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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Anglican Church Investigation Report


B.6.3: Recent initiatives to improve the culture of the Church of England

7. The Church of England has acknowledged that:

in order to secure a deep-rooted change in its culture, the Church will have to challenge expressions of unreformed culture or bad practice via a variety of different strategies”.[1]

To address this, it has introduced a number of initiatives in recent years.

Diversity within the Church

8. The Church is seeking to introduce more diversity in those who are recruited, trained and ordained, as well as in those who are appointed to senior clergy positions, in terms of clerical traditions, class, sex, sexual orientation, race and gender.

9. Archbishop Justin Welby told us that the practice of individuals attending theological colleges which reflected their own religious tradition created “a like-minded approach to things, and also a tendency to defend the tribe”.[2] As a result, theological training now includes ordinands from different traditions. For example, participants in the Strategic Leadership Development Programme (a three-year training initiative for prospective future leaders of the Church) reported that they have “met clergy from a variety of theological backgrounds, from across the whole of the Church”.[3]

Internal and periodic reviews

10. Diocesan peer reviews were introduced in 2016 and should take place once every two years.[4] A panel of individuals drawn from various dioceses reviews another diocese, giving an external perspective on areas such as leadership, strategy, governance and finance as well as any proposals for improvements. Bishop Hancock described the process in the Diocese of Bath and Wells as “particularly helpful … our last Peer Review challenged us to think about our priorities and resourcing, and how safeguarding can remain a very clear priority across the whole diocese”.[5]

11. Regional bishops’ groups, introduced to bring together diocesan and suffragan bishops, were re-started by the Church in 2017. They meet several times a year to discuss various issues, including safeguarding. Archbishop Welby said, “it is easier to develop mutual accountability in smaller groups”.[6]

12. Bishops and archbishops are encouraged to participate in ministerial development reviews once every two years but this is not currently mandatory for all clergy or bishops.[7] Since 2018, only 28 ministerial development reviews for bishops have taken place or are planned.[8] The Archbishop of York or Canterbury will conduct the reviews and give feedback on performance, including the management of safeguarding issues.[9] The review includes:

  • a self-assessment statement completed by the reviewee, evaluating their performance of a range of duties, of which safeguarding is one; and
  • feedback and evaluation of performance by other members of the parish (clergy or lay) or, in the case of bishops, senior staff with whom they work (such as the diocesan secretary, DSAs, archdeacons and other bishops).

13. The Church has introduced independent scrutiny through the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) audit programme, as well as individual case reviews (such as the Elliott review) or thematic external reviews (such as the training review by Dr Eleanor Stobart).[10]

Work to address attitudes towards sexuality in the Church

14. The Pastoral Oversight Group was tasked by the General Synod in 2017 to provide principles and a teaching document for use within all parts of the Church on addressing questions of human sexuality.[11] It identified some concerns.

  • Some individuals (both clergy and laity) who held strong views on certain issues – including same-sex relationships – may band together, leading to the formation of groups based upon close personal ties (as seen in the Diocese of Chichester case study).[12]
  • Some clergy and others within the Church have felt unable to openly acknowledge their own sexuality.

Both are seen to have the “potential to impact the extent to which a culture of honesty and openness is developed”.[13] However, the group did not find recent evidence within the Church of England of individuals conflating “issues of sexual orientation with child sexual abuse”.[14]

15. In January 2019, the group published Held Together in the Love of Christ: Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together to encourage good practice within the Church. It is designed to foster a culture of openness around issues of sex and sexuality, and aims to allow victims of abuse to disclose their experiences without fear of dismissal.[15]

16. It also produced, in 2019, Living in Love and Faith: Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage, as a “large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality.[16] It covers topics such as identity, sexuality, gender and marriage within a framework of Christian anthropology and in a spirit of openness.[17] Resources are due to be published from June 2020 to be used in all parishes across the country to facilitate discussion.[18]

Programmes to address clericalism and the abuse of power

17. ‘Setting God’s People Free’ is a programme – presented to General Synod in 2017 – to address a culture which “over-emphasises the distinction between sacred and secular”. Its purpose is to convince clergy and laity that they are “equal in worth and status”. The programme recommended introducing improved resources in every diocese and parish to deal with these issues, re-focusing clergy selection and development, reforming church structures and developing “‘lay-integrated’ communication strategies”.[19]

18. Living in Love and Faith also addresses the abuse of power:[20]

  • Principle 2: “Silence, when misused, can shelter abuses of power. People must be given space, permission and opportunities to speak if they want to  so that those who are vulnerable can hear and thus not feel that they are alone”.
  • Principle 4: Members of the Church should consider how they can encourage one another in “rejecting pastoral practice that is coercive or abusive”.
  • Principle 6: “inequalities of power have led to abuses in the past and will continue to do so unless all who exercise pastoral care reflect continuously on the power that they hold. Power must always be acknowledged. It also states that “we need to learn to become more aware both of our own power and our vulnerability to the perceived power of others, and to notice and call out when power is exercised inappropriately. It calls upon people to “look for ways to identify, acknowledge, dispel and dismantle inappropriate power dynamics in our communities”.

19. In February 2019, the Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission introduced guidelines to enhance the safety of young people and vulnerable adults.[21] These guidelines were to be used by all Anglican churches around the world. They refer expressly to the abuse of power:[22]

Abuse often occurs and continues because of the unequal power relationships between the abuser and their victim. Victims will be afraid to disclose abuse where there is a culture of silence in the community and the church. Even when victims disclose abuse, no effective action will be taken where community and church leaders have believed the alleged abuser rather than the victim”.[23]

The role of women in the Church

20. In the Diocese of Chichester case study, we heard evidence of an “anti-woman culture which affected the way in which female DSAs were regarded by clergy. This impacted negatively upon the effectiveness of safeguarding.[24] In 2014, the Ordination of Women Measure permitted women to become bishops. Fifty-eight percent of suffragan bishops and 38 percent of diocesan bishops are now female, which equates to just over half of all episcopal appointments.[25] As Archdeacon Rosemary Lain-Priestley (Adviser to the Bishop of London) told us, “a room full of male and female clergy has a different feeling to it than a room full of male clergy”. In her view, the increasing number of women in senior roles has brought “a slightly different approach”.[26] The Church accepts that further action is needed to bring about true gender equality.[27]

21. In an independent review of the Church’s training and development framework dated January 2019, Dr Eleanor Stobart sought the views of all dioceses, cathedrals, theological education institutions and religious communities. The majority of participants felt that they were “a long way from seeing a Church where men and women are equal.[28] Many respondents believed that more women were needed in senior positions. One participant commented that, within the Church, there is “an attitude of an old boys’ club and looking out for one another, and as more women come in those attitudes could change”.[29]

Attitudes to forgiveness

22. Forgiveness of those who have sinned is a core element of Anglican doctrine. Many members of the Church regard forgiveness as the appropriate response to any admission of wrongdoing. Some religious leaders use ‘forgiveness’ to justify a failure to respond appropriately to allegations. Timothy Storey, for example, was permitted to continue working with children after expressing “remorse for everything he had done wrong”.[30] As observed by Archbishop Welby:

the idea that forgiveness means that you pretend nothing has happened is absolute nonsense … actions have consequences”.[31]

23. In September 2017, the Faith and Order Commission published Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse, which recognises that “the Church’s primary pastoral task is to listen with care and sensitivity to those who have been abused”.[32] Perpetrators who repent must be willing to face the legal consequences of their sin and should be prevented from accessing environments in which re-offending could occur.

24. In 2019, the Anglican Consultative Council, which facilitates cooperation between Anglican Churches around the world and coordinates common action, published guidelines to “enhance the safety of all persons, especially children, young people and vulnerable adults, within the provinces of the Anglican Communion”.[33] They state that victims of abuse:

must never be pressured by church workers to forgive their abuser. Further harm can be caused to a victim through pressure to forgive, and re-establish their relationship with their abuser. They may condemn themselves and believe they are condemned by others if they are not willing, or able to forgive.[34]

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