The Church of England created a culture that allowed child sexual abuse to fester, a report has found.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) report also those alleged of carrying out abuse often received more support than victims. Abuse was minimised or dismissed. And people accused of serious offences were allowed to continue working within the Church—regardless of the risks to children.
The report said that some 390 members of the clergy and other church leaders have been convicted of abuse between the 1940s and 2018. This figure was based on a list of individuals provided by the Church.
The report looked at many cases that showed “the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures” of abuse. One problem was the “culture” of the Church. There was a “deference” to the Church’s authority and to individuals, and taboos around discussing sexuality.
The report found “an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims”.
The Church said the report was “shocking” and that it felt “shame”.
But it is not shocking. It is just another confirmation of the fact that serious abuse of children is rooted in the key institutions of society.
Indeed, the report details a number of previous investigations into abuse and lack of safeguarding in the church.
It found that some clergymen were ordained despite having a history of child sexual offences. In other cases, abuse was played down or allegations dismissed altogether.
Robert Waddington was Dean of Manchester Cathedral from 1984 to 1993. He was “the subject of a number of allegations of child sexual abuse over many years” in 1999.
But he was allowed to officiate “on the grounds of his age and frailty, without seemingly any consideration of the risks to children”. The then Archbishop of York said there was “simply no possibility” of the allegations being true.
Reverend Ian Hughes was convicted in 2014 of downloading 8,000 indecent images of children. More than 800 were “graded at the most serious level of abuse”.
Yet Bishop Peter Forster had told the inquiry that Hughes had been “misled into viewing child pornography”.
Inquiry chair Alexis Jay said, “Over many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure.”
The report also looked at safeguarding issues within the Church in Wales (CoW). It found that a number of clergy have been “deposed from holy orders” within the CoW in recent years.
This was “following convictions for sexual assaults on children, or for offences concerning indecent images of children”.
Jay said there were “simply not enough safeguarding officers” to carry out the work required. “Record-keeping was found to be almost non-existent and of little use in trying to understand past safeguarding issues,” she added.
Leading Church figures have tried to paint problems with abuse as lying far in the past, and claimed that things are different today.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby expressed regret at how abuse victims have been treated. But he added, “I have worked to move the church to a different place. It is necessary to show that we have changed.”
Yet the report’s findings suggest that child sexual abuse remains a major problem, and it argued that much more still needs to be done.
It found “an increase in safeguarding concerns or allegations reported to the diocesan safeguarding team” from 2015 to 2018.
In 2018, 63 percent of all allegations made against church officers “were for recent allegations of child sexual abuse”.
Some 449 concerns about recent child sexual abuse were reported to the Church in 2018, the latest year accurate figures were provided for. “More than half related to church officers,” said the report, or 242 allegations.
A “significant amount of offending involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children.” Most of the allegations, 56 percent, were not reported to statutory authorities.
A further 155 concerns were reported about non-recent sexual abuse, 83 relating to church officers. And in total, 2,504 safeguarding concerns were reported to dioceses in England about children or vulnerable adults in 2018.
Those not concerning sexual abuse “involved physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, domestic abuse or other form of concern”.
The report said the Church of England did not properly resource safeguarding for years. Funding has “increased considerably”. And a “further change” means that the advice of safeguarding staff should not be ignored by senior clergy.
Yet the report found “examples of this continuing to occur”. And “there remains much to do to ensure better protection of children in cathedrals and their linked choir schools”.
The report is part of a wider, ongoing inquiry into child sexual abuse in institutions. It has been problematic as sections of the establishment have avoided giving evidence. But despite the limitations, it is shining a light on institutional abuse.
One survivor, Gilo, told the BBC that many survivors of abuse feel a “tremendous sense of anger and lack of trust” in the Church.
“Lasting change will require more than platitudes,” said the report. And disgracefully one of the things it said was needed is “continuous reinforcement of the abhorrent nature of child sexual abuse”.
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