Church of England 'failed to protect children from sexual predators', damning report finds

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

The Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual predators, with safeguards often overlooked in favour of protecting the clergy's reputation, a damning report has found.

The Church was accused of being “in direct conflict” with its moral purpose of providing “care and love for the innocent and the vulnerable” by failing to take abuse allegations seriously.

The report found the Church neglected the “physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing” of the young, and creating a culture where abusers were able to hide within the institution.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s (IICSA) report into the Anglican Church also found examples of clergymen being ordained despite a history of child sexual offences.Inquiry chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay said: “Over many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome.”

The report said: "In the past, the system of child protection was under-resourced. Safeguarding personnel were at times ignored and their advice overlooked, in favour of protecting the reputation of clergy and the Church."

The inquiry heard that, from the 1940s to 2018, 390 people who were either members of the clergy or in positions of trust associated with the Church had been convicted of sexual offences against children.

During the Inquiry’s hearings, senior leaders in the Church apologised for its actions, recognising that the failings were "profoundly and deeply shocking."

The report found that in many of those cases, the Church of England failed to take the abuse seriously, and alleged perpetrators were “given more support than victims, who often faced barriers to reporting (abuse) they simply couldn’t overcome”.

It cites the case of the late Robert Waddington, who was Dean of Manchester Cathedral between 1984 and 1993, and died of cancer in 2007 amid a flurry of abuse allegations dating back more than half a century.

The inquiry heard that a “serious allegation” was made to the then-Archbishop of York David (now Lord) Hope in 1999 about Waddington, but the Archbishop said there was “simply no possibility” of the suspect acting in this way.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said he is 'truly sorry'. Credit: PA

The Archbishop was said to have not sought further information, instead meeting with Waddington, who continued to officiate in the Diocese of York.

In December 2004, Archbishop Hope wrote to Waddington stating that he was “very pleased to note the matter is now closed”, the inquiry heard.

The report was less scathing on the Church of Wales saying they had a centralised safeguarding structure in place but said their resources were spread too thinly.

In an open letter ahead of the report publication, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York apologised to survivors of abuse, saying they were “truly sorry for the shameful way the Church has acted” against those who have suffered.

The report also refers to the case of Reverend Ian Hughes, from Merseyside, who was convicted in 2014 for downloading 8,000 indecent images of children.

Bishop of Chester Peter Forster, who retired last year, suggested to the inquiry that Hughes had been “misled into viewing child pornography” on the basis that pornography is “so ubiquitously available and viewed”.

Bishop Forster minimised the seriousness of Hughes’ offending, the inquiry found, despite more than 800 of the images being graded at the most serious level of abuse.

The report acknowledged that the Church had made “considerable improvements to practices and procedures” in recent years, but identified that it needed to make further changes to existing measures.

Last month, the Church announced it had set up a compensation pot for survivors of historic abuse by members of the clergy, reckoned to cost in the region of £200 million.

The inquiry report follows a previous, linked, strand focusing specifically on shamed bishop Peter Ball, which last year found that the Church of England “put its own reputation above the needs of victims”.

It found that the Church offered secrecy and protection for abusers which allowed them to “hide in plain sight”, and described what could be seen as attempts by the Prince of Wales to support Ball as “misguided”.

Ball, the former Bishop of Lewes and of Gloucester, was jailed in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 young men over three decades.

Richard Scorer, lead lawyer for Slater and Gordon representing 20 survivors of abuse within the Church of England at the inquiry, said: “This is a very damning report.

“It confirms that despite decades of scandal, and endless promises, the Church of England continues to fail victims and survivors. Bishops have too much power and too little accountability.

“National policies are not properly enforced. Sexual offending by clergy continues to be minimised.

“It’s clear from the report that huge change is still required, including proper support for survivors and removing bishops’ operational responsibility for safeguarding.

The IICSA was set up in 2015 following claims from a complainant known as “Nick” of a murderous paedophile ring linked to Parliament operating in and around Westminster.

Nick, real name Carl Beech, was later discredited and jailed for 18 years for what a judge called his “cruel and callous” lies.

The inquiry has investigated the actions of celebrities, politicians, police, religious groups and schools, among others.

The remaining three avenues of the inquiry are due to hear evidence later this year, before a final report of overarching findings from all 15 sections of the investigation is laid before Parliament in 2022.