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Bp of Durham: "Faith should be foundation for safeguarding in churches"

Posted on: September 22, 2014 3:32 PM
The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham
Photo Credit: Keith Blundy
Related Categories: Bp Butler, Durham, England, safeguarding

The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham has addressed an international conference on safeguarding within the Church. His speech asked the key question of how can we become the leaders in safeguarding which with our vision of humanity and of God’s future for us all we should be. But we must acknowledge that there are continuing concerns that face the church and other institutions relating to the customer and practice surrounding matters of safeguarding.

Bishop Paul addressed CCPAS’s (The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service) 2014 international safeguarding conference in London. The event is being attended by an audience of delegates drawn from across the safeguarding community – both within faith communities and from outside agencies and organisations.

In his speech, Bishop Paul, the lead Bishop for Children and Young in the Church of England and Chair of its Safeguarding Board said: “I am deeply honoured to have been asked to address this conference today, and to begin to open up our thinking about ‘The Contribution Faith Can Make to Safeguarding Worldwide’ – the title of the conference.

“We are all very conscious of how much the world of safeguarding has changed over the past decades, and the rapid changes of recent years.

“The UK Church has come a long way in safeguarding over the past decades. There is much for which we can be thankful. We are in a better place than we were.”

However he made clear that in a wide range of ways there is much work to be done including deep cultural change and serious facing up to past and continuing failures.

“When The Children Act 1989 and associated guidance came into force Christian organisations and churches were at the forefront of improving affairs. Similarly with safer recruitment, with the introduction of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), now superseded by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). However, it became increasingly clear how much work needed to be done on culturally changing the churches’ approach to all such matters at every level of their lives. In some cases this was, and sometimes remains, a very uphill struggle.”

Outlining the role of faith as a foundation for safeguarding he said: “This must always mean a particular awareness of the needs of, and care for, the vulnerable whether they be children, the sick, the elderly or those side-lined or put down by others. It is a commitment to health and not harm.”

He went on to outline the historical context of churches in safeguarding matters saying: “There is much from our past that we have to face up to seriously.”

He then talked about the wider concern of institutional abuse in the nation saying: ”Alongside the churches’ own failings we have to place those of other institutions within our nation. Whether it be the many questions raised by cases like that of Jimmy Saville into how the varied institutions with which he was connected allowed him to get away with so much for so long or those questions raised by the whole Operation Fernbridge investigation and the recent Rotherham report we are at a point where as a nation we are having to face up to the reality of abuse in every institution of the land.

“The Health Service, the Police, our schools in both State and Independent sectors, the Civil Service, Care Homes, Local Authorities and Politicians at every level of political life are all culpable.

“Within them all there is a huge amount of wonderful work done. The vast majority of people do a cracking good job. But somehow abusers have been allowed to get away with abuse and good people have somehow let it go, covered it up, thought it was not their responsibility or simply believed that their colleague and friend could not possibly be such a person. We have a major national corporate failure on our hands. As a nation and society, for the sake of those who have been abused, and for the future wellbeing of our land we need to face up to this past.”

He acknowledged the importance of the National Inquiry to be Chaired by the current Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf saying: “I do not believe that this will be a comfortable time for the church, nor any other institution. However the Church of England and the Methodist Church have made it very clear to the Home Secretary that we are completely committed to fully cooperating with the Inquiry.”

He added: “One of the deepest lessons from all that has emerged in recent years is how poorly we have all listened to survivors’ stories and voices. We still have a long way to go here.

“One initiative which the C of E and Methodists are working on as a result of listening to survivor voices is the creation of Safe Spaces which will act as a one stop shop for survivors of church based abuse to come; a safe space for disclosure, support, counselling, help to make formal complaints etc. We are in the early days of scoping this and recognise that when we go to a pilot phase we will need to pilot more than one style of such Safe Space.

"We are also all committed to good and better training for everyone engaged with children, young people and all adults, not only those who are vulnerable. This has to be robust and consistent at every level of church life; from archbishops and other denominational leaders to every church member who serves an adult who is vulnerable or a child.

"We all have to keep working at the levels of awareness amongst church leaders and those who organise and lead activities for people of all ages. Still I think we have far more work to do here with adults who are vulnerable than with children where we have made larger strides forward.

"But as survivors regularly remind me having better procedures, tighter laws and improved training does not make us a Safer Church if our culture has not changed."

In conclusion he posed a number of unanswered question saying: “There are questions about how much we still need to change culturally.

“Perhaps above all there is the question of how we can really be the leaders in safeguarding which with our vision of humanity and of God’s future for us all we should be.

“Let us press on to see God’s peace come into all people and all families and communities.”

Simon Bass, CEO of CCPAS welcomed the Bishop’s remarks unreservedly but also drew attention to an important change to legislation which he wants the government to introduce as soon as possible: “The Mandatory Reporting of any allegation or suspicion of child sex abuse would represent a major step forward in bolstering public bodies’ (which includes churches and places of worship) duty of care towards children.

“A common feature of previous and ongoing Inquiries into abuse by celebrities and into practices in residential institutions shows that concerns raised were simply not reported to the police as they should have been.

“To have a mechanism that compels people to report their suspicions, as mandatory reporting would do, can hopefully help change the culture of inaction which allows perpetrators to abuse and then continue to abuse even when discovered.

“I therefore echo Bishop Paul’s view for a need to change the entire culture of safeguarding in this country – and mandatory reporting is an important stage towards this”.

The other main speakers at the conference include:

Ian Elliott, former CEO for the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland Emma Lewell-Buck, Co-Chair of the Child Protection All-Party Parliamentary Group, Tim Loughton MP, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families.