Church of England contacted the Charity Fee for abuse investigations

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(Photo: Unsplash / Thomas Kelley)

The Church of England has announced that it will "cooperate fully" after being reported to the Charity Commission for its investigation into abuse.

A letter from Lord Carlile von Berriew QC and others states that the Church's handling of investigations against high-ranking leaders has been "incompetent and unjust".

The letter also alleges that the disciplinary system is secret, arbitrary and unfair to the victims.

"They just don't understand how the rule of law works," the letter said.

The signatories of the letter include the Bishop of Buckingham, Rev. Dr. Alan Wilson, who claimed that the committees charged with investigating abuse claims – known as "core groups" – were incompetent.

"Typically, core social work groups are gatherings of professionals subject to legal codes of conduct," he said.

"The churches do not operate legal machines. Nobody has investigative powers. Most of the time it is just first class gossip."

In response to the letter, Church of England Senior Patron Bishop Jonathan Gibbs said he was "absolutely committed to the importance of protection throughout the life of the Church of England".

He said revised guidelines will be issued regarding the core groups.

"It would be completely wrong if we did not act if we were made aware of keeping concerns," he said.

"I am very aware of the current criticism of our core group process, and some of it seems to be based on misunderstandings about what it is about.

"There was confusion that they were being compared to core groups in the legal sector that have a different purpose and follow different processes."

Full statement from Bishop Gibb:

We have been made aware of a complaint to the Charity Commission and of course we will fully cooperate in any future process as we are absolutely committed to the importance of protection throughout the life of the Church of England.

Since taking the lead in protection in April, I have been amazed at the number of issues the National Security Team is facing and need to investigate whether to review existing information or investigate new information to ensure good protection across the Church guarantee . It would be completely wrong if we did not act if we were alerted to the maintenance of concerns.

I am very aware of the current criticism of our core group process, and part of it seems to be based on misunderstandings about what it is about. There has been confusion that they have been compared to core groups in the legal sector that have a different purpose and follow different processes. Revised guidelines will make it clear that they are more in line with a legal strategy meeting (there will also be a name change to clarify) where decisions are made collectively about next steps. This may include an independent investigation into the allegations made, including the fact that high-ranking members of the clergy have failed to follow due protection procedures. In the course of such investigations, those affected receive details of any allegations and the opportunity to react to them. These processes are confidential while they are taking place and so we cannot publicly state what is happening, which of course brings its own challenges.

It is evident that roughly three-quarters of current national cases involve senior clergymen who are not acting and not the direct allegation of abuse, but this can still have serious consequences. We always try to make this difference clear, and while the current guidelines do not distinguish between those accused of abuse and those accused of not responding properly to the information received, the revised guidelines will address that difference. Statistics on the number of cases involving senior clergymen (around 30 currently) can also be misleading as a significant number relate to concerns about past behavior by now retired clergy.

While I am not going into details of the casework, I am absolutely certain that the process is the same for everyone, but the evidence and the circumstances are not, and therefore the results are different. Nobody gets special treatment, I would be the first to object and I know that those in very high roles have made this very clear themselves.

The NST, which was restructured over the past year, should be respected and trusted for its work. Yes, processes must be fair and testable, which is why our guidelines are being revised, but we must not lose sight of the central problem, namely that the church has failed victims and survivors of abuse in the past and must take responsibility for it.

I came into this role because I personally worked to make the Church of England a safer place for all, and I hope this is a goal we can all agree on.

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