Archbishops Issue Apology as New Inquiry Releases its Findings

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This month, the Church of England released the results of its independent inquiry into its handling of sexual abuse within the institution.

The new report, entitled the Past Cases Review 2 (PCR2), aimed to:

  • identify good practice as well as where institutional failings led to allegations of abuse not being treated properly;
  • assess any risks and respond to these where needed;
  • give recommendations to the Church that will allow improvements to be made.

In order to achieve these objectives, independent reviewers looked over more than 75,000 files with some dating as far back as the 1940s. This presents a significantly larger operation than that of the earlier Past Cases Report 1 (PCR1). PCR1 was released in 2018 and was criticised soon after for not being thorough enough in its engagement with survivors of sexual abuse within the Church. 

In this article, we’ve outlined the key findings of the latest inquiry, the recommendations made by the report as well as the Church’s apology and wider response.

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What did the Report Contain?

One of the main findings of the inquiry was the identification of 383 new cases of sexual assault that took place within the Church. Whilst some of these cases had been referred to statutory authorities, others were dealt with informally without following the proper route of investigation and record-keeping.

The reported failings in the handling of sexual abuse allegations reflect earlier comments made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) which referred to a culture where abusers “were able to hide”. 

Of the new cases reported, 168 were in relation to sexual abuse against children, 149 were related to vulnerable adults, 27 were recorded as both and 39 had no recorded data available. The people accused in these cases were a combination of clergy members, church officers and volunteers who regularly engaged with children.

Over 800 recommendations were provided by various dioceses who had all conducted their own local reports as part of the inquiry. These have been narrowed down to 26 national recommendations which are split into three categories – Keep Doing Well, Do More Effectively and Consistently, and Must Improve.

Some of the most significant recommendations for improvement included:

  • Developing and delivering national survivor and victim charter – this should set out how children’s opinions should be sought out in every matter that affects them. It should also create practices that help church bodies to spot signs that a child could be at risk and swiftly act upon these.
  • Building on information sharing agreement - this should involve extending the scope of the Information Sharing Agreement Project (responsible for IICSA recommendations five and six) to include a sharing agreement between organisations who employ Church of England chaplains and the dioceses who grant chaplains the Bishop’s Licence.
  • Provision of guidance – this places responsibility on the Church’s National Safeguarding Team to give guidance around the conversations that should be had when safeguarding situations are explored in Ministerial Development Reviews.

How has the Church Responded to the Findings?

The Church’s National Safeguarding Steering Group has accepted the findings of the report and has committed to implementing recommendations. All 42 dioceses, the Lambeth and Bishopthorpe Palaces and the National Safeguarding Team are publishing their own summaries of the report and actions they will take as a result.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said they “sincerely apologise” for the Church’s failures and they want to reach out to those who are suffering from the pain caused. They said in a joint statement that “it is always with great sadness and profound shame that we, again and again, come face-to-face with the brokenness and failings of our church in its day-to-day interactions and in its process and leadership”.

The Church’s Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, Jonathan Gibbs has also apologised and has said that the Church will “continue to learn and work together as we implement the national recommendations”.

We’re glad to see that the Church is proactively investigating its archives to see where mistakes have been made in the past and how they can learn from these. The findings of the latest inquiry will, however, need to be viewed within the context of recent recommendations made in the IICSA’s final report on 20 October 2022.

If you’ve been affected by sexual abuse, either recently or in the past, our Abuse Lawyers could help you access support and compensation. Whenever you’re ready to discuss what’s happened, we’re here to listen.

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