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Church News

Church of England responds to damning review of its victims support scheme

by Premier Journalist

The Church of England has published a response to a damning review of its redress scheme for victims of sexual abuse in the church.

A review by the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) for the Church of England (CofE) concluded last week that a vulnerable survivor of abuse suffered harm due to a persistent lack of communication, uncoordinated case management, and inadequate pastoral support. 

On Wednesday, the Church of England’s director of safeguarding, Alexander Kubeyinje, said: “We must not forget that at the heart of this report and its recommendations is a survivor, and his welfare and well-being remain at the forefront of all we do."

The ISB was set up in 2021 to support the development of an independent structure to deliver professional supervision and quality assurance across the Church's safeguarding activities.  This was its first review and was endorsed by the survivor - who is being referred to only as ‘Mr X’.  It includes nine recommendations for improving the Church's handling of abuse claims, saying the current terms of the redress scheme to support survivors are "not fit for purpose". 

A redacted version of the report was delivered to the director of safeguarding at the CofE two months ago, but the church had not responded publicly until Wednesday.

Victim advocate Andrew Graystone said the review highlighted a catalogue of failings, cover-ups and, in some cases, cruelty by various parts of the church in how it responded to 'Mr. X’ over a 35-year period.  He acknowledged that the church is both the source and the solution of the pain, “when somebody is abused in a church context, it does damage to them in so many ways. Amongst other things, it does real spiritual damage that needs healing, and only the church is really able to provide that kind of healing”. 

He added, “If you go to the church [of England] with a complaint about abuse, you're treated a little bit like you've gone to the complaints department of a supermarket about a faulty product… Instead of deploying its pastoral staff [the church] deploys lawyers, and insurance companies, and PR people who handle and manage the complaint that's been made.” 

In regard to what the church can learn from this review, Graystone said the church needs to “put people before institutions.”  He added, “When we're told we’re to ‘build the church’ as Christians, what Jesus doesn't mean is used to build it as a brand, or a successful business or an organisation. The church has to be built out of love and out of healing and out of hope.”

In Wednesday's statement Alexander Kubeyinje, said the National Safeguarding Team had already started working on "some of the recommendations before the report was commissioned and published".

But Mr Graystone said the Church of England needs to find a better way of handling abuse cases when they cross into different jurisdictions of the Church’s structure.

“It's very hard for the church to give a straight answer and to treat individuals as individuals, and there needs to be a way of overcoming that… if you turn up at the door of the vicarage or the pastor's house, I have no doubt that 99 times out of 100 you would get a personal, compassionate, generous response… but if you turn up at the doorstep of the national church and say, ‘I've been hurt’, the instinct is, ‘we'll have to consult our lawyers and our insurance company’, and ‘we need to look at the damage this might do to our reputation’. Somehow the church needs to cut through that and see people like Mr. X as individuals who need care and compassion and need it very urgently,”he added.

The Church of England says they are reviewing the terms of the redress scheme, which was criticised in the review: “On the Interim Support Scheme – this was set up as a pilot in 2020 as part of the Church’s recognition of the harm that has been caused not only by the abuse itself but by the Church’s responses to survivors. We have kept it under constant review with a view to improving the service that we provide. There are already plans to increase staffing, in order to shorten waiting times, improve accessibility and streamline the process of applying.”

The statement from Kubeyinje says, "They have been making every effort to set up a case management group meeting for Mr X. I have been working with colleagues across the Church, including ongoing communication with Mr X and his advocate, to try to resolve this and will continue with these efforts.”

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