The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England have been urged to address its stains of child sexual abuse as the final report of a seven-year inquiry into the issue has been published.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) final report paints a horrific picture of child sexual abuse in England and Wales affecting more than 3 million people.
The Inquiry has carried out 19 reports on individual investigations including into the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the Church of England.
It heard from 725 witnesses during 325 hearings which began in February 2017, processing nearly 2.5 million pages of evidence. More than 6,000 victims and survivors of abuse also related their experiences to the inquiry's 'Truth Project'.
The final report said institutions and politicians had prioritised reputations over the welfare of young people, meaning horrific acts were hidden away for decades, while there were still inadequate protection measures in place.
The inquiry, one of the largest and most expensive investigations of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, said the issue was a global crisis, where children would be at risk unless urgent action was taken.
The report made 20 recommendations, with three key measures; a new law making it compulsory for certain people working with children to report abuse or face criminal action; the creation of a Child Protection Authority; and a redress scheme to provide financial help for survivors of abuse.
There have been strong calls for many years for mandatory reporting to be enshrined into law.
Emma Lawson from Christian safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight said she's glad that was part of the recommendations, as there has been a theme of inconsistency and a “patchwork response” to reporting abuse in the Church.
“Mandatory reporting is a critical step in preventing institutions from covering up abuse to protect their reputations and I think there should be consistency of standards in terms of reporting and response so if there are gaps in that, as there have been, then that's going to allow, abuse to continue,” she said.
“We want to do everything we can to prevent abuse from occurring so mandatory reporting is an important, critical step in that.
“It's a huge change, and what that will look like and exactly how it worked out practically will need to be explored in more detail.”
The chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said the abuse in a variety of institutions involved children, babies and toddlers often carried out by someone they knew and trusted, and was accompanied by extreme violence and acts of sadism, causing agonising physical pain.
She said in any group of 200 children, ten boys and more than 30 girls would be victims before the age of 16. Statistics showed the age of victims was getting younger, with a 45 per cent rise in offences against those aged under four in recent years.
Even while it was carrying out its investigations, the scale of online abuse had risen dramatically, the inquiry said.
Phil Johnson, a survivor of church abuse in the Diocese of Chichester and also a core participant at IICSA, said he was encouraged by the final report, especially the recommendations for mandatory reporting. However, he said we are far for reform on the issue.
“It's only a recommendation. The problem is that the Government has to implement that and with everything that's going on in Government at the moment, I think there's going to be a long way off,” he said.
“There was a consultation done by the Home Office few years ago, where they neglected calls for mandatory reporting. So we know that the Home Office is not in favour; however, we can be hopeful."
The government said it would respond to the inquiry’s report within six months, and was committed its work "is translated into action".
The Church of England's lead bishop for safeguarding, Jonathan Gibbs, said:“The Church was one of the first institutions to call for this Inquiry and we are taking its recommendations very seriously”.
He added: “The Inquiry recommends that mandatory reporting applies to those undertaking regulated activity and those in positions of trust (which includes clergy). A new Seal of Confessional Working Party has been commissioned by the House of Bishops building on the work of a previous body and will now include this recommendation in its work. As we heard at the Church of England’s IICSA hearings the Church is committed to the reporting of any concern that could lead to the harm of a child or vulnerable adult, this is enshrined in House of Bishops policy. The Archbishop of Canterbury also stated his support for mandatory reporting legislation for regulated activities.
“The Church’s main focus in response must first and foremost be recognising the distress caused to victims and survivors, we are truly sorry for the hurt caused by the Church and by our failures in safeguarding and we thank them for courageously coming forward to the Inquiry and sharing their experiences.”
The Catholic Council said in a statement: "Before the publication of the case study report into the Roman Catholic Church in November 2020, the Church commissioned an independent review into its safeguarding work and structures which is in the process of being implemented. The new national safeguarding body, the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA), which began operational work in April 2021, provides a regulatory function to organisations within the Church in England and Wales ensuring that standards are upheld, and all safeguarding processes adhered to. These changes were fully aligned with the Inquiry’s recommendations in the case study report.
"Key to this progress is the voice of victims and survivors of abuse which has been an integral element in the development of this new agency. The Church remains committed to listening with humility to those who have been hurt by the actions of Church members so that their experiences will inform our work.
"It is important for us to again offer an unreserved apology to all those who have been hurt by abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and to reaffirm our commitment to the continued refinement and improvement of our safeguarding work to protect all children and the vulnerable."
Listen to Premier's interview Emma Lawson here: