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Report: Church of England safeguarding measures against abuse fall below expected standards

A priest prays inside Sacred Heart Basilica in Paris Oct. 6, 2021. A new report has revealed what it describes as conflicts of interest in the handling of allegation of sexual abuse in Britain’s established church, the Church of England. (OSV News photo/Sarah Meyssonnier, Reuters)

By Michael Kelly

(OSV News) — A new report has revealed what it describes as conflicts of interest in the handling of allegations of sexual abuse in Britain’s established state church, the Church of England.

The report, released Feb. 21, found that despite numerous reviews, the church cannot be trusted to investigate allegations of sexual abuse without outside involvement.

The former chair of a government-ordered Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said policies around the protection of children and vulnerable adults within the denomination are “flawed” and “cannot be sufficiently improved whilst it remains within church oversight.”

Alexis Jay concludes in the report: “(The church) needs to fundamentally change in order to restore the confidence of victims, survivors and others, including clergy.

“This can only be achieved by being delivered by a fully independent body,” she writes. Jay is a visiting professor at Strathclyde University, where she chairs the Center for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland.

The report proposes the establishment of two separate charities, independent of the church, one with operational responsibility for safeguarding and the other to provide scrutiny and oversight.

Jay insisted that the proposed new independent bodies need to be funded by the church and that anyone complaining of abuse in the church should be referred to them as soon as possible.

“Further tinkering with existing structures would not be sufficient to make safeguarding in the Church professional, accountable and trusted by those who use its services,” she said.

Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Archbishop Stephen Cottrell of York — the two primates in the Church of England — welcomed the report’s “wisdom, expertise and meticulous proposals.”

According to Jay, “There are conflicts of interest in several aspects of safeguarding, which are not openly acknowledged or addressed in policy, procedures or practice.

“This serves to further undermine the trust of many of those who need to engage with church safeguarding,” the academic expert said in one of her conclusions.

Jay was called in by the Church of England in the summer of 2023 following the bishops disbanding their own Independent Safeguarding Board after panel members accused the hierarchy of obstructing their work.

Her research also included experiences of those who had made abuse allegations to the church. She reported that some survivors talked of feeling like the system had, in their words, been “weaponized against them,” and many respondents reported an “all-time low” in relations between the bishops and survivors.

In a statement, the archbishops of Canterbury and of York, said: “We recognize her criticism of our safeguarding structures and processes, and we welcome this scrutiny and challenge. For the sake of all those who come into contact with the church, particularly victims and survivors, we welcome the plans that are in place to take forward this work as swiftly as possible.”

In 2023, church leaders announced funding of some $190 million for redress for abuse survivors.

The Church of England is the country’s largest denomination, tracing its history back to Henry VIII’s split with Rome in the 16th century and counting King Charles as the supreme governor, although the monarch has little day-to-day involvement in ecclesiastical affairs.

Michael Kelly writes for OSV News from Dublin.

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