An investigation by ITV News has discovered dozens of new allegations of historical child sex abuse within the Church of England have been made in the last few months.
This increase in survivors coming forward may reveal a new found confidence from those who have been sexually abused to seek redress and help.
They may also reflect the church’s own efforts to reach out now to the survivors they have wronged in the past. In all likelihood, they are a combination of both.
The survivors’ group MACSAS says these figures are the tip of the iceberg and warn that they expect many more will make contact. They do not know how many of these new cases have contacted the police.
The Church of England says as they do not collect their figures nationally, only diocese by diocese, they cannot confirm how many survivors have been in touch with the church directly. MACSAS, they say, did not share these new figures with them prior to our broadcast.
The survivor I spoke to approached us because he felt the church still wasn’t doing enough to reach out to survivors of sex abuse, who like him had suffered abuse from clergy within the Church of England.
He feels it took too long for the church to engage with him and take his case seriously. In particular he is concerned with what he calls the inertia - both malign and institutional - which still pervades the church.
He says he told dozens of acting clergy about the abuse over a 30-year period, but there has been no record made of his complaints and those he told - including two bishops - appear to have “forgotten” his case.
He says the response of the church has recently improved but for years he felt “blanked” by an institution which simply didn’t know what to do or how to help.
The Church says it has put in place tighter safeguarding practices. It says it has publically apologised for its failures in the past and encouraged survivors to come forward.
Church of England’s lead bishop for safeguarding, Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, told me he couldn’t talk about an individual case but insisted he is determined to improve all responses to victims.
He said he is supportive of the survivors request for a “safe space” within one of its cathedrals or churches to recognise their suffering. He urged all victims of historical sex abuse to contact the police.
Here is the Bishop of Durham's full response:
The Church of England takes any reports of current or historical abuse very seriously and in accordance with our national policies and guidance, report all allegations to the statutory authorities, with whom we work closely.
We are engaged with MACSAS at a national level and they are represented on the National Safeguarding Panel which provides external resource and reference to the work that the Church of England are doing to improve safeguarding practice.
There are a number of provisions currently passing through the synodical legislative process which relate to safeguarding and clergy discipline in the form of the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure and various canonical amendments. These legislative proposals will be considered for the final time at the July Synod, and will become law in 2016.
There are several pieces of policy and practice guidance which will be presented to the House of Bishops in May 2015, and which will become part of the ‘duty to have regard to’ element of the above legislative changes.
A national safeguarding learning & development strategy will be presented to the House of Bishops in May as practice guidance. The strategy outlines a number of training modules and defines who should complete these modules in accordance with their role in parishes, dioceses or national church institutions.
Four dioceses will take part in the quality assurance audit pilots between June-October 2015, undertaken by an externally commissioned organisation. It is envisaged that every dioceses will be externally audited over the next three years.
We have also developed the Safe Spaces Project in direct response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apology to survivors of abuse, and this has been developed in collaboration with survivors.
The project involves the potential commissioning and delivery of three separate but inter-related services - a telephone helpline, peer-to-peer mentoring support and one-to-one counselling. It is hoped that one or more of the services will be piloted for three years, starting in the autumn of 2015.