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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Anglican Church Investigation Report

Contents

C.5: Responding to abuse within the Church in Wales

49. Any victims or survivors should be automatically referred to PSOs, who are responsible for making reports to statutory authorities where required. The Church’s protocol states that the police should be informed immediately.[1]

50. Victims and survivors are also to be offered support immediately, including offering to pay for counselling if required.[2] However, we were told that examples of counselling were “few and far between and were on an ad hoc basis. Referrals are to external counsellors paid for by the Church or other organisations in Wales.[3] After the third public hearing, the Church in Wales entered an agreement with an organisation called New Pathways to provide access to independent sexual violence advisers from January 2020. Victims and survivors can access this service through the PSOs or directly without speaking to the Church in Wales first.[4]

51. All safeguarding claims are reported to the Representative Body and disclosed to the Church’s external safeguarding auditors, who report to the trustees of the Representative Body and the Charity Commission.[5]

52. The Church in Wales’ protocols for responding to allegations of abuse are the same for both living perpetrators and those who are deceased.[6]

Seal of the confessional

53. In 1984, the Church in Wales revised its prayer book. It provided a right for the ministry of confession and absolution but prefaced it with a reference to the “practice of confessing to a priest under the oath of secrecy” being maintained.[7]

54. Archbishop Davies told us that it was his “firm opinion and belief that the Seal of the Confessional cannot and should not be used to protect those who perpetrate abuse”.[8] In his view, reliance upon the seal of the confessional is inconsistent with scripture, which says that the vulnerable should never suffer as a result of any neglect on the part of a Christian.[9]

55. The ministerial guidelines state that:

Clergy should be aware of the circumstances in which confidential information can or should be disclosed to third parties, particularly where the safety of children is concerned. In these circumstances, clergy should refer to the guidance in provincial and diocesan child protection policies. Children … who disclose evidence of significant harm will need to know that their concerns will be taken seriously and referred to the appropriate statutory agency … In such cases the welfare of the child … should be regarded as of paramount importance.[10]

This is subject to:

Where abuse of children … is admitted in the context of confession, the priest should urge the person to report his or her behaviour to the police or social services, and should also make this a condition of absolution, or withhold absolution until this evidence of repentance has been demonstrated.

If a penitent’s behaviour gravely threatens his or her own well-being or that of others, particularly children … the priest should insist upon action on the penitent’s part. It should be noted that at law there is no absolute duty of confidentiality. … In exceptional circumstances there may also be an over-riding duty to break confidence, especially where the safety of children … is involved”.[11]

56. Archbishop Davies said he would have no hesitation in referring to the disciplinary tribunal any clergy known to have failed to report an instance of abuse to the PSOs.[12] He believed that his views were shared by the other diocesan bishops.[13] While he “couldn’t see how anyone, in good conscience, could not pass the information on”, Archbishop Davies stated that the ministerial guidelines about the need of clergy to refer matters to safeguarding officers (even if this information is given in confidence or under the seal of the confessional) are “unsatisfactory and insufficiently clear”.[14]

Managing claims

57. The Representative Body is jointly and severally insured with each parish and, as a result, a claim of sexual abuse in a parish is brought against the Representative Body.[15] The Church in Wales is insured by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office. Since 2000, 11 individuals have made claims (some of which were multiple claims against one individual) against the Church in Wales.[16]

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