A letter from senior clergy in the Diocese of Blackburn, reflecting on IICSA reports on Chichester Diocese and Peter Ball, has been sent to all Clergy, Readers and Safeguarding Officers in the diocese. Extracts from the letter are reproduced below.
The Press Release states “… the Bishops, Archdeacons and The Dean of The Church of England in Lancashire were moved to send a message across our Diocese to urge others of the need to be ‘spending time with the report’; the reading of which they describe as a ‘powerful, emotional experience’”. The text of the letter can be viewed in its original form here
To all holding the Bishop of Blackburn’s Licence (Clergy and Readers) and Parish Safeguarding Officers
Monday June 17th 2019
The Church is one body, so whilst we may not ourselves have been directly involved in the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, we are fellow members of the body with those who have and so we are all called to repentance.
The Church should be the conscience of the nation and yet as the report shows, again and again we have placed the reputation of the institution above the needs of the vulnerable. In addition, when the contemporary church fails to respond properly to allegations from the past, this becomes a form of re-abuse, adding a fresh layer of hurt and harm to those whose lives are already damaged. Trite, formulaic apologies will not do. There has been grave sin within the Church, and unless corporately we name, confess and deal with that sin, our mission to the nation is fatally undermined.
Moreover the report indirectly challenges us to give even greater priority to ensuring that our local churches are places where children and vulnerable adults are entirely safe and where the voices of those who have difficult things to say or disclosures to make are heard and acted on.
Whilst the Church has undoubtedly taken great steps forward in this over the past ten years, it is absolutely critical that we ensure that safeguarding procedures in our parishes are robust, that training is up to date, that people who have concerns know how and where to report them and that the advice laid out in the Parish Safeguarding Manual is followed by every PCC. Also vital is that, if you have any safeguarding concerns which are either current or historic, you come forward and report these.
But we need to understand also that safeguarding is not just about ticking boxes and following rules. It is about a much deeper awareness, especially for clergy and church-leaders, of where power lies in relationships and how easy it is to abuse that power. The report has a great deal to say about ‘clericalism’ and about an inappropriate culture of deference to clergy, especially senior clergy, which has resulted in cover-up and in the voices of the vulnerable being silenced.
The IICSA report also lays before us much deeper questions about the way we structure our life as the established church, ones that will need to be debated both within and without the Diocese.
- How can we ensure greater accountability of bishops and clergy, and do Common Tenure and the Clergy Discipline Measure need reforming to enable this?
- Is it best practice to have separate safeguarding functions in each Diocese or do we need a single, central safeguarding authority which is independent of Bishops and the DBF?
- Is a de-centralised structure (with independent parishes, dioceses and cathedrals) creating gaps between bodies that manipulative people can hide in?
- How can we ensure full implementation of safeguarding policies in the local church?
It seems to us that there are very few areas of our common life that we will not need to look at very closely and honestly in the years to come. Vague and evasive talk of ‘culture change’ is not enough because culture is driven and determined by structures, appointments and decisions.