Thinking Anglicans

Future of Church Safeguarding

Updated Wednesday

This website is now live: Future of Church Safeguarding

The Future of Church Safeguarding Programme (the Programme) has been set up to recommend a model for fully independent safeguarding within the Church of England.

As part of the Programme we will gather a range of views to better understand what needs to be improved or what is already working well in Church safeguarding processes – processes in place to protect people from harm.

We also want to hear opinions about how to achieve a safeguarding body that is independent, fair and impartial.

The Programme operates entirely independently from the Church, and is led by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, who previously chaired the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Professor Jay expects to complete her report for The Archbishops of Canterbury and of York by the end of December 2023 and will publish the report herself to ensure full transparency.

The website contains much additional information about how this programme will operate.

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David Hawkins
David Hawkins
9 months ago

There is little point in having and independent safeguarding board that is “independent, fair and impartial” if the members of the board are not independent, fair and impartial. If the Archbishops Council are ultimately responsible for the selection process, then I think we can seriously doubt that this will be the case. Who will appoint the selection committee ? It’s a serious problem with no obvious solution. If a completely outside body does the selection you may end up with people ignorant of Church of England culture but otherwise you end with people implicated in the culture. When there is misconduct in a police… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  David Hawkins
9 months ago

I don’t know whether the following will add, or might reassure. It’s interesting that the co-editor of Law and Religion UK completed the questionnaire and found it to be “very clear and the questions are self-explanatorywhich, I think, is what one might expect from Prof Alexis Jay.

https://lawandreligionuk.com/2023/08/16/the-future-of-safeguarding-in-the-church-of-england/

David James
David James
9 months ago

Tony Benn’s famous five questions are surely appropriate
1. What power have you got?
2. From whom did you get it?
3. In whose interests do you use it?
4. To whom are you accountable?
5. How do we get rid of you?

And please, whilst this is all being set up, send the ABC on a fact-finding expedition into Climate Change.
In a boat. Off Antarctica

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
9 months ago

It is important that the Church of England owns its responsibility for safeguarding, and does not imagine it has wholly subcontracted its responsibilities. Because (not if) the CofE has betrayed people in the past, there will need to be an independent authority (able to direct people in the CofE to act in particular cases and ways). But, amongst others, it is the CofE and its people who will need to act (differently from in the past).

Acting the same and leaving an independent authority to pick up the pieces would simply be a further betrayal.

Graham Watts
9 months ago

As if the Church of England doesn’t have enough issues with safeguarding we now read that the traditionalist group Forward in Faith, and the Society of which it is part, have formally asked that mandatory reporting of child abuse does not apply to confidentiality given under the seal of confession.

How people in this group have the concience to describe themselves as Christains when it is their formal position to shelter abusers!

It totally sickens me

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2023/18-august/news/uk/traditionalists-argue-that-confession-should-be-exempt-from-mandatory-reporting-of-abuse

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Graham Watts
9 months ago

The submission made by the bishops of the Society can be read here. I think the point about the confessional being a valuable space for survivors is a significant one.
Mandatory-reporting-August-2023_1.pdf (sswsh.com)

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
9 months ago

The testimony of the anonymous priest mentioned “disclosures, made by frightened, often ashamed, survivors of abuse.” This resonates with my experience in which such survivors, usually from conservative Evangelical churches and fellowships, are made to carry the added burden of guilt over their struggles to forgive the abuser.

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Graham Watts
9 months ago

I’m not a member of FiF or the Society, but I will defend the seal of the confessional, both as a penitent and a confessor. The bottom line is that it allows the Church to have a conscience apart from the State. This may not seem to have immediate relevance in the UK, but it has done in oppressive regimes such as apartheid South Africa, and continues to do so wherever there is state oppression to this day. As for child abusers, far from sheltering them, guidelines issued by the Church of England are clear that if an abuser makes… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Allan Sheath
9 months ago

The famous Brighton Victorian Anglo-Catholic priest Arthur Wagner did precisely this. The crime was reported and Fr Wagner was called at the subsequent trial and asked to state what had been disclosed to him. He duly refused and although the judge made some derogatory comment about him, Fr Wagner was not held to be formally in contempt of court.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Allan Sheath
9 months ago

Once, attending Spring Harvest, the platform host made it clear that there were certain ‘confessions’ which they would have no option but to report to the police, although he didn’t spell it out in black and white. Read between the lines – child abuse. Now, of course, the groups leading Spring Harvest are not likely to have the FiF attitudes towards confession – however, long experience in psv driver and operator licensing taught me just how weak any law which puts the onus on the offender shopping himself (and in the case of a bus driver, talking himself out of… Read more »

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  John Davies
9 months ago

Others will be better able to answer this, but I’m not aware that the seal of the confession has ever been successfully challenged in an English court. Although given the public revulsion around child abuse, and given that defending the seal is a hard sell in today’s world, this might change.

In one important sense it would be a hollow victory as priests who believe the seal to be absolute (not all of them FiF) will ignore a court ruling that compromises the integrity of the seal.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Allan Sheath
9 months ago

I have already mentioned the case of Fr Wagner. My recollection was that it involved a confession to murder – then a capital offence – and indeed it did. This is the best I can offer at short notice. Scroll down to ‘The case of Constance Kent’: http://anglicanhistory.org/bios/adwagner.html The admirable Law & Religion UK website has analysed the subject, with numerous citations, from 2014 to the present. The outcome is still uncertainty about how the civil courts would react. En route I picked up that breaking the seal could be a CDM offence. As already stated, the Canon applies to… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Graham Watts
9 months ago

Although the CT article refers to it, I’m not sure how many people are aware of this. This is still canon law, the only provision carried forward from the 1603 Canons: the proviso to Canon 113: “Provided always, that if any man confess his secret and hidden sins to the minister, for the unburdening of his conscience, and to receive spiritual consolation and ease of mind from him; we do not in any way bind the said minister by this our Constitution, but do straitly charge and admonish him, that he do not at any time reveal and make known to… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Graham Watts
9 months ago

It is arguable that abuse should be self-reported by a penitent before absolution is given (Rupert Bursell says this in Letters to a Broken Church edited by Janet Fife and Gilo) – so mandatory reporting would be redundant. Bursell also argues (if I read him right) that without this, there isn’t a confession to which the “seal” would apply. His main argument, as I understand it, is that the “seal” is not English law, but his other points do not depend on that. Canon B16 refers to “grave and open sin without repentance”, but should a known impenitent abuser be… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Mark Bennet
9 months ago

The ‘seal’ is English law to the extent in the proviso to (1603) Canon 113 quoted above, and it clearly binds all C of E clergy. The qualification in brackets “except they be such crimes as by the laws of this realm his own [the minister’s] life may be called into question for concealing the same” might call for further research. I suspect it referred to ‘misprision of felony’ which has, in any event, been abolished as a common law crime. Possibly academic in 2023, but surely Allan Sheath’s is a correct interpretation which Fr Wagner had followed 150 years… Read more »

Gilo
Gilo
Reply to  Mark Bennet
9 months ago

The seal of confession does not apply in cases of terrorism or money laundering, as both are governed by mandatory reporting laws. Therefore there can be little justification for exempting child abuse. To do so continues to place religious privilege and ritual above the protection of children. It is arguable whether the ‘seal of confession’ exists in reality if it is applicable to some things and not to others.

This by Richard Scorer is a helpful article.

https://www.secularism.org.uk/opinion/2018/06/the-seal-of-the-confessional-and-child-abuse-a-religious-privilege-too-far

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Gilo
9 months ago

I am aware of the argument. However, what I would like is for those who argue otherwise to be absolutely explicit about their practice, rather than arguing about “the seal” in abstract. At present there is an unhelpful ambiguity.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Gilo
9 months ago

I’m not persuaded that ‘the seal of the confessional does not apply’, but further work needs to be done on the present-day meaning of the exemption in the proviso to (1603) Canon 113. Someone in the C of E is supposed to, or should already, be working on this. Just to take the case of money-laundering, there are exemptions from reporting, e.g., where knowledge of it is acquired in privileged circumstances. I’m pretty sure this means legal professional privilege, but it is possibly sufficiently general to encompass other recognised privileged circumstances. Any revision of the law, whether the C of… Read more »

Judith Maltby
Judith Maltby
Reply to  Gilo
9 months ago

It is interesting to read the statement from the Society Bishops in the light of these pronouncements a few years ago, urging deep engagement with IICSA.

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/21-june/news/uk/safeguarding-not-just-about-box-ticking-say-senior-clergy-in-blackburn

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Mark Bennet
9 months ago

“should a known impenitent abuser be admitted to Holy Communion? Possibly the duty to report to the Ordinary would not apply.” If absolution has not been given and Communion denied, this would amount to a failure of the ordination mandate (and excommunication belongs to the bishop, not the priest). In which case, as I see it, the abuser should be given the opportunity to speak to the bishop. If the abuser does not consent to this, then the bishop would be informed but the name withheld.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Allan Sheath
9 months ago

Why would it be a failure of the ordination mandate? If there is no repentance there should be no absolution. “Absolving” an impenitent sinner would be the failure, surely? The point of counsel in confession is to bring someone to the point at which they can repent.

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Mark Bennet
9 months ago

I can’t think anyone would advocate absolving the impenitent, that would be cheap grace. And counsel, which is only offered if the penitent asks for it, normally follows the actual confession of sins.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Allan Sheath
9 months ago

Well as a priest myself I would always challenge someone to make the best confession they can, and that is not always in the first terms in which it is presented. If that is not counsel, the need for clarification on what people are talking about is very evident to me at least.

Can penitence exist without restitution – an active reparation for the damage I have done to others, according to my means?

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Mark Bennet
9 months ago

“Can penitence exist without restitution?” A good question. Despite the danger of a penitent thinking forgiveness can be earned, or that restitution equals punishment, I would suggest that in the traditional trinity of “counsel, penance and absolution”, penance can be more important than counsel in helping the sinner to walk in newness of life. Indeed the Wesleyan theologian, L Gregory Jones, in Embodying Forgiveness points out a weakness in classical Protestantism in that forgiveness tends to refer chiefly backwards. I once colluded in a tradesman’s suggestion that I pay cash to save him tax and myself VAT. My confessor suggested… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Allan Sheath
9 months ago

Restitution to a person or persons who have been sexually abused would be considerably more complicated! It would begin with the offender turning themself in to the police and admitting their crimes.

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Janet Fife
9 months ago

Absolutely! But as others have pointed out, child abusers are known for convincing themselves that their actions are not sinful, and hence see no need to confess. I once supported a parishioner as he served a long gaol term for just such a crime. He couldn’t see that a sexual relationship between a 40 year old man and a 14 year old boy was, at the very least, deeply inappropriate. Instead he believed it was an act of love. Hence he served a full term, even though he knew that owning his crime would have got him remission. But to… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Allan Sheath
9 months ago

At IICSA several cases were discussed in which paedophiles confessed, were absolved, offended, confessed…in a repeating cycle. Some of these were priests who went to other paedophile priests, or at least to chums who they knew wouldn’t be rigorous.

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Janet Fife
9 months ago

IICSA’s assessment on child sexual abuse within the RC and Anglican churches concluded that “disclosure during confession is likely to be one of the less common ways in which the Church becomes aware of abuse.”

Yet the numbers game is otiose as even one case is one too many. I can’t speak for RC practice, but the CofE is clear on how priests should act if abuse is disclosed, either by an abuser or (and far more likely as IICSA found) from a victim of abuse.

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  Mark Bennet
9 months ago

I wonder how many people who have abused children have a guilty conscience about it and want to go and confess?
Of course we’ll never know ,
but from my experience of working with abusers in a secular setting is
a) they want to charm you
b) they have convinced themselves that their behaviour is ok which is what allows them to do it in the first place – and makes working with them so problematic
However worrying, this may not be such a large problem ….

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
9 months ago

To some extent, the answer to this question was provided by an Anglo-Catholic priest in his letter annexed to the bishops’ submission statement (linked by Fr Dexter Bracey above). Of course, this is the experience of just one individual priest, but he states that of the very many confessions he has heard relating to abuse, none was made by an abuser: all were victims unburdening their experiences.

David Rowett
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
9 months ago

I have experience of one such offender, whom I accompanied to the police station the following morning…. However, I do suspect that you’re on to something Susanna in terms of the number of people who do confess to being abusers. I suppose there might be a category of offender who, getting off on ‘power,’ gets pleasure from boasting of their exploits to another who ‘can’t’ report them? Any psychotherapist or psychologist out there care to comment? It may be a bit casuistic, but a true confession – in my book – where grave sin has been committed against another demands… Read more »

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  David Rowett
9 months ago

Total respect to you David for getting an abuser to the police- at least his victim/s should have been spared the worst of the re traumatisation which goes with survivors’ attempts to obtain justice. And you were correct in your view that I could see the minutiae of the seal of the confessional taking over from how the C of E should deal better with survivors. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see Important Leaders with the attitude of asking what needed to be done for survivors, not setting out arguments on a par with the numbers of angels who can… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
9 months ago

I had a conversation yesterday with the CEO of the Academy Trust of which I am a director (and was once chair). I had reviewed a policy and suggested a major rewriting. She said the policy had probably never yet been invoked, which is probably why no-one had taken a serious look at what had been inherited from who knows where. But recognised my comment that it needed to help people to know what to do and what their responsibilities were – rather than having to dig in ambiguous and allusive text. Clarity in the cases we are discussing would… Read more »

Francis James
Francis James
Reply to  Mark Bennet
9 months ago

seal of confessional for lay confession is one thing – and perhaps might lead penitent to surrender to police (though highly dubious about such claims). Seal for priest-to-priest confession is old boy network cloaking itself in religious disguise. I have no doubt that late Mr P Ball salved his precious conscience in this way.

Judith Maltby
Judith Maltby
9 months ago

Is anyone else getting an ‘error’ message on the Law & Religion UK link?

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