Skip to main content

0800 917 1000 Open weekdays 8am-10pm, Saturday 10am-12pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Anglican Church Investigation Report

Contents

B.6.2: Concerns regarding the culture of the Church of England

4. In the Chichester/Peter Ball Investigation Report, the Inquiry identified a number of concerns regarding the culture of the Church.[1]

4.1. Clericalism: Power was vested chiefly in the clergy, without accountability to external or independent agencies or individuals. A culture of clericalism existed in which the moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach. They benefited from deferential treatment so that their conduct was not questioned, enabling some to abuse children and vulnerable adults. In the third public hearing Bishop Hancock (then Lead Bishop on Safeguarding) agreed that “issues of clericalism and deference have allowed abuse to be covered up and the voices of the vulnerable to be silenced”.[2] In his view, “the abuse of power has been perhaps the most significant reason why abuse has been allowed to foster” in the Church of England.[3]

4.2. Tribalism: Within the Church, there was disproportionate loyalty to members of one’s own ‘tribe’ (a group within an institution, based upon close personal ties and shared beliefs). This extended inappropriately to safeguarding practice, with the protection of some accused of child sexual abuse. Perpetrators were defended by their peers, who also sought to reintegrate them into Church life without consideration of the welfare or protection of children and vulnerable adults. Contributors to the Inquiry’s Truth Project, who described their abuse in religious contexts, said that they were “disbelieved, discredited and not supported after disclosing their experiences of sexual abuse”.[4]

4.3. Naivety: There was and is a view amongst some parishioners and clergy that their religious practices and adherence to a moral code made sexual abuse of children very unlikely or indeed impossible. Reports of abuse were on occasions dismissed without investigation.[5] There are some within the Church exploring how to respond to these attitudes through academic research.[6]

4.4. Reputation: The primary concern of many senior clergy was to uphold the Church’s reputation, which was prioritised over victims and survivors. Senior clergy often declined to report allegations to statutory agencies, preferring to manage those accused internally for as long as possible. This hindered criminal investigations and enabled some abusers to escape justice. In her review of the Peter Ball case, Dame Moira Gibb concluded that senior clergy placed more emphasis on the Church’s high standing than on the welfare of victims and survivors.[7] Church leaders sought to keep allegations out of the public domain and the resulting lack of engagement with external agencies helped to create a culture of “almost unchallengeable authority” in the Church.[8]

4.5. Sexuality: There was a culture of fear and secrecy within the Church about sexuality. Some members of the Church also wrongly conflated homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults.[9] There was a lack of transparency, open dialogue and candour about sexual matters, together with an awkwardness about investigating such matters. This made it difficult to challenge sexual behaviour.[10] Mr Colin Perkins, diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA) for the Diocese of Chichester, told us that homosexual clergy may have found themselves inadvertently “under the same cloak” as child sexual abusers, who sought to mask their behaviour “in the same cultural hiding place”.[11]

5. In May 2019, the Inquiry published its thematic report Child Sexual Abuse in the Context of Religious Institutions, which included accounts from those abused by individuals within the Church of England. Many contributors saw their perpetrators as prominent members of society, with “privilege, respect and reverence” by virtue of their influential positions; their actions were “never questioned” and their ability to abuse was “never contemplated”.[12] The report stated that the “particularly high regard and trust placed in religious institutions” amongst other factors facilitated abuse and discouraged appropriate responses to allegations in the Church.[13]

6. During the third public hearing the Inquiry heard evidence which demonstrated that there are still some within the Church who do not understand the nature and impact of child sexual abuse and do not respond appropriately.

6.1. Until his retirement in September 2019, Peter Forster was the Bishop of Chester and the longest serving bishop in the Church of England. In his evidence to the Inquiry, Bishop Forster declined to accept the seriousness of the offending of Reverend Ian Hughes, who was convicted in 2014 of downloading 8,000 indecent images of children. Bishop Forster suggested to us that Hughes had been “misled into viewing child pornography”, on the basis that “pornography is so ubiquitously available and viewed”.[14] He maintained his view, expressed in a letter to the President of Tribunals, that “many people who download child pornography believe it to be different from direct abuse of a child”.[15] Archbishop John Sentamu described these comments as “shocking”.[16] Bishop Forster minimised the seriousness of Hughes’ offending, despite more than 800 of the images being graded at the most serious level of abuse. He argued for Hughes’ prohibition from ministry to be reduced from life to 20 years, relying on Hughes’ “relative youth”, his “good ministry and that he was “very well regarded by his parishioners”.[17] These observations were irrelevant to safeguarding. The President of Tribunals ultimately agreed that a prohibition for a minimum of 20 years, rather than for life, should be imposed.

6.2. In September 2017, AN-X7 (a rector in the Diocese of York) failed to understand why AN-F71, a perpetrator who held positions of responsibility within the parish, required a risk assessment, despite the fact that AN-F71 had been convicted in 1997 of indecent assault on a child.[18] When the DSA tried to request a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and undertake a risk assessment, AN-X7 attempted to delay this process due to concerns that it would make AN-F71 “extremely upset”.[19] AN-X7 was said to have become “angry and emotional himself at the prospect of a risk assessment.[20] AN-X7 described himself as AN-F71’s pastor, who sought to “look after him as best I could through this process”.[21] However, the DSA considered that AN-X7’s “personal level of attachment to AN-F71 … appeared to impact on Reverend AN-X7’s consideration of the needs of the wider congregation”.[22]

Back to top