Church of England’s response to IICSA

The following summary of the Church of England’s response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been published by Meg Munn, Independent Chair, National Safeguarding Panel Church of England, [emboldening and highlighting in original]


Church of England’s response to IICSA

February 7, 2020 ~ Chair Meg

In March 2018, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) held three weeks of public hearings about the Diocese of Chichester, and in July 2018, one week of hearings on Bishop Peter Ball. IICSA’s findings for these two case studies, with a set of recommendations, were published on 9 May 2019.

The National Safeguarding Panel asked the church how it had responded to these recommendations at our December 2019 meeting.

The IICSA report draws out some key main themes including the lack of care for victims, the organisational culture which put reputation before protection, deference to the clergy, weaknesses within the Church’s governance structures and absence of effective policy. It highlights the methods that powerful dangerous predatory sex offenders use to groom not only victims, but people in prominent positions, who then seek to protect and support the adult perpetrator, not the victim.

Written information was provided to the Panel on the action to date. We also questioned Peter Hancock, lead Bishop for safeguarding, Nathalie Ballard, IICSA Project Manager and Paul Stevenson, Deputy Head of the Legal Office.

The IICSA report contained five recommendations to the Church. Below is a summary of the discussion and recommendations of the National Safeguarding Panel for each of the report’s recommendations.

1: Introduction of safeguarding guidance for religious communities

The Church must ensure that that these organisations meet adequate requirements for safeguarding. The regulation and management of religious communities should include a mandatory requirement both to have and to follow safeguarding guidance.

The regulation and management of religious communities should include a mandatory requirement both to have and to follow safeguarding guidance. The requirement to comply with this safeguarding guidance should be the same as would be expected in any other Church institution. There needs to be clarity in respect of how safeguarding should be managed in these communities, along with appropriate auditing of compliance.

The National Safeguarding Team are establishing a working group to produce safeguarding guidance to include four people from the Advisory Board for Religious Communities. At the moment religious communities are not obliged to carry out safeguarding training. This will change to make it mandatory. Training is already being provided to some communities and others will be offered it ahead of the guidance changing.

There are 38 religious communities, some recognised and some just acknowledged, that are separate from the Church of England. There needs to be clarity about which Anglican religious communities are encompassed within the wider Church of England community.

Synod gave final approval to Amending Canon No. 40 in July 2019. It inserts new provision into the Canons of the Church of England relating to religious communities. Under these provisions, religious communities in the Church of England will be subject to legal designation for the first time, and will be required to follow regulations as set out by the Church. There will be a published list of communities each of which the House of Bishops has declared to be a religious community in the Church of England. The regulations will also require communities to follow House of Bishops Safeguarding Policy. The amended canon will be enacted in November 2020 to allow Communities to obtain their designation.

The responsibility to monitor communities sits with the relevant Diocesan Bishop with the support of the diocesan safeguarding team.

The Panel was supportive of the working group and recommends improved governance structure for religious communities leading to better oversight. Safeguarding training is a vital element and this needs to be adapted to take account of the structure of individual communities and the roles within those communities.

2: Amendment of Canon C30

The canon requiring clerics to comply with the Bishop’s Guidance on Safeguarding lacks clarity. The use of the term “due regard” is poorly understood.

The Church has accepted this recommendation. Work is being undertaken to assess what should be a strict requirement and what should be advisory. This will then be set out in plain language. Whilst the work is being undertaken a communication will be sent to clergy in plain language to clarify what ‘due regard’ means.

The Panel supported this action and urged the Church to complete the work as soon as possible. Clear and simple language must be used in all safeguarding materials to explain any legal terms.

Work is being done to better understand current practice. This includes obtaining information on Clergy Discipline Measures, information from safeguarding trainers and from the SCIE audits. The National Safeguarding Team are creating a quality assurance framework which will draw on information and data from a wide range of sources in order to provide evidence in the future of adherence to the amended canon.

The Panel agreed to consider quality assurance at a future meeting.

3: Amendment of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 

The law should be amended to include clergy in the definition of a position of trust. This would criminalise sexual activity between clergy and a person aged 16 – 18 over whom they exercise pastoral authority, involving the abuse of a position of trust.

A letter has been sent to government supporting a change to the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Discussions have taken place with the Methodist Church regarding this recommendation and the Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged that it is important to continue to work with Christian denominations and other faiths.

The Panel supports the work to date and while recognising that the General Election caused a pause in parliament, government continues and therefore urged the National Safeguarding Team to write to the government again regarding the amendment of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The Panel recommended that the Church seek to undertake work with other Christian denominations and other faiths to consider a joint approach to government particularly around how legislation and guidance should address the issue of ‘Positions of Trust’ in faith organisations.

4: Sanctions for failures to comply with safeguarding procedures

Those involved in regulated activity who have failed to undergo a DBS check or complete compulsory training should not be permitted to hold voluntary offices within the Church. Failure by ordained clergy to comply should result in disciplinary proceedings.

The discussion provided an opportunity for an update on the Clergy Discipline Measure Working Group. They have created a number of workstreams including options of adding in a sanctions section to the measure or creating a separate disciplinary procedure for safeguarding alongside the main process.

The Panel believes that the work of the Clergy Discipline Measure Working Group is of great importance and requests progress reports. It is likely that the Panel will wish to consider the work of the group as a topic for a future.

Some Panel members expressed concern that a number of bishops and a former Archbishop of Canterbury were heavily criticised by IICSA and it was not clear how they had been held to account for their actions or their failure to act. A question was put as to whether more could be done to make clear publicly that these actions do not represent the values and expected behaviour of clergy. Some Panel members held a contrary view and felt that the Church had been very clear in distancing itself from the action and inaction of individuals.

It was acknowledged that a number of people are currently under investigation. It is not clear whether all those who have been criticised have been investigated. While accepting there is a need for appropriate confidentiality, Panel members are seeking reassurance that all those involved have either been investigated or are currently subject to an appropriate process.

The Panel stressed the importance of changing the culture within the Church. Key elements to that are the requirement to be proactive in safeguarding, that inaction in response to concerns is unacceptable and that protecting the reputation of the Church by concealing safeguarding issues is wrong. Only openness and transparency can restore the Church’s reputation.

5: Disclosure of internal reviews to the national review body

The national review body set up by the Children and Social Work Act 2017 considers reviews from local authorities. IICSA recommends reviews by the Church should also be submitted to this body.

The general consensus within the Church of England is that there are no barriers to disclosing internal reviews to the national review body. The Panel supported the disclosure of internal reviews to the national review body.

A further report is expected from IICSA in 2020 and the National Safeguarding Panel will scrutinise further recommendations alongside following up the actions outlined above.


Comment

On 27 June, the Church of England issued a Press Release announcing its response to IICSA’s report and its five recommendations; this was reported in our post Church of England response to IICSA report of 29 June 2019.

[Update: 10 February 2020, 22:10. Note that this is a communication from Meg Munn, Independent Chair, National Safeguarding Panel Church of England, and not from the Church of England itself]

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Church of England’s response to IICSA" in Law & Religion UK, 7 February 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/02/07/church-of-englands-response-to-iicsa-2/

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