A massive cultural change is happening in the Church of England. After years of handling awkward matters quietly, turning the other way, kicking into the long grass potentially disruptive problems in the hope they will simply fade away, we are finally facing our responsibilities as an organisation with a duty of care to some of the most vulnerable among us. For decades, the abuse of children and vulnerable adults has been known about but not acted upon at all levels in the Church, from bishops burying confidential reports and moving offending clergy around rather than out, to parishes which have turned a blind eye to the peculiar behaviour of the Vicar or the Youth Group leader. That may be how we did things in the past, but no longer. A revolution in attitudes, long overdue, has made that sort of complacency unthinkable, and exposed it for what it is: collusion in wickedness. Today victims of abuse, once silenced and ignored, are encouraged to share their experiences and to seek, where possible, redress for what they suffered. This new commitment to truth and justice is transformative. The Archbishop of Canterbury last month suspended the Bishop of Lincoln as part of an investigation into alleged failures in safeguarding in that diocese (it is important to remember that there is no suggestion whatsoever that the bishop has been involved in abuse himself). A former archbishop, Lord Carey, has been subjected to discipline for similar alleged failures. So this change of culture affects senior management as well as individual parishes. About time. On the parish level we have in place safeguarding measures that make it not only easier for people to report concerns if there are any, but also provide clear procedures for clergy and elected officers to follow in the event of a complaint. Our aim, always, is to be a safe place for the vulnerable, and our failure to protect the vulnerable is a horrible stain on the Church’s record.
As the Church we also have responsibility for the abusers as well as their victims. Those who do terrible things to the vulnerable risk not only their liberty and reputations, but their immortal souls, and a priest is never more keenly aware of the solemn responsibility of that calling than when reconciling someone who has committed those kind of offences to the consequences of their actions, their impact on their victims, their debt to society, and the judgment ultimately of God.
If you should ever have concerns about the safety of a child or vulnerable person in church, please do not hesitate to bring it up with me, or Jo Weatherill, our Safeguarding Officer, or a church warden. You also will find all the resources you need on the diocesan website, and a link to it from ours, if you prefer. And if you have something in your past, or on your conscience, please come and see me or Revd Jane. Jesus taught what we do to the littlest among us we do also to him. As the Church we still have a long way to go before we can stand before him without fear when that day comes.
Yours in Christ,