News that senior clergy in the Church of England are to be retrained in dealing with reports of sexual abuse is to be welcomed.
The move is part of an action plan drawn up by Bishop of Crediton, Sarah Mullally, to address continuing and serious concerns that victims who are brave enough to come forward are being intimidated or simply ignored.
Whilst any genuine initiatives to protect children within the Church of England should be welcomed, I believe that change will only be effective if backed up by a requirement for mandatory reporting. If people within an organisation know or suspect that abuse is occurring, they should be under a legal duty to report those concerns to the authorities. Without a mandatory reporting law, there is a very high risk that the abuse scandals we have seen in the churches in recent years will continue to happen.
Sarah Mullally’s findings, which will be presented to the House of Bishops next week, follow another, highly critical report into how the church dealt with the case of “Joe.” In fact, it prompted the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to commission her to draw up the plan for change.
The report by safeguarding expert, Ian Elliot, commissioned by the church, highlighted the case of anonymous Joe who was subjected to a “sadistic” assault by the now deceased leading church figure, Garth Moore in 1976. It also highlighted the “deeply disturbing” failure on the part of senior figures to act on the abuse over a period of almost four decades. No records were made by the four clergymen to whom Joe had disclosed details of the assault.
In October 2015, the Church of England paid damages for the abuse in the sum of £35,000 to Joe, along with an apology before commissioning the independent review into the church’s handling of the case.
Ian Elliot’s shocking report highlighted the need for proper training on recording and acting upon reports of abuse. Sarah Mullally has been appointed the task of putting into place a plan to bring changes to the Church of England, but will it be enough.
Phil Johnson of Macsas, an organisation that supports survivors of sexual abuse in the church, said: “It’s good that Sarah Mullally recognises that the church is at a tipping point, but actions speak louder than words. It’s very difficult to get real change through the House of Bishops.”
Richard Scorer is head of the abuse team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
Slater and Gordon have the UK’s most experienced team of abuse lawyers and are currently representing over 800 survivors of abuse.
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