I am a Lawyer working for survivors of clergy abuse and I am a committed MACSAS member. I have represented literally hundreds of survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the last decade.
I would like to help more survivors. The problem is that there are hundreds, and possibly thousands more out there who are unable to face coming forward. Only the most persistent and strongest come forward and when they do they tend to be angry because churches do not make it easy for them.
What I am about to say has general application to all faith organisations, but as the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church have the largest and richest denominations, I will confine my analysis to them.
Churches have privileged positions in society. They have unfettered access to the vulnerable. This privilege has been built up by alignment with the state, through privilege and of course through the good work the they have done over the years. But with privilege comes responsibility.
In my opinion the Catholic Church and the Church of England have not taken their responsibilities seriously and have failed their followers to such an extent that they should no longer be allowed to police themselves.
The Catholic Church has refused to report abusing Priests to the Police and instead has moved them around within and between countries. They have been strongly criticised on many fronts by the United Nations Committee for the Rights of the Child this year.
The Church of England promised to apologise in July 2013, but no apology was actually issued. The C of E has engaged with survivor groups and is listening, but has delayed and still refuses to accept survivors groups’ plans for improvement.
There has been conviction after conviction of priests. Are church organisations any different from other organisations which look after vulnerable people? The answer is ‘no’. These organisations should submit themselves to independent oversight just the same as any other body.
The Police are overseen by the independent Police Complaints Commission.
Care providers are overseen by the Care Quality Commission.
Social workers are regulated by the Health and Care Professionals Council.
Why should churches continue to regulate themselves when they have so demonstratively failed?
Survivors of abuse do not want to come forward to church organisations. Many of them cannot bear to set foot in a church, church hall or the office of a diocese and safeguarding officer.
Most of my clients tell me that they fear not being believed. To go to someone outside a very close circle of friends or family is a step into the unknown and for many it is a step they are not willing to take simply because church systems are not welcoming. Church systems are not survivor focused. They are not independent. There is no guarantee that anything good will come of it.
Either by design or by accident, the church puts up hurdles in the way of those who wish to complain. Survivors are expected to complain to someone within the church. There may be the implementation of a clergy discipline measure. Rather than deal with these hurdles, many survivors prefer to live with the anguish and pain caused by the memories of their abuse.
Survivors need an independent body that they can turn to.
I believe that Theresa May’s panel inquiry into institution of child abuse is likely to recommend statutory regulation for churches. The inquiry will take 2 – 3 years to complete. In the meantime you have an opportunity to show that you understand the principle of independent oversight and are responding properly. I suggest that your organisations make a start by doing the following:
- Setting up and handing over all responsibility for complaints to wholly independent bodies.
- These independent bodies should be properly funded and able to provide assessment and funding for good quality therapy,
- Independent case workers who will provide advice on reports to the Police and social services.
- These bodies should be able to carry out independent investigations into complaints and make findings.
Alongside this, I hope that your organisations will make direct requests to the Government to implement legislation to establish an independent body to oversee these complaints about faith organisations and that you will support any legislation put forward on the issue of mandatory reporting.
I wish you well with the changes which you need to make.