A letter on this topic has been sent to all members of the Archbishops’ Council signed by Martin Sewell, a General Synod member from Rochester diocese, and also by a number of other General Synod members.
The letter itself is contained in a PDF file which can be read here. It is well worth reading this in full.
For more of the background to the formation of the ISB, look here.
There is an online public petition related to this, over here.
What follows is the text of the covering email from Martin Sewell, which summarises the content of the letter.
Dear Archbishops and members of Archbishops’ Council,
I enclose a letter signed by members of General Synod which expresses our concern that Archbishops’ Council has prematurely engaged the newly evolving Independent Safeguarding Board in detailed case work which it is not yet properly authorised or suitably equipped to handle with the independence, resource and competence the role requires. We specifically raise a number of specific questions which we believe need to be urgently addressed by Archbishops’ Council.
After a lengthy and discreditable history of response to complaints in Safeguarding and its associated Clergy Discipline issues, nobody objects to the idea of the Church placing itself under effective outside scrutiny. Some of us have campaigned vigorously for the creation of just such a Board in previous General Synods, and you will recall that the recent February Synod considered a following motion that sought to begin a process to debate and vest the ISB with the very independence responsibility and associated powers that will make the Board the kind of constitutional creature that IICSA had in mind to save us from a repetition of the failures and scandals of the past.
That debate was cut short by a procedural motion, approved by a newly elected Synod comprising 60% new members and the matter was not brought to a conclusion. What exactly the ISB is, and what it can and cannot do, constitutionally and practically, given its low resource and part time nature, remains very much “unfinished Synod business”. In our view General Synod has an important continuing role to ensure the success of the ISB project.
We note with respect and gratitude that both Archbishops opposed the truncation of the debate by the use of a procedural device: it did us no favours and is part of the reason we are in this currently unsatisfactory position today.
When the Chair of the ISB addressed us (and her address to Synod is worth a second hearing by Archbishops’ Council) she was plainly seeking to lower expectation and to emphasise the incremental character of their approach to the role. She told us that its members were assessing and growing their understanding of the role within our complex institution, in what was described as “Phase One” of the project. That limited scope of current activity disappointed some of us, but the opportunity to fully articulate those concerns was denied.
What nobody knew or anticipated from that debate, was that only a few weeks later, the members of the ISB would be offered, and would embrace, responsibility for the devising, timetabling, structuring, implementation and personal execution of the most complex and serious Case Review in the history of the Church, and moreover that they would attempt to do so at speed. The members of the ISB have many qualities and much experience; devising and conducting complex case reviews does not appear to feature within their past skill set. In no other national Institution would such a task be delegated to novices. At the Diocesan Synod at Oxford this weekend it was confirmed that the Dr Martyn Percy Case Review is the first such piece of work the Board and its members will have ever have attempted. This is not the case on which to “cut your teeth”.
Put simply, this is a disaster waiting to happen for the reasons contained in our detailed letter. It is especially troubling if, as we understand, the Percy case is not the only matter pressed upon the ISB at short notice.
The ISB needs to be established with the confidence of all parties, and that is unlikely to be the case given the way these reviews are being hurriedly constructed. There is no shame in having second thoughts which we urge you to undertake without delay, asking the ISB to pause its work in this field whilst our objections are evaluated by all concerned. It is essential that the ISB is established with confidence in its independence, constitution, integrity and competence. That confidence must be built on sure foundations if it is to fulfil the role intended for it. Our questions are designed to help Archbishops’ Council review the problem areas to give the ISB its best opportunity to become what we all want it to be.
We hope Archbishops’ Council will discuss the questions we raise with the same care with which we have formulated them, and that the answers will be made available in good time so that they may be scrutinised at the upcoming General Synod in July.