An international commission established to make the Churches of the Anglican Communion safe places for children, young people and vulnerable adults has begun its work. The Anglican Communion’s Safe Church Commission was established by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) at its meeting last year in Lusaka; in one of four resolutions on safeguarding.
The establishment of the commission was recommended by the Anglican Communion Safe Church Network – a global group of clergy and laity which “emerged out of a concern that a number of Anglican Provinces have seen highly publicised lapses in behaviour by some clergy and church workers with tragic consequences for those who have been abused.” The network, which was recognised by the ACC at its 2012 meeting in Auckland, “is a growing international group of people committed to the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare and safety of all people involved in churches throughout the Anglican Communion.”
While the network has an on-going brief to educate people about abuse and misconduct in churches, and to equip and support people working to make their churches safe, the commission has been given a specific time-sensitive task.
It will identify safeguarding policies and procedures currently in place within the Churches of the Communion; and develop new international guidelines in time for consideration by the Anglican Consultative Council at its next meeting in 2019. In its 2016 resolution establishing the commission, the ACC envisages that the guidelines will be implemented “as far as practicable” by each of the Communion’s provinces.
Senior Counsel Garth Blake, a barrister who chairs the Anglican Church of Australia’s Safe Ministry Commission, is the convener of the network and chair of the commission. He described the commission’s first meeting, held at the Anglican Communion Office in London at the end of last month, as “very encouraging”, saying: “we got to know each other and reflected honestly upon the reality of abuse experienced by people, particularly women and children, in our provinces.”
During the course of this first face-to-face meeting, the commission’s 14 members provided information about the abuse experienced by people in their own provinces. They also discussed provincial responses to prevent the occurrence of abuse, and the care provided to those who have been abused.
“In some provinces there are policies and procedures in place,” Mr Blake said. “In other provinces there is a culture of silence which makes disclosure of abuse difficult.” Early next year, the commission will begin a survey of all provinces to ascertain the policies and procedures currently in place in the different Churches of the Anglican Communion.
The commission reflected on the theological principles underlying the Charter for the Safety of People within the Churches of the Anglican Communion – a document which was adopted by the ACC at its 2012 meeting.
“The witness of Scripture to God’s love for all members of the human family and the priority given in Jesus’ ministry to children and the vulnerable of society will be foundational to the work of the commission,” Mr Blake said. “Our London meeting was enhanced by the opportunity to hear from several people who have been abused in church contexts in England.”
The commission gave preliminary consideration to the content of guidelines to prevent abuse and to respond to abuse where it occurs; and considered how such guidelines could be applied to the different contexts of the provinces of the Anglican Communion – some of which are national churches while others span several countries.
The commission has established three working groups in the areas of theology, policy, and liturgy; and will hold their next full face-to-face meeting next May in Cape Town. “We appreciated the expressions of support and prayer for our work in the life of the Communion,” Mr Blake said.
In addition to Garth Blake, the commission’s membership is comprised the Revd Sereima Divulavou Lomaloma from Fiji; Marcel Cesar Pereira from Brazil; Bishop Cleophas Lunga from Zimbabwe; the Revd Immaculée Nyiransengimana from Rwanda; Bishop Brian Marajh from South Africa; Bishop Festus Yeboah-Asuamah from Ghana; Mary Wells from Canada; Robin Hammeal-Urban from the US; Caroline Venables from England, Archdeacon Christopher Smith from Wales; the Revd Clare Yoon Sook Ham from Korea; and Canon Andrew Khoo, the co-chair of the human rights committee of the Malaysian Bar Council. The commission has co-opted Marilyn Redlich, a member of the Safe Ministry Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia, as its facilitator.
The establishment of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission was requested in one of four safeguarding resolutions agreed by the Anglican Consultative Council last year. In other resolutions, the ACC reaffirmed its support for the Charter for the Safety of People within the Churches of the Anglican Communion, and asked each province to report back to the next ACC meeting on the steps they have taken to adopt and implement it.
They also agreed to establish an international procedure for the “disclosure of ministry suitability information” so that priests are unable to move from one province to another to avoid investigation of complaints or concerns. And they asked for safeguarding to be part of the programme for the 2020 Lambeth Conference – the meeting of all Anglican bishops, which will take place in Canterbury.