Natasha Phillips Chair

Good evening, and welcome to “Religious Power: Risk and Regulation.”

To date, there have been over 70 child abuse inquiries in the UK, 67 of which have taken place here in England. In 2014, we currently have no fewer than 12 working child abuse inquiries, the most recent being the nation’s independent panel inquiry.

The independent panel inquiry has been tasked with looking at the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, and this includes Churches and other religious denominations and organisations. This is an important aspect of the inquiry, not least of all because a significant portion of schools and children’s care homes were under the auspices of religious organisations during the 1970s and beyond. But of the 12 inquiries currently underway, not one is specifically tasked with looking at abuse within a faith context.

The Archbishop of Cantebury acknowledged the scale of the problem in October this year, noting that child abuse was rampant within the Church of England. Since 2001, the Catholic Church in England and Wales has defrocked 52 priests for sexual abuse, and in between 2003 and 2012, 465 sexual assault claims were made against clergy members, though the actual number of victims involved remains unknown. Orthodox Jewish leaders in England too have been subject to scrutiny. In January of last year, a senior Rabbi was filmed telling an alleged victim of child sexual abuse not to go to the police and another rabbi was arrested for trying to keep a sex abuse scandal quiet, perverting the course of justice in the process.

Of equal concern are the recent reports on child abuse in Rotherham and Rochdale. Though not discussed openly for fear of creating deep racial divides, all of the perpetrators were from Pakistan, a nation whose identity is deeply rooted in the practice of Islam. It is no secret that the Qu’ran has been held hostage in the past by pointed interpretations of its verses, interpretations which have been used to rouse anger, radicalise minds and abuse countless women and children.

This debate then, seeks to look at how religious leaders are addressing what are essentially human rights breaches before them, their duty of care in ensuring child abuse is prevented and the most vulnerable members of our society are protected and what we can do as a society to stem any racial hatred which might manifest itself from the abhorrent behaviour of a small minority who hide behind religion to commit their crimes.

 

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