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World News

Bishop of London apologises after vicar's claims of 'demonic' safeguarding

by Donna Birrell

The Bishop of London has told Premier she's sorry after concerns were made by clergy over the Diocese of London's handling of safeguarding.

In an interview with Premier earlier this week, north London vicar Father David Ackerman said that in his view the Church's safeguarding policy had become weaponised and there was not enough support for clergy who were wrongly accused of abuse. 

He said the way the Diocese of London treats clergy wrongly accused of abuse was bordering on 'demonic'.

It follows a coroner's report into the death of a vicar, Father Alan Griffin, who took his own life last year after unfounded allegations of sexual abuse against him.   

Bishop Sarah told Premier she accepted more needs to be done: "I've already said that we're very sorry for any of our mistakes that led up to (Father Alan's) death. We've already put in place an independent review as well as taking immediate actions - investment in safeguarding, putting in a triage auditing system. 

"But I think that unfortunately, the Church has not responded well in the past to survivors, or to disclosures, and therefore we do need to take safeguarding seriously. It has to be at the heart of the gospel. And yes, we have things to learn, but we do need to create a safer church and that involves all of us."

"The other thing that I'm very sorry for is that a range of people have been impacted by that report, because the coroner put it into the public domain. There is nothing outstanding on that report. 

"Things that were not true or rumours, were dismissed. They're not in a file anywhere, nothing is outstanding, and therefore I am sorry for those who have been impacted by it, but they have heard very recently about that. 

"We wrote to them, we've offered counselling and a listening service and also support from an ordained member if they'd like. And of course, I'm available to speak to anybody. 

"I'm sorry for the distress that it has caused them." 

Premier has been contacted this week by another priest in the Diocese of London who says he became suicidal after allegations were made against him in 2019. He denies any wrongdoing and says he contacted Lambeth Palace and the office of the Bishop of London. He says he was offered no support and he claims no safeguarding action was taken.

Bishop Sarah says she acknowledges that changing the culture of safeguarding is a long process

"I have always apologised where we have got things wrong, we're on a journey in the Church and the Diocese of London. 

"When I came in three and a half years ago, I observed that priests are wonderful, they do a very good, difficult job. There's high levels of homelessness, high levels of mental illness, but also there are a lot of people who work on their own. So therefore, collegiality isn't strong. There are tribes within the city.

"Three and a half years ago, I began a process of cultural change with the clergy in the city, including increasing mental health training and putting in access to counselling and pastoral support. But no doubt there is still further to go." 

In September, Lord Lexden resigned from the Ecclesiastical Committee claiming the Church of England had sought to 'interfere' with a coroner's report into Father Alan Griffin's death 'in order to diminish the extent of the criticism it would sustain'. 

Bishop Sarah told Premier she refuted the allegation and is writing to Lord Lexden to discuss the claims.

"I am very grateful for my fellow peers and the wisdom that they have. The diocese did make a submission to the coroner simply to make clear the context of the independent inquiry on child sex abuse, which she was not aware of, until we made available the recommendations. We just explained the existing House of Bishops guidance that states that clergy must refer all safeguarding concerns or allegations to the diocese and safeguarding team in the first instance. That was purely our submission.

"We've recognised that we have failings and we have committed to put it right. We have an independent review that has already started, it will report by December and we take seriously the outcome of that and we will respond to it. We have already put in place changes. 

"We want to learn from this where we got it wrong. But above all, we do need to create a culture in which safeguarding is taken seriously and in which our processes appropriately support both the victim, but also those that are coming under examination."
 

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