The Archbishops' Council has hit back at criticism that the Church of England is ’unsafe’ and ‘not to be trusted’ in matters of safeguarding.
It follows anger among some survivors over the disbanding of the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board. It was disbanded after the Archbishops' Council said working relationships with its two board members, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves had broken down.
The Board’s chair, Meg Munn who survivors have criticised as not being independent is also having her contract terminated, although she is staying on to maintain ‘continuity’.
Jasvinder Sanghera accused the Church of not being truly committed to independent safeguarding and of frustrating and obstructing attempts to achieve true independent oversight.
She claimed she had been told she was "too survivor-focused" and that her work was hampered by not having access to information sharing agreements meaning the Board couldn’t access the work of the church’s National Safeguarding Team. She told Premier: “I have to say that I have experienced a disregard for the wishes of the survivor community at every point I've tried to represent those views. I've been an advocate for victims and survivors for over three decades, and I have never experienced anything like this before. They [the church] just do not listen.
“It’s not safe for those victims and survivors who are seeking justice and a place of safety. I cannot say with conviction that it is safe. I have the experience of being on an independent safeguarding board for 19 months, and with my colleague, Steve Reeves have tried to push this agenda forward. But we have been met with frustration at every point. That for me is an indicator of a lack of safety. You either want independence or you don't, which is precisely what we said to both Archbishops in November 2022. The fact that you have removed us, for me, is compelling evidence that you don't want independence.”
Rev Dr Ian Paul from the Archbishops' Council hit back at the claims. He told Premier that the Archbishops’ Council is committed to establishing fully independent, legally separate safeguarding. He said the ISB was always only an interim measure but admitted that "the pathway to full independence clearly isn’t working so we need to do a reset”.
Dr Paul explained that the breakdown in working relationships merited “decisive action” for the church to move on.
“I agree that it’s not satisfactory. I think as the Archbishops’ Council we have failed to deliver this. We are being frustrated that we have not made progress and we've got to change direction to do that.”
Yesterday the deputy lead bishop for safeguarding Rt Rev Julie Conalty said she didn’t "entirely trust" the church on matters of safeguarding. She said there was an "accountability" problem.
Dr Paul said he believes this may be a reaction to former Archbishop of York Lord Sentamu’s rejection of an independent review into a case of clergy abuse.
“As a member of the Archbishop's Council, I'm struggling to know how to respond when a former archbishop whom I've worked with is rejecting the views of an external review," he said. "That is the challenge that I'm facing. And perhaps that's the thing that the deputy safeguarding Bishop was alluding to.
“I would love to make sure that all the bishops and the archbishop's are aligned with this. But the Council does not have power to direct the bishops. Unless bishops and archbishops accept these findings of external reviews, then we are always going to struggle.
“We may not be there yet, but we've made a huge amount of progress. So it is not true to say the church is not a safe place. I’m not saying that we're perfect, but we've made huge progress and there's been a major change in mindset about the whole issue of safeguarding and its priority.”