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The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has announced new safeguarding measures designed to make churches in the province safer. The new measures will require those seeking ordination to obtain a police clearance certificate; and they include a new national email contact point for reporting allegations of abuse. The move follows a number of allegations made this year, including by Author Ishtiyaq Shukri, who said that he had been abused by un-named priests at an Anglican school in Kimberley, Northern Cape.
Responding to those allegations in March, Archbishop Thabo said that he was “urgently consulting more widely on how the Church can not only act more effectively, but be seen to act effectively in cases of sexual abuse.” Today he fleshed out the actions the Church was taking following those consultations. “At meetings held last week, our church’s Synod of Bishops and our Provincial Standing Committee – which includes clergy and lay people from every diocese in Southern Africa – had their first opportunity to discuss the reports of clergy abusing children which received widespread publicity earlier this year,” he said.
“We were made acutely aware of the pain of those who have been hurt by the church. Although the number of cases reported so far is limited, we resolved to take up the issue with the utmost seriousness.
“Experienced lawyers and clergy serving on our Canon Law Council reported that our Pastoral Standards, which are incorporated into church law, set out a sound basis on which to handle complaints of abuse. But the council has said we need to make it easier for complainants to access procedures for laying complaints, and to provide better support for them along the way.
“The council also reported that complaints, especially historical complaints, are not being handled quickly enough. It recommended that we set up a central register of complaints, including details of what action has been taken. Although complaints of abuse can made directly to the diocese in which it has taken place, we have now also set up a dedicated email address for those who wish to report them through that channel. This may be done anonymously.”
Archbishop Thabo added: “The council will propose changes to church legislation at the next meeting of the three-yearly Provincial Synod, our top legislative body, next year. In the meantime, the Provincial Standing Committee has resolved that, with immediate effect, all ordinations, elections or consecrations of ordained ministers will include the requirement for a police clearance certificate to be obtained from a verified agency.
“From January 2019, we will progressively enforce the same rule for lay ministers, especially those involved in youth ministry and Sunday School teaching.
“In addition, the Canon Law Council emphasised to the Synod of Bishops that it is urgent and very important that every diocese set up a team to deal effectively with allegations of abuse. We are arranging training for the bishops at the next meeting of our Synod of Bishops, and have asked each diocese to ensure that its teams also receive training in how best to respond to complaints.”
More than half a dozen cases emerged this year, Archbishop Thabo said, adding that most of these relate to events which were alleged to have taken place more than 20 years ago. This meant that, except in cases of rape, accusations could not be pursued through criminal courts because of the statue of limitations. “I therefore reiterate my earlier support for quick action by Parliament to change the law to allow such prosecutions to take place,” he said. “Victims of sexual abuse need to be able to pursue charges both in criminal courts and in church tribunals.”
Internationally, the Anglican Consultative Council has established a Safe Church Commission to improved safeguarding measures across the Communion. The Commission is preparing draft guidelines which will be presented to the ACC at its meeting in Hong Kong next April.