The Church of England allowed child abusers to hide within its ranks and put the protection of its reputation ahead of the fate of victims over many decades, a damning report said today.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said church leaders had created “a culture where abusers were able to hide” and had added to the trauma of those targeted by the paedophiles within its ranks by making it impossible for them to report their plight.
In a scathing report, the inquiry added that abusers had been given “more support than victims” and that the Church had acted “in direct conflict with its own underlying moral purpose; to provide care and love for the innocent and the vulnerable.”
It added that 390 people who were “clergy or in positions of trust associated with the Church have been convicted of sexual offences against children” between the Forties and 2018 and, even in relatively recent cases, its response had been “entirely inappropriate”.
Today’s findings, which were preceded by an apology from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, follow persistent complaints from victims that their plight had been ignored and dealt a severe blow to the Church’s reputation.
Unveiling the report, the inquiry chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay, said that she and her colleagues were making eight recommendations for improvements, but expressed dismay at the extent of suffering which the probe had uncovered.
“Over many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome,” she said.
“Within the Church in Wales, there were simply not enough safeguarding officers to carry out the volume of work required of them. Record-keeping was found to be almost non-existent and of little use in trying to understand past safeguarding issues. To ensure the right action is taken in future, it’s essential that the importance of protecting children from abhorrent sexual abuse is continuously reinforced.
“If real and lasting changes are to be made, it’s vital that the Church improves the way it responds to allegations from victims and survivors, and provides proper support for those victims over time.”
The publication of today’s report came hours after the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York apologised in advance to survivors of the abuse. In an open letter, the archbishops said it would be a “very harrowing time” for those who suffered at the hands of the Church. “We are truly sorry for the shameful way the Church has acted and we state our commitment to listen, to learn and to act in response to the report’s findings.”