Victims of abuse disbelieved for far too long, bishop tells Synod

Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York (left) and The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev. Justin Welby at the Church of England General Synod Service in York Minster
Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York (left) and The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev. Justin Welby at the Church of England General Synod Service in York Minster
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A BISHOP said the Church of England had “failed big time” over child protection as the General Synod yesterday formally apologised for clerical sex abuse.

The Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, said for “far too long” the Church of England, notably those in senior positions, had either disbelieved the stories of victims, believed them but tried to hide the truth away or hoped by removing an offender the problem would go away.

“We can make all the excuses that we like about society being different in previous decades – or our understanding of abuse being so much better,” he said.

“We can note that our policies were different then and we followed those policies. But these take nothing away from the fact that we failed to listen properly, we did not acknowledge the wrong done, and we protected the institution at the expense of the person abused.”

He added: “We failed big time, we can do nothing other than confess our sin, repent and commit ourselves to being different in the years ahead.”

His remarks followed a 30-second silence observed after the bishop read a statement from the Stop Church Child Abuse Group (SCCA), a coalition of survivor support groups, to the General Synod,

In the statement the SCCA called for an independent public inquiry into the extent of child abuse within the Church of England.

The debate comes after the final report was published earlier this year into child abuse scandals in the Chichester Diocese.

The bishop said the report exposed “serious failures” in the Chichester Diocese but also “much wider institutional failings” which affect every diocese in the Church of England.

In a strongly worded statement calling for the public inquiry, the SCCA said: “Once such an inquiry has reported, once individual cases have been acknowledged, and once the Church has begun to learn how to respond appropriately, maybe then the apologies, general as well as to individuals and their families, will carry some meaning.

“If the Church through this Synod is willing to walk with us on this costly journey then there may be a purpose and there may be hope for survivors and for the Church in this resolution and this apology being debated today.”

The General Synod also gave its backing for a programme of changes designed to tighten up child protection procedures in the Church of England and prevent further scandals.

The proposals include removing the 12-month limit for bringing complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure for complaints alleging sexual abuse.

Clergy who have been defrocked or suspended, or who have no licence or permission to officiate, would also be prevented from robing or wearing clerical vestments in church under the proposals.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said: “For us, what we are looking at today is far from enough, we are opening a process, continuing a process in many ways, that will 
go far further than we can imagine.”.

He added: “We cannot in 20 years be finding ourselves having this same debate and saying ‘well we didn’t quite understand then’. There has to be complete change of culture and behaviour.”

The apology was backed unanimously by the General Synod with no abstentions.

The Synod today returns to the contentious issue of whether women should be ordained as bishops, after the move was blocked by votes of lay members at a meeting in November.