Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Bishops accused of failing to act on safeguarding complaints

Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian has a report concerning safeguarding in the Diocese of Sheffield:

Senior Anglican clergy accused of failing to act on rape allegations

The archbishop of York and four serving bishops have been accused of misconduct by a Church of England priest who claims they failed to act on allegations he was repeatedly raped by another vicar when he was 16.

The priest says none of the five senior clergy properly responded to his disclosures, made verbally and in writing, of the rapes which he alleged took place in 1984.

“Michael” – whose identity is known to the Guardian, but who wishes to remain anonymous – filed the complaints under the C of E’s clergy disciplinary measure (CDM) against John Sentamu, the archbishop of York and second highest-ranking figure in the church; Peter Burrows, the bishop of Doncaster; Steven Croft, a former bishop of Sheffield, and now bishop of Oxford; Martyn Snow, the bishop of Leicester; and Glyn Webster, the bishop of Beverley.

All five have contested the complaints because they were made after the church’s required one-year limit.

Spokespersons for Sentamu and the four bishops said they could not comment on a matter that was the subject of an internal church process and a police investigation…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 9:22am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Let the investigations take their course, because we don't know enough about the events.

One thing I'll say though, regarding "All five have contested the complaints because they were made after the church’s required one-year limit."

That does seem an astonishing limit to set. Surely a one-year limit on issues to do with sexual abuse defies reasonable justice.

Whatever the 'letter' of the church rules, the spirit of justice demands that serious allegations and complaints are not constrained by technical time-limits, especially when both parties are still living and able to defend themselves.

Maybe I misunderstand why a 'one-year limit' is used to justify contesting a complaint that clearly needs addressing.

Sexual abuse often involves huge amount of guilt and shame for the victim, and understandably he or she may sometimes not come forward for years, until they reach a point when they are able to face it full on.

'One-year limits' seem inappropriate, unless I am misunderstanding why they justify challenging potentially legitimate complaints.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 11:04am BST

Oh dear. There are no winners from cases like this. Can anyone recall the precise wording of the amendment to the 1 year CDM statute of limitations?

Posted by: Adrian Judd on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 11:13am BST

I think it is never, ever, good in matters of responsibility for ethical behavior for church officials to retreat behind technicalities like this one-year statute of limitations.

Regardless of the truth of the matter, such maneuvers give the appearance of evasive behavior to avoid the acceptance of responsibility.

For people in positions of responsibility in the church, authority must be earned as well as received (as in election, ordination, or appointment).

This kind of behavior only erodes the authority of religious officials both with parishioners and with the general public.

Posted by: jnwall on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 3:19pm BST

Susannah, this isn't a case of sexual abuse. This is a complaint that the named clergy didn't respond to the complainant's original complaint. So, if I have read this correctly, first the complaint about sexual abuse was made, and then over a year later, the second complaint was made, that the five clergy hadn't responded to the first complaint.

So the one-year limit applies because more than a year elapsed between the original complaint and the second complaint.

As it happens the CDM allows the one-year limit to be set aside by the "president of tribunals" where they consider that to be appropriate:

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 3:47pm BST

Simon, Does this mean that if a complaint is ignored for a year it goes away? Why wasn't it addressed in the first place? In TEC any bishop that ignores a complaint would find himself on trial. Period.

Posted by: Tom Downs on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 9:35pm BST

Simon, I think the underlying issue is that whatever the letter of the law states, the response may well be seen as the hierarchy closing ranks - even if that is not the case. My personal view is that there needs to be more transparency, openness, and integrity displayed by bishops and archbishops.

Posted by: Ron Newsham on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 10:10pm BST

Thank you for the clarification, Simon.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 12:27am BST

Simon, leaving aside the particulars of the case, the failure to respond adequately to a complaint is surely an ongoing matter, and therefore no time limit should apply to a complaint about an ongoing failure. It is different to where a complaint was properly handled, and all procedural steps followed, in which case a time limit for appeal should, and does apply from the date of the close out letter.

It has to be like that otherwise a complaint can simply be filibustered out of time and that has to be unfair in any sense of the word "unfair".

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 12:38am BST

As a teacher I can be prosecuted if I don't act on evidence of abuse.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 7:57am BST

Despite these failings to take safeguarding issues seriously, the CoE went ahead with the enthronement of Steven Croft in Oxford. Croft was told 3 times by the survivor! Where was the attempt to address these concerns and basic questions?

This case has resonance with my own case (bishops in denial being a main feature) but it is really a lot more disturbing. In the case of Michael, the alleged abuser is alive and these bishops were told as recently as 2012 and 2013. There was total breakdown of communication, pastoral concern, and above all 100% failure to regard basic safeguarding awareness as necessary. Somehow the seriousness and potential risk simply didn't seem to occur to them. What were these figures thinking?! And what was the culture of those immediately subservient to them who were also presumably aware of this man's attempts to alert these bishops. One of the biggest challenges facing survivors when we come up against the inertia, denial, amnesia and dysfunctionality of the church is the deferential culture which allows bishops to get away with responses (or lack of response) which anywhere else would more likely be challenged and dealt with. The fault has not lain simply with bishops and their culture - it is an entire institutional culture at senior level which sees the church self-referentially, and has failed to challenge or question what elsewhere they would probably raise an alarm to.

Posted by: Joe on Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 4:49pm BST
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