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CofE is in ‘last chance saloon’ on safeguarding say survivors and advocates

by Donna Birrell

As safeguarding in the Church of England again comes under scrutiny following the publication of a report into its handling of the issue, survivors and their advocates are watching to see whether the recommendations are implemented.

Report author Professor Alexis Jay has said the Church needs to hand over its safeguarding to two new independent charities – one would have responsibility for safeguarding, the other would have scrutiny and oversight.

Survivors have long campaigned for independent safeguarding in the CofE, but advocate for survivors of church abuse, Andrew Graystone told Premier Christian News that while he welcomes the report, he isn’t confident the recommendations will be acted upon:

“It’s a powerful report. It says clearly that the way that the Church of England conducts its safeguarding is causing real harm to real people today. And I recognise that from the people that I work with and weep with every single day, victims and survivors who've suffered appalling abuse are then being re-abused by the Church's safeguarding practices. And Professor Jay's report makes that absolutely clear and says that cannot be allowed to go on.

“Some of us have been involved with raising issues of safeguarding in the Church of England for many years now, certainly more than a decade. And every time issues have been raised, two things happen. One is you get a weak sort of apology from someone at the centre of the Church. And the second thing is they say, ‘well, we'll create a new post, or we'll set up a committee or we'll have a review’. But this report makes it clear that the time has long gone, when the Church can fix this by itself.

“What you don't see in the report is hundreds of people and their loved ones in pain today, because of the way that the Church is doing its safeguarding now. It cannot go on. We can't fix this with another initiative, another committee, another post or a bit more money. Professor Jay says really clearly, the Church must let go of its grip on its broken safeguarding system and hand it over completely to people who have expertise and independence.

“My fear is that the Church will simply refuse to cooperate, because it doesn't want to be accountable to external scrutiny or authority. They’ll say they welcome the report and are deeply sorry, but what they will do is kick the can down the road again.

“This has to be the moment to change the Church of England because it’s in the last chance saloon.”

The Church of England’s lead bishop for safeguarding, Rt Rev Joanne Grenfell told Premier Christian News she welcomed the report, adding that she brought a “huge amount of wisdom from her work with IICSA”.

“Clearly, these are serious comments about the state of safeguarding at the moment, but also really important recommendations for building better foundations for the future,” she said.

“The important thing is that we fully understand the implications of the proposals which have just been published. And that means that in deciding together how best the whole Church can take responsibility for addressing the problems that have brought us to this point. We’ll look at them really carefully, and then we will look at the change that needs to happen.

“I welcome the challenge that she brings. When a person of the stature of somebody like Alexis Jay makes recommendations like this, we need to take them really seriously. But we need to give them really careful consideration so that we understand their implications, and so that every part of the Church can take responsibility for addressing those problems.

“I think there's a heart for change to help the Church become a safer place. And that means every part of the Church of England taking responsibility for the change that needs to happen.

“I can say that I feel deep sorrow for the harm that's been done. For all of us as Christians we need to pray that we're always alert to the possibility of abuse around us, and that we never get complacent about our culture. Those to me are the things that I'll be praying about. And I hope that others will join me in doing that, too.”

The recommendations in the report will be considered and debated on Saturday at a meeting of the Church’s General Synod in London.



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