Against the background of a government inquiry into dozens of instances of child sexual abuse by those in authority, the Church of England has released the report of an independent review of one case that was settled in the courts last year, but which continues to raise hard questions about the response of senior clerics to reports of abuse.
From the Church of England website:
A review of the case of Rev A was commissioned in September 2015. This followed the disclosure of alleged sexual abuse committed by Rev A on Survivor B, decades ago, when he was a young person. B also reported that he had disclosed this abuse to a number of different people on separate occasions through the intervening years, both within and outside the Church. On each occasion, B reported that he had not received a response which he felt adequately addressed his needs. B also reported two other allegations of abuse – one by a senior church figure, (Brother C).
Reports in the Guardian name “Rev A” as Garth Moore, the chancellor of the dioceses of Southwark, Durham and Gloucester and the vicar of St Mary’s Abchurch in the City of London, and “Brother C” as Michael Fisher, leader of the Society of St Francis and suffragan bishop of St Germans in Cornwall.
According to the Guardian, the survivor in this case, pseudonym Joe, reported the abuse and rape that he suffered from Moore to many people in the church – but none followed up.
The number of people he told – mostly C of E priests – steadily mounted up. Many listened sympathetically; some offered absolution. But none took action or advised Joe to do so. …
Over the years, among the senior figures whom Joe told about the abuse were three bishops and a senior clergyman who was later appointed a bishop.
Joe finds it hard to accept that, while many people remember being told his story, not a single senior church figure has any recollection.
This disbelief is echoed in the formal report.
1. The reports of abuse that B has made are credible. They contain a tragic catalogue of exploitation and harm. The many attempts made by B to secure help from the Church within which he had grown up, resulted in frustration and failure. This increased his sense of anger at what had happened to him. He felt ignored. …
5.It is hard to accept that those who receive a disclosure of sexual abuse can fail to recall that it happened or to make an appropriate record of what was said. It is reported that this is what happened in this case.
The Rt Rev Sarah Mullalley, Bishop of Crediton, issued a response on behalf of the church.
I was horrified to hear and read of the abuse suffered by the survivor in this case. It has clearly devastated his life. I apologise profusely for the failings of the Church towards him, and for the horrific abuse he suffered. It has taken him years of heartache and distress to get his story heard and believed by those in authority and it is clear he has been failed in many ways over a long period of time. We should have been swifter to listen, to believe and to act. This report is deeply uncomfortable for the Church of England.
I know we have made some progress but we still have so much to learn and to do, and we need to do it quickly. I cannot imagine what it costs survivors to come forward, and we owe it to them to act swiftly and compassionately. I am humbled by the fact the survivor in this case has persisted and is still willing to give his time to try and ensure we learn these lessons.
This report has published a series of important recommendations. The Archbishop of Canterbury has seen these recommendations and will ensure they are implemented as quickly as possible.
How we respond to those who have survived abuse in any form, whether as a child or an adult, is a measure of our humanity, compassion and of the Church’s mission in the world.
The persistence of Joe, and the lessons he has to teach the church, are echoed in the conclusions and recommendations of the Elliot inquiry.
10. An important and underused resource for the Church in guiding its safeguarding practice, is the experience of survivors of clerical abuse. As in this case, B holds great anger about what happened to him but despite this, he was able to share great wisdom with regard to how survivors can be reached out to, engaged with, and helped. There is a need for a dialogue to be established with B and others like him so that the Church can reach a position where it is complying with its stated policies. …
Survivors of clerical abuse hold great wisdom as to how the Church can prevent what happened to them reoccurring. To that end and where the motivation exists on the part of the survivor, a mechanism should be created that is aimed at creating a means whereby that knowledge can be directly shared with those involved in safeguarding in the Church.
Joe has plenty still to say to the inquiry, the Guardian reports.
“What happened to me is not unique. The case might be unique, but the church’s shamefully slow response isn’t. It’s been a huge struggle. Never again. They must take real ownership of this issue. If I can help win that for other survivors, the fight will have been worth it.”
The British government has appointed Judge Lowell Goddard to head an independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in a range of institutions, including the Anglican churches, the Roman Catholic church, local councils, and abuse linked to Westminster.
Photo: Joe inscribes his message to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Adrian Sherratt for the Guardian