CofE tightens protections against child abuse


The Church of England General Synod has voted to strengthen procedures to prevent the abuse of children and vulnerable adults in its care.

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, who brought the motion forward, said: "This is just one step towards the Church making itself a safer place for all while acknowledging that effects of abuse on survivors can be lifelong.

"The most important change required in our safeguarding remains the transformation of our very DNA in relation to our theology, thinking and practice in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.

"We can never be complacent and we continue to urge any victims or those with information about church-related abuse to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence."

Changes include tightening up procedures around temporary permissions to officiate in a local parish and giving bishops the power to instruct clergy to undertake risk assessments.

New rules will be brought into place to prevent anyone with child-related convictions from serving as a member of a local church council, a district council or the Synod.

Bishops will also have the power to suspend people from their post if abuse is suspected.

The Synod was overwhelmingly supportive of the motion, and the only criticism was that it did not go far enough.

Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Martin Warner said: "We are pleased that our past failings, which sadly continue to mark and sear the church, are now an opportunity to improve the situation.

"We need to recognise how damaging it can be to see perpetrators continue to be functioning in the church."

Jamie Harrison, of the Diocese of Durham, described the new rules as being "very sadly necessary".

Meg Gilley, also of Durham Diocese, talking about the damage these things do to the Church said: "When [safeguarding] goes wrong, it gets in the way of mission."

In reminding people of the importance of this legislation overall, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said: "On safeguarding, what will potentially go wrong is not just the actions of one bishop, one clergyman, one church council member member, but instead the systematic actions of the whole Church."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, also contributed to the debate, saying safeguarding was "one of the most significant things we ever debate".

"All our discussion needs to be in the context of profound shame and sorrow for what we have done in the past, and what we have tolerated in the past," he said. 

He suggested a sense of humility as the Church "may be disqualified from providing support to the survivors".

"We need to put the needs of survivors at the centre of our ministry, unconditionally so that the help might be provided by others, not us," he said. 

Philip Giddings, head of Anglican Mainstream, cautioned that "amongst the many evils in our world, there are those who falsely accuse". However Bishop Butler insisted that "false accusations are rare".