Attempts by the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a consistently safe culture in the Church of England have been undermined because the public believes there’s a lack of consistency and follow through in his public statements.
That’s according to an audit by the non-governmental body, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), which was asked in 2015 to provide independent audits of the safeguarding arrangements of the dioceses, cathedrals and palaces of the Church of England. The audit of Lambeth Palace looked at the general safeguarding arrangements at the Palace and the national leadership role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 2020 a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into the Anglican Church was highly critical of the Church’s response to victims and survivors.
The SCIE audit found that efforts by Lambeth Palace to engage with survivors had been insufficiently thoughtful, despite some recent improvements in safeguarding culture and awareness at Lambeth Palace.
The report said people ‘wanted to be listened to and heard, to be cared for and supported, to be treated with humanity; for the Church to tell the truth, be concerned about their wellbeing and to keep its promises. They asked for acknowledgement when things had gone wrong, and for someone to say ‘sorry.’’
But the audit found that record-keeping had been historically poor and that until recently there hadn’t been a consistent understanding of good file-keeping, with certain types of correspondence destroyed up until 2019 because of ‘parameters set on the Palace inbox which filtered out and destroyed certain types of correspondence within a very short time.’
The report said this ‘was likely to have disproportionately affected correspondence reporting safeguarding incidents and concerns and affected the accuracy of the historical picture.’
According to the SCIE report, a lack of access to CDM (Clergy Discipline Measure) files meant that decision-making at Lambeth Palace in respect of CDMs with safeguarding elements could not be assessed and was a ‘significant limitation.’
Addressing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role in safeguarding, the report said 'Most Rev Justin Welby had sought to provide strong theological and moral leadership, and to make clear his belief that safeguarding the most vulnerable is at the heart of the Church’s mission'.
However, it said his ability to convert his 'personal commitment into visible action' is constrained by the constitutional reality of the Church of England and 'leaves the Archbishop open to accusations of inconsistency regarding safeguarding'.
It says there needs to be clarification of the Archbishop’s role because most people mistakenly believe that he has executive authority over the whole Church. While that perception continues and is not contradicted, the report says his role as ‘moral leader’ lacks clarity. It describes it as a ‘missed opportunity to explain what may appear to be a lack of action on his part.’
While the report noted that the Archbishop and his senior clergy and staff are fully aware of the need to create a culture of openness and transparency, and to challenge deference, ‘the continuing lack of clear structures in the Church for raising and addressing historic grievances about responses to knowledge of abuse and to survivors, can present real and pressing problems in terms of addressing past injustices and in rebuilding destroyed lives.’
In a tweet, Archbishop Welby thanked the Social Care Institute for Excellence team for their report and welcomed ‘the encouragement and the challenge to continue our ongoing learning and improvement of safeguarding practices.’