Thursday, 2 November 2017

Sexual abuse survivor writes open letter to Justin Welby

We recently reported on correspondence between a sexual abuse survivor, three bishops, and the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. See Church apologises to a sexual abuse survivor.

We are today publishing an open letter from that survivor to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The full text of the letter is copied below the fold. The letter is also published on the website of Ekklesia.

The letter from the archbishop to which this replies has not been published. But it has been quoted in various news articles, some of which are linked in our earlier article.

Update

Press release

Abuse Survivor replies to Archbishop Welby’s letter of apology and says the CofE still recompenses victims badly and calls for Church to fund fair settlements.

Archbishop Justin Welby, has been sent an open letter by prominent abuse survivor Gilo (surname withheld on request) complaining about the derisory ammounts victims are in effect forced to accept by the Church’s insurers, and asked to remedy this. The letter calls upon Archbishop Welby to join three bishops in recognising major flaws in the Church’s response and concludes with six searching questions that the Archbishop may find difficult to answer candidly, but are questions that need to be faced by the Church.

Gilo explains the long term consequences of the abuse he suffered on his quality of life, relationships and finances and describes the financial settlement for this as being “derisory and heartless”.

Gilo notes that the “Church’s claimed policy of exercising pastoral responsibility” is not matched at all by the actions of its insurer. He explains how settlements are made by the Church’s insurer, typically in the low tens of thousands, and under duress, and are based on settlements “20-30 years out of date” and long before the long term consequences of abuse were properly recognised. The insurers strive, he believes, to keep cases out of court to prevent appropriate new settlements being established. Victims are frightened to challenge such settlements as they could be withdrawn leaving them owing both sides’ legal fees.

He asks the Archbishop to commit to the Church funding equitable settlements and revisiting old ones and helping victims financially with the costs of rehabilitation, preferably through an arms’ length organisation.

Justin Welby has already apologised publicly to Gilo for failing to reply to 17 letters. Gilo hopes that if that apology meant anything he will respond to this one.

Christian Today has reported this letter here: Archbishop of Canterbury urged to abandon Church insurers over ‘derisory’ settlements to abuse victims.

FAO Archbishop of Canterbury

Dear Archbishop Welby

Thank you for your letter.

The mediation was a very public process. And I hope it will make improvements for many others who have suffered abuse by those we have encountered because of their connection with the Church. In recognition of that, I am making this an open letter. It is written I hope on behalf of the many that remain silent, unable to face the challenge of disclosure, or having done so are then defeated by heartless bureaucracy or the culture of denial, discrediting, and silence. The mediation was a major step forward, and its outcome demonstrated how much more needs to be done before the Church can claim to be acting decently and with compassion. It exposed long-standing fundamental systemic flaws that began to be recognised by the bishops in their searingly honest letter to EIG. I seek in this letter to invite you as Archbishop to join them in publicly recognising these flaws and commit the Church to a series of concrete measures to address them. The way the Church and its insurers has treated survivors institutionally compounds the abuse we have already suffered.

I cannot speak for others, but can say a little of the consequences for me of the episodes of abuse I suffered. I have been long term bi-polar, with long periods of quite severe illness, including several sustained times in my life of near catatonic state. The effect on my quality of life and relationships has been substantial. And despite being reasonably intelligent, the long term impact on my employability and earning power has been considerable. Relative to this, the sum I received from EIG was by any standard of pastoral care, derisory and heartless, especially when delivered through the bewildering legal games that EIG plays out. MACSAS tell me many survivors could tell a similar story. Bi-polar illness, amongst other mental and physical health conditions, and related economic impact seems to be a common pattern. And I know that many have lived with far more severe impact than mine.

The reality is that EIG settlements are conveniently based on very old precedents with figures 20-30 years out of date. EIG goes to great lengths to keep all our cases out of court, and has been very successful in this. Lawyers and survivors agree that the direct consequence is that this prevents these very low settlements from being updated. New precedents would recognise inflation increases and the greater knowledge we now have about the extent of adverse life-changing consequences that often follow abuse. Further pressure to accept such low settlements arises through the severe time constraints imposed by EIG on victims only too aware that failure to agree could lead to the withdrawal of the settlement and becoming liable to both side’s legal fees. EIG can easily take such risks but claimants cannot. This raises a question of equity if not also a legal one about agreements reached under such pressures. Becoming liable would plunge most of us into bankruptcy. It is this extreme duress in particular that makes these settlements unjust, and the whole process contrary to the Church’s stated aims.

The Church has claimed in the past that EIG and the lawyers to whom they subcontract, will act in accordance with the Church’s claimed policy of exercising pastoral responsibility. Yet no lawyer I have spoken to recognises any real improvement since EIG’s guiding principles were introduced. The Church could instruct EIG how it wishes claims to be handled, but any change seems unrealistic given EIG’s recent statement and their lack of willingness to regard their ‘horse trade’ approach as inappropriate. This puts the onus solely on the Church. Yet beyond words of apology and offers of prayer there does not seem to be any obvious mechanism to exercise this in a tangible way.

The following questions might suggest a path forwards:

(1) Would you be prepared to set up a formal mechanism to look at past and present settlements where survivors have been put under duress? And would you envisage survivors being able to apply to the Church for additional capital and recurring sums, and for reimbursement for specific expenses such as counselling, help with housing where necessary, retraining, and for these categorised sums paid to be published annually, obviously without names?

(2) Will you review the settlements made by EIG during your time in office as Archbishop and express an opinion as to whether these settlements demonstrate a level of pastoral care and justice with which you and the Church are content to be associated?

(3) Will you relieve EIG of the responsibility of reaching settlements, and instead set up settlement mechanism independent of EIG and the Church? One which in a calm dignified way, free of any pressure or duress, can reach fair and just settlements on the Church’s behalf? If abuse settlements remain insured by EIG, they can reimburse the Church directly, or, perhaps better, the insurance might be curtailed and they play no role at all; there is no financial need for the Church to insure against abuse.

(4) Would you agree that the Church accepts that its pastoral responsibility to abuse victims can, and generally should in future, include the provisions such as reimbursement or provision of medical care, additional lump sums or regular payments for the rest of survivors’ lives.

(5) Are you prepared to commit the Church to initiate and publish reasonable and pastoral settlement criteria that recognise degrees of harm, culpability, and impact, and are inflation-based.

(6) Will you create a mediation, or truth and reconciliation, structure so that where survivors have faced denial, silencing, discrediting, dishonourable responses of various kinds, the church will work towards meaningful apology and reconciliation?

(7) Lastly, could I ask you whether you would be prepared to commit the Church to work actively to introduce mandatory reporting of institutional abuse as it used to do, for example in co-operation with Baroness Walmsley?

If you lead the call for change these questions embody – you will be remembered as a pioneering archbishop who guided your church justly through the crisis that has caught up with it. I hope your reply may have the potential to improve the lives of victims of abuse for which the Church has been and is responsible. For healing to happen across the survivor community the Church has to recognise the full extent of abuse, the harm it has done and how the Church has compounded it as described above. It has to now buckle beneath the weight of these things, and do justice in a transparent, tangible and honourable way. And it has to find ways of transforming surviving … into thriving.

Gilo

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 2 November 2017 at 9:00pm GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

Gilo really is a remarkable man. Respect. It will be interesting to see how Welby responds to this.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a good idea, if the Churches' bit of the national independent enquiry doesn't measure up - and it doesn't look promising.

I am not sure what point 7 refers to. Have we stopped mandatory reporting of institutional abuse? Did we ever have it? And who is Baroness Walmsley?

Posted by: Janet Fife on Friday, 3 November 2017 at 11:12am GMT

"Justin Welby has already apologised publicly to Gilo for failing to reply to 17 letters."

Which says it all, really. One could be considered a misfortune, two starts to look like carelessness, seventeen is arrogant contempt.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 3 November 2017 at 1:15pm GMT

Does anyone else see here echoes of the recent report by James Jones on Hillsborough - reflecting the way in which defensive institutions behave? We can see it in others ...

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Friday, 3 November 2017 at 6:17pm GMT

Question from across the pond--does Welby's position give him the power to do all this? And as the letter wants the church to provide millions in support for the lifetime of any and all victims why does #3 say the church doesn't need insurance to pay for it? While sounding high minded, pragmatically it seems more likely to destroy the church through bankruptcy and bad publicity. Publishing the amount each parish had to pay to survivors each year would make all members here become Methodists or Lutherans very quickly.

Posted by: Chris H. on Friday, 3 November 2017 at 10:50pm GMT

There are 14 comments on the appointment of the Dean of Peterborough, and only 3 on this post. A sad reflection on our priorities.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 9:15am GMT

I think Gilo's open letter can be summed up in one or two sentences. Please show that the Anglican Church really cares for the victims of sexual abuse within the church. They are far, far more than a marginal inconvenience who can be paid off (or bought off) by insurance companies.

The world is watching; it is also watching parliament, show business and other institutions to see how they deal with this historic scourge. If the church does not respond now with utter integrity, the price to be paid in the future will be enormous. The church has a problem with power and the way it is exercised by its leaders. Sexual abuse of minors is just one (hopefully rare) symptom of a distorted understanding of power that seems endemic in the institution. Let us face up to and talk about all the factors that are involved in the bullying and spiritual and emotional abuse that we find today in so many places within our church.

Posted by: Stephen Parsons on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 10:36am GMT

Having been confronted with a very similar situation in The Episcopal Church, I commend Gilo’s determination. Ecclesiastical authorities typically do their utmost to avoid dealing with abuse. And heaven help you if the abuse you experience is not sexual, but instead is spiritual, emotional or relational. In those cases, the rule is no blood, no foul.

Posted by: Eric Bonetti on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 12:07pm GMT

Yes, Janet Fife, it is sad. However, many of the Peterborough comments are light-hearted, no bad thing. The Gilo affair is far from light-hearted - maybe this inhibits us a bit. Were I to comment on abuse in the church I would hardly be able to resist writing something intemperate—a dangerous thing to do when it seems that one is guilty until proven innocent. The regrettable facts are that power protects power, and institutions screw individuals. Everything Stephen Parsons says about power is spot-on, though I think that even if the Archbishop were to respond as I would wish (though I doubt he will), it would merely delay rather than prevent the next nail being hammered into the coffin. Anyone who reads the formulaic press releases that accompany new senior appointments—bishops, deans, archdeacons—is left in no doubt of the increasingly Orwellian nature of the institution. If only people would shut up—less is more. Maybe this applies to me too.

Posted by: Stanley Monkhouse on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 3:18pm GMT

'And as the letter wants the church to provide millions in support for the lifetime of any and all victims...'

Since the letter is written by a named person, it seems an extraordinary slight not to mention his name. Gilo is a real person, and one who has suffered enormously at the hands of the Church - both by the actions of the abuser, and the behaviour of the Church's leaders and representatives since.

Gilo has nowhere mentioned millions, he has merely asked for adequate settlements - and for justice. It really won't do to be more concerned that the Church might fall prey to 'bankruptcy and bad publicity', than for the vulnerable we have mistreated. If that's really the case, we don't deserve to survive.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 4:41pm GMT

Janet. On this matter you (and Gilo) have said all that is to be said. My comments on the Peterborough thread are superficially light hearted but of course are intended to make a serious point. I do not care what interests people I their spare time but I do care, as do you, whether they have tried to do something, even in a small way, to combat sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, modern slavery, sexism and homophobia. Especially but not only if any of these are perpetrated, tolerated or covered up under the guise of religion.

Posted by: Bernard on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 10:58pm GMT

Janet Fire wonders what mandatory reporting, mentioned in Gilo's point 7 refers to.

The Baroness Walmsley, to whom he refers, proposed an amendment to the Serious Crime Act, and then withdrew it following a government promise of consultation. The Bishop of Durham, then the chief Safeguarding bishop, was strongly in favour of mandatory reporting, but he is no longer Safeguarding spokesman The Church's National Safeguarding Panel is less keen and one member, Baroness Howarth, has come out clearly against.

Mandatory Reporting, as understood by Baroness Walmsley, would make it a criminal offence for any person in certain roles (including voluntarily) to fail to report to the authorities if they knew or reasonably suspected, or had cause to reasonably suspect, that abuse or neglect was taking place. Gilo appears to be referring to the Church having at one time been in favour of the proposed law, and now being more ambivalent or opposed.

Gilo seems to me to be asking the Archbishop to champion Mandatory Reporting, or persuade the Church to do so, by reverting to the position articulated by Bishop Butler.

Chris H - no the Archbishop does not have such powers, but following his 7 points, Gilo refers to the Archbishop leading the call for change. Gilo seems to be asking him to use his influence and persuasive skills. And I think you are right, the person in the pew is no more willing to pay for the failures of the clergy, than the person not in the pew. There are some denominations where clergy are under lay supervison, and it was once so here, and then lay members might be held responsible, but the bishops in the C of E have used their own failings as an excuse to abrogate even more powers to themselves.

Posted by: T Pott on Sunday, 5 November 2017 at 9:48pm GMT

Thank you, T. Pott, for your clarification. And I like the name Janet Fire, I think I'll keep it!

I'm relieved if the silence of some of you on the subject indicates no lack of concern, but a feeling that comment is inadequate. I have spent some 25 years trying to get various leaders in the Church to take these matters seriously, and have met mostly with a yawning lack of interest - if not a downright refusal to deal with it. They'll have to sooner or later, and sooner is better for all kinds of reasons.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Monday, 6 November 2017 at 3:02pm GMT

It would be helpful if we were able to see both sides of the correspondence. Gilo, Jayne Ozanne, ‘Joe’ ‘Michel’ and all others deserve our gratitude, respect and love for persisting in, what is very, very distressing for them as well as for the rest of us, their attempt to get “The Church” to behave as Christ would have us behave. Bravo to you all.

Posted by: Anne on Wednesday, 8 November 2017 at 3:46pm GMT
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