Inquiry raises new questions over Church’s handling of abuse cases

A RANGE of issues questioning the Church of England’s handling of historical abuse cases were raised this week.

The first day of hearings for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) into the Anglican Church took place on Monday.

Lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, opened the hearing, by saying that“those who will be giving evidence and the available documentation suggests there may be problems.”

The first of these was that the Church seemed to be putting its ‘own reputationas an institution above the need to safeguard children’.

She suggested that this was because the Church was ‘an institution which [was] possibly unsure of itself and its role within the late 20th century, and was frightened of criticism from the outside.’

However, she also pointed to differences in approach to church order and religious form that may havesustained personal distrust and difficulties ininterpersonal relationships which worked against cooperation and action.

The Church’s internal battles over the role of women, both ordained but also as employees and volunteers in senior positions, were also cited.

She said the Church’s voluntary services ‘have always been dominated by women, but before1992 when the ordination of women was permitted, women were not in clerical positions of authority and some approaches to them by some clergy may have been infected by bias, conscious or unconscious’.

Ms Scolding QC said that the Anglican Church may be an institution which ‘by its culture and structure, have been unable to react as quickly and as decisively as it would have wished’.

She also claimed it had ‘a tendency to make children responsible for their sexual abuse instead of the adults around them’.

This was not helped because it was‘an institution grappling with human sexuality’, andwas an organisation with ‘a culture of amateurism: a non-professional or largely, until very recently, non-professional safeguarding organisation with very limited external oversight.’

This was, she said, run largely by clergy who were willing but had limited experience of such matters within their professional lives. She said that training was ‘patchy and not embedded, record keeping was not standardised and the sums of money spent upon safeguarding were, until very recently, small’.

She said: “Bishops, with largely no professional management qualifications or experience, are running multi-million-pound institutions with significant numbers of office holders and employees, as well as a vast number of volunteers.”

The Inquiry, whose first strand focuses on the Diocese of Chichester, heard how the annual sum spent on safeguarding there in 2010 was around £59,000, and now it is £226,000. Nationally, an estimate of the Church’s national expenditure has gone from £1.6 million in 2011 to £5.1 million in 2017.

Appearing for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, Nigel Griffin QC said that the visitation of Chichester ordered by Rowan Williams who appointed commissaries to conduct a visitation of the diocese on his behalf and its aftermath ‘were watershed moments for the Church of England’.

“The visitation did lead to a real step change and acceleration of reform in relation to safeguarding,” he said.

Commenting on the Chichester case study and events in relation to the Chichester diocese and in relation to Peter Ball, he said that: “It seems to us that enough is already known to be able to say that for a substantial period the way in which the relevant Church of England authorities dealt with events in Chichester fell short of what was to be expected.”