[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The silencing of abuse victims is itself a form of abuse “as bad if not worse than the first betrayal,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said. The Archbishop made his comments in a forward to the current issue of Crucible, which bills itself as the journal of Christian social ethics. Its current issue focuses on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
In it, Archbishop Welby said that when he was appointed to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury he “had mistakenly believed that the major changes needed in outlook had already been achieved” but that “it very quickly became apparent that [safeguarding] would have to be an area of major concern.
“Not only were some of the measures already taken only a beginning, the proper response to survivors and the embedding of a proper culture of safeguarding in every part of the Church still had a very long way to go.”
He said that one article in particular, Surviving the Crucible of Ecclesiastical Abuse by Josephine Anne Stein, was “particularly hard to read, but vital to absorb.”
“As you read Josephine Stein’s article so it becomes apparent that the culture around how survivors of abuse are heard has in effect been to tell them to be quiet, and to keep them away from the love of Christ.
“This has happened for a variety of reasons which might start with the inability to believe what is being said about those who abuse. Then there are various legal approaches that have in the past encouraged distance, and even advice that suggested abuse that happened a long time ago was not possible to address.
“Then there is the sheer bitter frustration that comes from survivors themselves who have had to endure the pain of disclosure and then been ignored. If they are difficult to encounter in that bitterness, then that is absolutely no excuse for not facing what they have to say.”
He continues: “To address that whole culture of silencing in the Church is vital. It is vital because failure to do so is a form of abuse for the second time, as bad if not worse than the first betrayal. So the Stein article goes on to show how damage is done to individuals including causing the loss of faith.
“We have to go back to first principles, which is to let Jesus be heard through us. That means being compassionate and attentive to those who have been abused and sinned against. It means being far, far more attentive to their pastoral care and the establishment of ways in which they can feel safe to tell their story and be listened to.
“Yes we have to be rigorous, and responsible in ensuring the Church is a place safe for all, but that is only half the story if we fail to take seriously and to listen to those who have been abused by those who minister in the Church or through Church organisations.
“I continue to offer my profound sorrow, and deep apology to survivors for the failures of the Church. I pray that they will be able to help us to change the culture, and that people will take to heart what they read in these pages. We cannot go on telling people to be quiet, or go on keeping them from Jesus.”
The Anglican Church in Australia is being investigated as part of an inquiry being conducted by a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Church of England and the Church in Wales are, together, one of 13 separate investigations being carried out by a statutory Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales. The Inquiry’s third chair, former New Zealand High Court Judge Justice Lowell Goddard, stood down unexpectedly last week. Yesterday, Britain’s home affairs minister Amber Rudd announced that a member of the Inquiry’s panel, leading child protection expert Professor Alexis Jay, would step into the new role.
The C of E’s lead bishop on safeguarding, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, welcomed the appointment “and her public commitment to continue the important work [the Inquiry] has done so far in hearing the voices of survivors and looking at institutional failings.”