be the C of E. Rule by bishops or bureaucrats is not desirable. The C of E is an unfinished conversation between the medieval church, the Reformation establishment, the Puritans and the people of England. It’s untidy.
These sentiments say so much about the C of E’s comfortable complacency in its own ineptitude. I responded:
Most organisations are ‘untidy’ but some wallow complacently in their untidiness. I left the C of E because of negligent inaction. An ‘unfinished conversation’ may interest academics & those who like the status quo but it does not serve those damaged by institutional dysfunction
More helpfully, Bishop Pete Broadbent tweeted:
The only way to make bishops accountable is to build mandatory legal accountability into our structures.
This week, I was interested to see an open letter published by Martin Sewell (a member of General Synod) and signed by 51 other clergy, survivors and victims of abuse and their advocates, which has been sent to the Chair of the Charity Commission.
Much of it connects with my concerns about inadequate governance which simply cannot manage or hold accountable the various bodies involved in the C of E’s safeguarding:
We are placing on record our common experience of the National Safeguarding Team, Independent Safeguarding Board, National Safeguarding Panel, Dioceses, Lead Bishops for Safeguarding, and those trustees presiding over this (i.e., the Archbishops’ Council).
We are all witnesses to a highly dysfunctional church culture – one lacking in care, wisdom and responsibility – uniformly poor in responses to allegations of abuse, and subsequent complaints about corrupted, cruel and inhumane processes. These have led to despair, suicides, travesties of justice, all perpetrating much longer term pastoral and personal damage on a colossal scale. Yet nobody in the Church of England takes any responsibility for this. We have no functional leadership in safeguarding.
We can have no further trust or confidence in these bodies, nor the individuals working within them. Nor do we harbour any hope that this will ever change.
Current safeguarding processes, bodies, panels, and their personnel are incompetent, ineffective and unfit for purpose. The leadership is insincere and inaccurate in its claims that progress is being made. Conflicts of interest run rife throughout the handling of complaints. Victims of abuse and poor process have no advocacy, and no redress. Mismanagement and misconduct are not addressed. ‘Core Groups’ lack clarity, consistency and basic competency. There are negligible signs of genuine concern for any victims.
We judge that a General Synod vote of no confidence in the work of safeguarding in the Church of England is already long overdue. However, the Church of England as whole has demonstrated that it does not possess the will, wisdom, capability and resources to improve this work. This culpable failure and neglect stems from the persistent ineptness of the trustees for the Archbishops’ Council to exercise leadership and oversight.
We believe that Church of England safeguarding practices must now be subjected to a formal Charity Commission investigation (i.e., a fully independent review under your auspices). This is because most recent IICSA recommendations have been treated with scant regard by the trustees, or simply evaded. The only way forward in church safeguarding is fully independent regulation, oversight and quality control – without which there will never be transparency, fairness, accountability or proper process. We must regrettably accept that trustees of the Archbishops’ Council have led us nowhere. We can have no more failures, fudging or fawning self-flattery.
If there is to be any hope it is time to face reality. The Church of England must become subject to public standards of truth and justice. We therefore urge the Charity Commission, using statutory powers, to order a fully independent review into these concerns.