Church of England bishops should be stripped of responsibility to keep children safe from sexual abuse, according to an independent inquiry that said the church had protected its own reputation above its “explicit moral purpose”.
A damning report from the independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), published on Tuesday, said the C of E’s culture of deference and “clericalism” meant it was a place where abusers could hide.
But it stopped short of backing two key demands of survivors: mandatory reporting of abuse disclosures to statutory authorities and independent oversight of the C of E’s safeguarding policies and actions. It will consider these issues further in a future report.
According to Tuesday’s 154-page report, which followed an investigation by IICSA into how the the Anglican church in England and Wales handled disclosure of sexual abuse, 390 clergy and people in positions of trust in the church had been convicted for abuse dating back to the 1940s until 2018.
More than 2,500 “safeguarding concerns” about children and vulnerable adults were reported to dioceses in 2018 alone, including 449 claims of recent child sexual abuse. A quarter of the total were reported to statutory authorities.
The report said: “Deference to the authority of the church and to individual priests, taboos surrounding discussion of sexuality and an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims presented barriers to disclosure that many victims could not overcome.
“Another aspect of the church’s culture was clericalism, which meant that the moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach.”
Allegations of abuse against priests were ignored, minimised or dismissed by church leaders, it said.
“Faith organisations such as the Anglican church are marked out by their explicit moral purpose, in teaching right from wrong. In the context of child sexual abuse, the church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and the vulnerable.
Senior church leaders were now “saying the right things, but lasting change will require more than platitudes”.
During hearings last year, IICSA heard evidence from Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury; John Sentamu, the former archbishop of York; survivors of sexual abuse; and safeguarding experts both within the church and independent of it.
Its report concluded that bishops “should not hold operational responsibility for safeguarding”. Professional safeguarding officials, rather than clergy, were “best placed to decide which cases to refer to the police or social services, and what action should be taken by the church to keep children safe.”
Prof Alexis Jay, the chair of the inquiry, said: “Over many decades, the C of E 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.
“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.”
Richard Scorer, a solicitor with Slater and Gordon who acts for 20 survivors of abuse in the C of E, said: “This is a very damning report. It confirms that despite decades of scandal, and endless promises, the C of E continues to fail victims and survivors. Bishops have too much power and too little accountability. National polices are not properly enforced. Sexual offending by clergy continues to be minimised.
“It’s clear from the report that huge change is still required, including proper support for survivors and removing bishops’ operational responsibility for safeguarding . To make change happen, we also need mandatory reporting and independent oversight of church safeguarding. It is imperative that IICSA recommends these in its final report next year. ”
Matt Ineson, a survivor of sexual abuse, said: “The church’s treatment of victims has been and is cruel and dishonest, only ever concerned to protect its reputation. Victims have been ridiculed, discredited, ignored, lied to and lied about, spied on and treated wickedly. Lives have been broken and lost … The church has proved itself unfit to deal with abuse cases, and archbishops and bishops have shown themselves not fit for office.”
Before the report’s publication, the archbishops of Canterbury and York published an open letter to survivors of abuse in an open letter, saying: “We are truly sorry for the shameful way the church has acted and we state our commitment to listen, to learn and to act in response to the report’s findings.”
In response to the report, Jonathan Gibbs, the bishop of Huddersfield, and Melissa Caslake, the C of E’s national director of safeguarding, said: “The report makes shocking reading and while apologies will never take away the effects of abuse on victims and survivors, we today want to express our shame about the events that have made those apologies necessary. The whole church must learn lessons from this Inquiry.”
Among the cases highlighted in the report:
Timothy Storey was a youth leader in London from 2002 to 2007 and then began training to be a priest. Four girls and young women, aged 13 to 19, made allegations of sexual abuse. During a meeting with the Rev Jeremy Crossley, a senior church figure, Storey admitted having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Crossley told the Rev Hugh Valentine, the bishop of London’s adviser on child protection, that Storey was “basically a good man who could be an effective priest”. In 2016 Storey was jailed for 15 years on three counts of rape and one of assault by penetration. He received ongoing care from the church.
Victor Whitsey was bishop of Chester between 1974 and 1982. An adult male says he told Peter Forster, who retired last year as bishop of Chester, that he had been sexually abused as a child by Whitsey in 2002. Forster took no action, telling the inquiry he had a “vague memory of somebody … saying that Victor Whitsey had put his arm around him” and that Whitsey had a “reputation for odd behaviour”. By July 2019, 19 people had disclosed they were sexually abused by Whitsey, who died in 1987.
Trevor Devamanikkam was a priest in Yorkshire until he retired in 1996. He allegedly repeatedly raped and assaulted a teenage boy, Matthew Ineson, in the mid-1980s. Ineson says he disclosed, either directly or indirectly, his abuse to four bishops and the archbishop of York but no action was taken. In 2017, police charged Devamanikkam with three counts of buggery and three counts of indecent assault but he took his own life the day before he was due in court.