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World News

Welby acknowledges 'complete absence of confidence' in safeguarding as report author says failures are not all historical

by Donna Birrell

The Archbishop of Canterbury says there is a “complete absence of confidence” in the Church of England’s safeguarding.

However, despite this members of the Church's General Synod rejected amendments which would have committed the church to a new independent safeguarding system. They voted instead to adopt a period of consultation.

In response to a presentation by Professor Alexis Jay, whose recent report recommended that the Church outsources its entire responsibility for safeguarding to two independent charities, Most Rev Justin Welby said the church “must get it right” as it is “a disaster for all involved”.   

He described it as a “terrible, dark legacy of the past” and accepted that he had been “in too much of a hurry” in setting up the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) which was disbanded last Summer.

Speaking to members of the Synod in London, Archbishop Welby apologised for the ISB events and said there was “no instant fix” when it comes to safeguarding which “we must get right”.

In her video message, Professor Jay, a former Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said:

“My report has identified a collapse in trust and confidence, principally amongst victims and survivors, but not only by them.

“I believe it is imperative that everyone who considers my recommendations recognises a fundamental truth. Safeguarding in the church today falls below the standards expected and set in secular organisations, which are required to follow statutory guidance…given how long change can take, I have focused my report on addressing what practical steps are necessary to achieve radical change.

“It is critical that the church creates and upholds a person centred culture. I should also warn you that I have during this work encountered the view that the church's safeguarding problems are largely historical. This is most definitely not the case. We engaged quite deliberately with people who had experienced safeguarding in the past five years, the weaknesses they identified to us more recent, given how widespread shortcomings and current arrangements are, and the need for a change of culture. I believe that a new model of safeguarding is required, one which delivers a transfer of responsibility from the church to two new, fully independent bodies. One of these bodies will deliver operational safeguarding and the other will provide scrutiny of operational safeguarding. Their advice and decisions should be final and not merely advisory.”

However, the Church is far from agreement on the issue. During the debate, the Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev Philip North wondered whether “this model of independence will actually make us a safer church” and said the church didn’t want to be “an experiment”.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells Rt Rev Michael Beasley warned against pushing through the recommendations too quickly in favour of “considered engagement.”

But the Archdeacon of Liverpool, Miranda Threlfall-Holmes said the time for debate was past :”It isn’t working, we need to do something else. Professor Jay’s report tells us what we need to do and we need to get on with it.

“We need to take seriously this collapse of trust.”  

As a result of the debate, an internal team will now engage with dioceses to unpick reactions on different elements and develop detailed proposals. A survivor and victim focus group will also hear the views of victims, survivors and their advocates. 

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