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Church of England
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World News

'I don't entirely trust the Church' says deputy safeguarding bishop

by Donna Birrell

The Bishop of Birkenhead says the Church of England ‘seems less safe’ after its Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) was disbanded.

Rt Rev Julie Conalty made her feelings known via Twitter after the ISB’s two board members, Steve Reeves and Jasvinder Sanghera were sacked.

Earlier this year they accused the Church of “interfering” with their work and described working with church officials as “an uphill battle and unnecessarily challenging”.

The ISB's chair Meg Munn is to have her contract terminated also.

Writing online, Bishop Julie said: "Many survivors trusted the two board members…and the decision by Archbishops’ Council to end their contracts is causing fear, anger and distress.

"Today the church is less accountable. To remove, at short notice, the strongest independent voices holding the CofE to account for its safeguarding failings makes us look resistant to robust scrutiny and challenge - which, of course, we are."

In an interview with the BBC shortly afterwards, Bishop Julie said she doesn't "entirely trust the church, even though I'm a key part of it. Culturally we are resistant to accountability and criticism." 

In a statement published on its website yesterday, the Church of England said it regretted the decision but that "working relationships between two members of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) and the Archbishops’ Council have broken down".

The ISB was set up by the Archbishops’ Council in 2021 after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It was intended to be the first step towards a new system of independent scrutiny.

The C of E’s statement continued: "It has been widely reported that there has been a dispute between two members of the ISB and the Council. Members of the Council and our experienced safeguarding professionals have been working constructively over recent months to put the ISB on a more sustainable footing. 

"Nevertheless, it has now become clear that that this is no longer viable with its current membership and that the dispute itself risks getting in the way of that urgent priority of moving to the next phase of establishing a new independent safeguarding body."

Reeves and Sanghera reacted angrily to their dismissal, saying they had had only an hour’s notice that their contracts were being terminated. Sanghera described the decision as "absolutely appalling" and said they had "spoken with truth and conviction". She also denied that there had been a breakdown in relationships, tweeting that they "intend to share our truths soon and will continue to act with integrity in the interest of safeguarding".

Steve Reeves tweeted that it was a "deeply disappointing decision for those who want genuinely independent safeguarding in the Church of England. Survivors, churchgoers and the general public deserve better."

Survivors of church-related abuse have reacted angrily to the Church of England’s decision. Gilo who was abused by a clergyman, has written to the lead bishop for safeguarding Rt Rev Joanne Grenfell calling the C of E’s action "extremely reckless and dangerous….to remove support without warning". He now wants Clergy Discipline Measures (CDMs) brought against the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for "reckless conduct".

Julian Whiting, a survivor of abuse at a church-run boarding school, told Premier the news was "another trauma we have to experience at the hands of the church".

Advocate for survivors, Andrew Graystone tweeted that the Church of England’s safeguarding function is "deeply unsafe at the moment". He’s proposed to the Archbishop of York Most Rev Stephen Cottrell that a session at next month’s General Synod be given over to a presentation by survivors speaking about their experience of the church.

In a letter to survivors seen by Premier, the Archbishops’ Council said it recognised that the news would be concerning and unsettling and that it would arrange a meeting to discuss the situation. It directed survivors to the Safe Spaces helpline on 0300 303 1056.

 

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