‘Belief in forgiveness’ enabled sex offenders as Church reveals hundreds more cases

Church of England clergy
Church of England clergy

The Church of England has uncovered hundreds of new sex abuse cases in a review that found “belief in forgiveness” enabled perpetrators.

In its most extensive review of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults to date, the Church of England has uncovered 383 new cases dating back as far as the 1940s.

Almost two-thirds of the cases involved clergy members as perpetrators, while others were related to church officers and volunteers. The victims were mainly children (168 cases) and vulnerable adults (149).

Some 26 national recommendations have been made, including an overhaul of the Church’s culture of “protectionism”, which can involve blaming the victim and minimising the seriousness of offences.

The review reads: “There were reports which indicated a legacy of a culture that was too willing to accept accounts from those within the organisation. Allegations were described as often being dealt with informally, without appropriate investigation or record keeping.

“There were occasions reported when the belief in forgiveness and the right to worship appeared to the reviewers to outweigh the safeguarding concerns.”

It adds: “We cannot have a culture that sees safeguarding as a separate add-on. It needs to be part of our DNA, as an expression of our love for one another and our commitment to the Gospel.

“This means not just putting in place rigorous and professional processes, it also means that as a church we need to understand this and teach it as a core part of our faith and practice.”

A source of ‘profound shame’

The findings come after a similar review in 2007 - which was deemed inadequate, partly due to lack of victim input - identified 13 cases of sexual abuse in the Church following an analysis of more than 40,000 files.

This latest review, known as Past Cases Review 2 (PCR2), was carried out by independent reviewers across all 42 dioceses, as well as Lambeth and Bishopthorpe Palaces and the National Safeguarding Team.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued an apology to victims and said it was a source of “profound shame”.

“We sincerely apologise for our failures and want to reach out to those who are still suffering from the pain and misery they endured,” they said in a joint foreword of the report.

“We extend this apology to wider family members affected from this past abuse. We are so sorry that this ever happened. It was not your fault and you are not to blame. We should have been better at listening and responding to survivors’ and victims’ concerns.

“Our faith compels us to take safeguarding with the utmost seriousness; to prevent abuse from occurring; responding appropriately where it has in support of our undertaking to making church communities and institutions safer places.”

‘Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility’

Victim blaming was identified in the review as a factor which contributed to victims not having their voices heard at the time.

One reviewer noted that those involved in shifting blame away from the alleged perpetrator included not only the accused themselves, but also senior clergy and members of congregations.

The review also uncovered a culture in the Church of being overly willing to believe those who held positions in the organisation.

When allegations were made, they were often dealt with informally, not properly investigated, and not adequately recorded.

Jonathan Gibbs, the Church’s Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, thanked survivors of abuse for contributing to the review and acknowledged the personal cost to them in doing so.

“The evidence, particularly the case studies, shared by the independent reviewers makes harrowing reading and is a reminder that we still have much work to do,” he said.

“The report highlights a Church too willing to believe its own or to take matters into its own hands without consulting professionals.

“Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and, like all institutions, we must continue our development at every level to ensure this is part of our DNA, not an add-on, and to see this as a fundamental part of our Christian witness.”