More than 50 members of General Synod, clergy and survivors of sexual abuse have written to the Charity Commission calling for it to investigate the Church of England's safeguarding practices.
They’ve expressed concern over what they claim is a poor response to allegations of abuse and describe its culture as “highly dysfunctional”.
The letter accuses the Church of lacking any “functional leadership” in safeguarding. It also describes current safeguarding processes, bodies, panels and their personnel as “incompetent, ineffective and unfit for purpose”.
Andrew Graystone, an advocate for survivors of abuse in a church context told Premier why he signed the letter.
“This letter represents a final loss of confidence in the Church managing its own safeguarding procedures,” he said.
“I’m one of the great many people who have tried and tried to work with the Church of England specifically to help it to get into a better place in managing its safeguarding, but it's simply not happened.
“As long as four years ago, the Archbishop [of Canterbury] was saying, you know, we haven't yet found a way of dealing properly with complainants. Over the four years since then, the Church has gone backwards. We simply don't know who is taking responsibility. Day after day, I hear from people who have been caught up in the cogs of church life and terribly damaged.
“This letter is just a lot of people saying enough is enough. We need help from outside to come in to put this right.”
The letter comes just weeks after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its final report into the Anglican Church in England and Wales. It included recommendations about a range of issues including mandatory reporting, redress and the introduction of new child protection authorities for England and Wales.
Andrew Graystone said the Church needs to act upon the recommendations.
“The Church has received recommendations from the independent inquiry, but it has no legal mandate to do anything about it,” he said.
“And our feeling is the Church isn't able to do anything about it. If you ask somebody in the hierarchy of the Church who is in charge of safeguarding, they just don't know. The bucks passed from one to another from the Archbishop's Council to the bishops, to the diocese, to the national safeguarding team. It's chaotic. It's like a bus careering down a hill with nobody in the driving seat. Nobody knows who's responsible.
“There’s so much good work that goes on locally, and many local churches are themselves doing great work and providing safe spaces. But the chaos happens at the national and the institutional level. I would have to say I don't think the Church is able to create a safe place at all.”
In a statement to Premier a Church of England spokesperson said:
“The Church is committed to the highest standards of safeguarding and this is carried out by professionals both nationally and in its 42 dioceses who support parish safeguarding officers who work in every church across the country. The Church is always open to scrutiny of its processes and will listen and respond to concerns when raised.
“This year the House of Bishops has agreed a detailed response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, IICSA’s final report, and to the national and local recommendations from its Past Cases Review 2. It has already acted on previous IICSA recommendations from its 2020 report and was one of the first institutions to call for this independent inquiry.”