A public inquiry examining institutional responses to child sexual abuse in England and Wales has heard from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The Archbishop gave evidence under oath to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The Inquiry was established by the British government to examine institutional responses to child sexual abuse in England and Wales.
The archbishop’s appearance came on the last day of evidence in a three-week public hearing looking at a number of cases in the Diocese of Chichester. Tomorrow (Thursday), IICSA’s panel, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, will have a reading day, before Counsel for the core participants make their final submissions on Friday. It will be some time before IICSA produces its report and recommendations.
Before the Inquiry had been established, Archbishop Justin wrote to Britain’s home affairs minister, the now-Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to establish an inquiry. And once established, he asked that the Church of England be one of the first organisations to be examined.
This morning, he told the Inquiry about some of the steps that he had implemented since becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, including the introduction of compulsory safeguarding training for senior church officers.
“I would not be prepared to consecrate any bishop for a diocesan or suffragan post unless they had undertaken training for safeguarding at the appropriate level,” he told the Inquiry. “There was one point where it wasn’t going to happen. I said that I wouldn’t undertake the consecration and we managed to get it done in time.”
Senior Counsel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales, Fiona Scolding QC, questions the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Asked for his understanding of a theology of safeguarding, Archbishop Justin gave a three-fold answer: “The theology is this: that God made us, and we bear in ourselves the image of God. Therefore we are infinitely precious. And Christ died for us on the cross, and that shows the love that God has for us. And any action that does not demonstrate that extreme of sacrificial and creative love is wrong.
“Secondly, that the example we have in Jesus, who we understand and believe to be God himself, is that Jesus came and lived a fully human life taking in all the vulnerability of being a small child in a war torn area; that his parents protected him, those around him protected him. He grew up needing protection and that example of Jesus calls us to protect all those who need protection.
“And, thirdly, his own teaching says very clearly, when talking about children, that those who do them harm would do better to have a millstone put around their neck and thrown into the sea rather than face the judgment God will give them.”
He added: “The reputation of the Church, the reputation of a person, the reputation of an institution is as nothing compared to the call to obey God in Jesus Christ in the way we love and care for people. Everything that goes against that will, in the end, destroy the Church . . . because it denies the reality of the God who loves us.
“The only reason the Church exists is because of God. It has no function apart from living out the love of God. And if it fails to do that, it has failed full stop and for eternity. And we will answer on the day of judgement for that.”
Over the past three weeks, IICSA has heard evidence from 12 bishops, including former Archbishops of Canterbury Rowan Williams and George Carey. It has also heard from lawyers, police officers, safeguarding officers and a number of people who have suffered abuse at the hands of people within the Church.
As part of its work, IICSA is carrying out a number of investigations. Its investigation entitled “The Anglican Church” is looking at the Church of England and the Church in Wales. This month’s hearing has focused on the Diocese of Chichester, where there have been a number of high profile cases which have highlighted failings in the way the Church handled instances of abuse. It is one of a number of “case studies” that IICSA is using to carry out its work.
In July, IICSA will hold further public hearings in its Anglican Church investigation, focusing on the case of the former Bishop of Lewes in the Diocese of Chichester, Peter Ball, who was jailed in October 2015 for two years and eight months after pleading guilty to offences relating to the abuse of 18 young men between 1977 and 1992. A preliminary hearing into that case study will be held on 6 June. Next year, IICSA will examine the Churches’ responses to child sexual abuse more generally in a further set of public hearings.
In addition to the Anglican Church, IICSA is carrying out nine other investigations, including the Roman Catholic Church, children in custodial institutions, Westminster (the national seat of power), and institutional responses to allegations concerning Lord Janner – a lawyer and politician who faced a number of allegations before his death in December 2015.
The Anglican Consultative Council has established a Safe Church Commission which is exploring how safeguarding issues are handled by provinces around the Communion, to establish an international approach to protecting children and vulnerable adults.