OOZING contrition, members of the General Synod of the Church of England gathered at York University on Sunday evening to tell victims of Anglican clerical abuse how frightfully sorry they were over the whole affair.
But this – and a 30-second moment of silence – failed to impress victims who rejected the apology and called instead for an independent public inquiry to ensure abusers are held to account and better safeguards put in place.
The General Synod, according to this report, voted unanimously to endorse the apology already made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to victims of abuse, and to back moves intended to tighten its safeguarding procedures.
The synod was told the church had failed victims of abuse “big time” by refusing to listen to their stories and by moving offenders to different areas in the hope that the problem would go away.
Paul Butler, the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, said the church had sinned through its failure to act just as much as the abusers had sinned through their actions.
Survivors] have struggled for years to have their voices heard. They have put up with institutional resistance time and again. In doing so, we have repeatedly re-abused them.
Victims were not permitted to speak during the debate, but Butler read out a statement issued by the Stop Church Child Abuse group that said that until a full and independent public inquiry was held, many would suspect the church was merely going through the motions.
The statement concluded:
Once such an inquiry has reported, once individual cases have been acknowledged, and once the church has begun how to learn to respond appropriately, maybe then the apologies, general as well as to individuals and their families, will carry some meaning.
As an aside, Butler is a great believer in applying “Christian values” to school lessons – including math.
The archbishops’ expression of contrition came after the release of a report into safeguarding practices in Chichester diocese, which was commissioned in 2011 by Welby’s predecessor, Rowan Williams, following a series of scandals involving clergymen within the diocese that saw several arrested, charged and convicted of historic sex crimes against children.
The report, said the archbishops, had laid bare:
A painful story of individual wickedness on the part of the abusers.
According to this report, Welby told the Synod:
For us, what we are looking at today is far from enough, we are opening a process, continuing a process in many ways, that will go far further than we can imagine.
We cannot in 20 years be finding ourselves having this same debate and saying ‘well we didn’t quite understand then’. There has to be complete change of culture and behaviour.
In addition, there is a profound theological point. We are not doing all this – we are not seeking to say how devastatingly, appallingly, atrociously sorry we are for the great failures there have been, for our own sakes, for our own flourishing, for the protection of the Church. We are doing this because we are called to live in the justice of God and we will each answer to him for our failures in this area.
The formal apology to survivors of abuse comes seven years after the synod said sorry for helping to sustain and profit from the slave trade.