Next month General Synod will consider a range of actions to improve Safeguarding of children and of vulnerable adults, mostly in direct response to the reports issued in August 2012 and in April 2013 by the Commissaries who conducted a visitation of the Diocese of Chichester.
The motion to be debated on Sunday afternoon has several parts. Here’s the full text:
‘That this Synod
(a) endorse the Archbishops’ statement in GS 1896 expressing on behalf of the Church of England an unreserved apology for the failure of its systems to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by its clergy and others; and for the failure to listen properly to those so abused;
(b) invite –
(i) the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council to pursue as a matter of urgency the programme of work set out in GS 1896 to enhance the Church of England’s safeguarding arrangements; and
(ii) the Business Committee to schedule First Consideration of the necessary draft legislation as soon as the responses to the consultation document have been assessed, with a view to its securing Final Approval in the lifetime of this Synod; and
(c) invite the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council to report back to the Synod by February 2014 on what action is to be taken to secure the more effective delivery of the ‘Responding Well’ policy across the Church in the interests of survivors.’
The document for this is GS 1896 (A PDF version of this is contained in the zip file for the first distribution of papers). This is a 16 page document, and it contains more detail on each of the items mentioned below.
Part (a) is uncontroversial. In GS 1896 the archbishops write:
…It is right, therefore, that the General Synod should… be able to identify with the apology that we wish to offer unreservedly for the failure of the Church of England’s systems to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by its clergy and others and for the failure to listen properly to those so abused. The sexual and physical abuse that has been inflicted by these people on children, young people and adults is and will remain a deep source of grief and shame for years to come.
As the Commissaries rightly observed: “All contemporary safeguarding policies and procedures in the Church should be a response to what we learn and see in Jesus himself… In witness to this faith and to our sense of obligation to children who are brought to Jesus through the care of the Christian community, the Church should set for itself the highest standards of care available to our society today. If that is true especially in relation to children, it ought also to be true for the care we offer to some of the most vulnerable adults in the modern world.”
We cannot overestimate the importance of responding appropriately today. Sadly for many this comes far too late. History cannot be rewritten, but those who still suffer now as a result of abuse in the past deserve this at least, that we hear their voices and take action to ensure that today’s safeguarding policies and systems are as robust as they can be. This work is an essential and prior Gospel imperative, for any attempts we make to grow the church, to seek the common good, and to reimagine the Church’s ministry.
Part (b) seeks synod approval for a comprehensive programme to improve the church’s safeguarding systems. The extent of these actions clearly indicates that the existing systems are inadequate in numerous ways. Several will involve spending more money than now, both at central and at diocesan level.
One part of this is to make a series of changes that require legislation, and to do so as quickly as possible, which in this case means bringing the legislation to the Synod in February 2014 and for the entire approval process to be completed by July 2015.
Before discussing the details of the legislative proposals, it should be noted that there are many other non-legislative actions planned, some of which will take years, and which can be summarised briefly as follows:
Returning to the legislative proposals, a consultation on these is to be launched immediately with all responses to be submitted by the end of September. There are six areas where modifications are proposed, which are summarised in GS 1896 as follows:
1: Amending the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) to remove the limitation period for a complaint alleging misconduct of a sexual nature involving a child- and possibly vulnerable adults as defined in GS Misc 837, so that a complaint may be made notwithstanding more than 12 months has lapsed since the misconduct occurred.
2: Amending the CDM so that the bishop has power to suspend a priest or deacon whenever a written application seeking permission to make a complaint out of time is submitted by a complainant to the President of Tribunals, provided the bishop forms the view that suspension is necessary pending the President’s decision.
3: Amending canon law to enable the bishop to direct that a priest or deacon must submit to a risk assessment to determine whether there is a significant risk that the cleric may commit in the future misconduct of a safeguarding nature; failure to comply with the direction without reasonable excuse would be misconduct under the CDM.
4: Amending canon law to prevent clergy from robing in church during the time of divine service when they are prohibited under the CDM from exercising any of the functions of their Orders and to prevent clergy with the cure of souls from allowing them so to robe. In addition the Council would be grateful for views on whether it should be unlawful for suspended clergy to robe during divine service.
5: Amending Canon C 8 so that
(i) only clergy with a bishop’s licence or permission may be invited by a priest with the cure of souls to officiate, and
(ii) clergy who have a cure of souls shall not allow clergy without a bishop’s licence or permission to robe or officiate within their own church or chapel.
6: Amending the Churchwardens Measure 2001 and the Church Representation Rules so that:
(i) a person who is on a barred list under the SVGA is disqualified from serving as churchwarden or as a member of a PCC, district council or synod;
(ii) any person convicted of an offence mentioned in section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is disqualified from being a member of the PCC; and
(iii) a bishop has power, pending criminal proceedings, to suspend a churchwarden or member of a PCC who is arrested on suspicion of committing an offence mentioned in schedule 1 to the Children and Young Persons Act.