IICSA: Archbishop Welby’s evidence session

The final evidence session of the IICSA three-week public hearing into the extent of any institutional failures within the Anglican Church took place on Wednesday 21 March; giving evidence was the Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Rt Rev Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the Church’s lead bishop on safeguarding. Archbishop Welby is one of fifty witnesses who have given either oral or written evidence to the inquiry over these three weeks of hearings.

Thursday is scheduled as a “non sitting day/reading day” whilst counsel prepare closing statements. The closing statements from the legal teams of the Core Participants will be on Friday.

This post focusses on the legal aspects of the issues that were explored with Archbishop Welby.


The scope of the IICSA inquiry into the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse within the Anglican Church is set out in detail here. Its task was encapsulated by NSS Vice President, Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer for Slater & Gordon who represents a number of abuse victims, who said:

“the overarching question for IICSA, through this [Day 1] and the subsequent hearings, is whether the Church of England’s safeguarding can safely be left to the church or needs independent oversight…

“IICSA needs to look at radical solutions. I invited them to consider two radical changes in tandem: an independent body to oversee the conduct of safeguarding in the church; and mandatory reporting…”.

In addition to such forward-looking suggestions, Archbishop Welby was faced with the damning evidence on the Church’s past (and recent) performance recounted in the detail evidence by those involved. This was summed up after the second week in a tweet by The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, who said:

“A terrible week with evidence of religious exceptionalism, stupidity, incompetence, lying, dumping responsibility at every level including the highest, and folie de grandeur. Bishops must be accountable. This means not just to themselves. End of story” .

Archbishop Welby’s Evidence, [17/53 to 22/153]

Fiona Scolding QC, leading counsel to the inquiry, noted that paragraph 15 of Archbishop Welby’s witness statement indicated that his safeguarding role could be divided into four specific areas: using his influence to help ensure that necessary reforms take place.; providing leadership; ensuring resources; and, overseeing any disciplinary proceedings. She stated:

“I’d really like to spend the rest of the time going through leadership and direction in promoting a safer church; appointing a bishop with lead responsibility for safeguarding children; appointing the members of the National Safeguarding Steering Group; ensuring that diocesan bishops engage in safeguarding; and directing the archbishop of another province or a bishop to undergo a risk assessment. [17/59 to 7/60].

It is pertinent to note that in correcting his witness statement, Archbishop Welby said:  “I have no legal power to dismiss a bishop and, apart from directing bishops to undergo a risk assessment, I have no legal power to direct that bishops take specific action,” [13/54 to 16/54]. Later in his evidence, he said that “under the 2017 rules, the Diocesan Safety Advisor has an absolute right to take action even if the bishop tells them not to. So that is now written into the code of conduct and it’s a statutory right…It would be a problem for them if they didn’t exercise…the right” [74/4 to 10].

Questioned on his responsibility of being to ensure that diocesan bishops engage in safeguarding induction and training and the steps he had taken in order to ensure that that responsibility was fulfilled by himself, he said:

“The first step I took quite early on in my time as archbishop, I suspect in 2014, was to say that I would not be willing to consecrate any bishop, either for a diocesan or a suffragan post, unless they had already done their training for safeguarding at the appropriate level, and then — and that had — there was one point where it was not going to happen and I said I wouldn’t undertake the consecration, and they managed to get it  done in time”. [13/58 to 21/58].

Archbishop Welby confirmed the assertions in paragraphs 6 to 8 of his witness statement that although he had a lot of influence, he  did not in fact have a lot of power, in that diocesan bishops were essentially autonomous, and that the was not their line manager. However, he noted [60/15 to 62/15]:

“one of things one learns in the job as time goes on is how to deploy influence, so you probably get better at it as you go on, and it takes quite a long time to realise. It doesn’t mean you ever acquire the legal right to order things, but you can use influence more than one thinks…

Providing an archbishop with greater legal powers would, in effect, involve restructuring the church as it existed since the Reformation and right back to Augustine, but:

“I think the powers I have around safeguarding and that the Archbishop of York has as the other metropolitan probably do need relooking at. So the particular issue I’m thinking of is that there is no — there’s no middle way. There is no way of expressing concern which results in action if the bishop didn’t want to take action. It hasn’t arisen, I need to say that”

“But you have either got the rather blunt weapon of [an archiepiscopal]visitation which hasn’t been used apart from Chichester since the mid 19th century, or you’ve got doing nothing at all except sort of saying —

“‘You know, I do think you need to think about this’. I think we do need to relook at that without breaking down the entire system which gives a measure of protection for bishops from over-heavy centralisation. It is something we are doing a lot of. We are developing the accountability of bishops through training and teamwork much more than we did, through what we call the renewal and the reform programme, and we are looking at this, and also the training we are giving senior leaders and bishops is now much more directed towards accountability than it used to be.

So there’s probably something that needs doing formally, but informally, we are working very hard on this”.

On the suggestion that that if things are going seriously awry in respect of safeguarding, the Archbishop or the church should have, some kind of power to intervene short of a visitation, (since a visitation is not really fit for purpose in terms of managing and addressing safeguarding concerns), Archbishop Welby considered the suggestion to be feasible and practicable, although it would require very careful drafting, [3 to 63/25].

With regard to the Synodical process, Archbishop Welby said [67/1 to 6]:

“…We have passed a simplification measure which does enable us to use what I think are called Henry VIII measures — though I have never fully understood that term — in order to accelerate non-contentious changes. I think that can probably be used in safeguarding in some areas to speed things up”.

After considering training within the Church, the questioning move to DBS checks and Archbishop Welby agreed with the notion that there is a conversation to be had between the church as a whole and national government, because one of the things that a number of people have said to the Inquiry is that the definition of what is a “relevant activity” . Elizabeth Hall, had given evidence earlier in the morning indicated that currently it is not broad enough; the issue of the inclusion of organists was considered [100/19 to 102/11].

Ms Scolding explored understandings of the meaning of “forgiveness”, further to the paper “Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse“, published by the Church’s Faith and Order Commission.  Archbishop Welby stated:

“Forgiveness is not something you can magic out by an act of self-will, nor is it a duty that you can impose on someone because that, itself, can become a form of abuse. You have got to forgive all, something or other. That’s simply another way of abusing people and gaining power over them.[105/13 to 19].

He continued:

“The Bible is utterly brutally blunt about the difference between forgiveness and consequences of sin, and they are very, very different things. You have got stories in the Old Testament of King David doing a terrible act and he was forgiven by God, but he suffered the consequences of that act until the end of his days in disrupted family — utterly disrupted family relationships.

“Where there is something done wrong, it will have consequences, and those consequences are not punishment, they are just a natural outworking. We know with abusive behaviour that it tends to repeat. If someone has been an abuser and they are — they confess or they own up or they are found out, they can never be trusted again.

That’s the consequence. It doesn’t mean that 18 they can’t have confessed and genuinely repented, but you will never take a chance with them again, and that’s where the muddle has come, and that is just foolish…And it is un-Christian, by the way. It is untheological”. [107/3 to 23]

With regard to the recommendations of the Carlile Review, Archbishop Welby said:

“We, in fact, accepted all his recommendations apart from that one, which is one half of one recommendation, if I remember rightly, but I may be wrong…It goes to the heart of the whole issue. A non-disclosure agreement seems to me to be dangerous because it creates suspicion: “Why are you doing an NDA? Surely you’re trying to cover something up.

Secondly — so if we’d done that, when, as inevitably because these things always do, they do become public, quite legitimately the first question that we would have to face is, “What else are you hiding?”.

Secondly (sic), a non-disclosure agreement doesn’t protect people’s reputation. It implies there is something worth concealing.

Thirdly, in safeguarding, letting it be known that something has happened, or is alleged to have happened in this case, is one of the key ways in finding out whether there’s a pattern of abuse, because it gives other victims and survivors confidence to come forward, and that’s why I felt so strongly about this, that we needed to be transparent, because it was going to be damaging to the church, and this is the greatest hero of the last 100 years amongst the bishops.

It would do huge damage. And it would be wonderful if we could say that it was not true. And the investigations are still going on, and at the end of them we will be transparent about the outcome, for exactly the same reason as we were transparent about the complaint at the beginning” [122/6 to 123/20].


Archbishop Welby’s evidence session has been widely reported, and many of these accounts are summarized in Thinking Anglicans.


[i] References in this post relate to the Day 13 Transcript and are in the form [page number/line number].

[ii] Some commentators have queried the meaning of “the Anglican Church” when used by the IICSA. As its  web site clarifies: “The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse within the Church of England, the Church in Wales and other Anglican churches operating in England and Wales (collectively referred to here as ‘the Anglican Church’)”.  In the context of the IICSA inquiry, this is the phrase that it has chosen to use, incorrect though it may be in the broader sense.

[iii] The IICSA has announced that a preliminary hearing into the Peter Ball case study will take place in the morning of Wednesday 6 June 2018. This will augment the “very short” two-paragraph statement provided to the IICSA by Lord Carey of Clifton (Day 10, 164/19 to 165/25).

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "IICSA: Archbishop Welby’s evidence session" in Law & Religion UK, 22 March 2018, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2018/03/22/iicsa-archbishop-welbys-evidence-session/

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