Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with two former Archbishops, serving Bishops and other church figures have been asked to give evidence at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) at hearings this month.
It is expected that survivors of the abuse will gave evidence that the Church failed to act on disclosures of abuse and “failed to treat them with compassion.” The Inquiry will hear allegations that the Church has not dealt with allegations of abuse properly and there will be a call for “an independent oversight of the Church of England’s safeguarding procedures.”
Peter Hancock, the Bishop of Bath and Wells and also the Head Bishop on safeguarding will be required to give evidence. He has said that he expected “to feel a deep, deep sense of shame during the hearings. The Church had cooperated fully with the IICSA, but the Inquiry would ask challenging questions and I don’t run from that. The Church needed to learn and that meant not just new policies, but new courage and a resolve to change.”
Justin Welby has said, “The Church must acknowledge where it went wrong. We failed really badly around the issues of the care of children and vulnerable adults. We have to face the consequences of that and learn … to be transparent and honest – and genuinely repentant,”
This month the hearings will focus on the Diocese of Chichester. The Church’s handling of allegations made against the former Bishop of Chichester, George Bell will be examined and the Inquiry will also hear evidence on “secondary abuse” by Church figures who allegedly, “ignored, disparaged or covered up disclosures.”
Reverend Graham Sawyer who gave evidence against Peter Ball the former Bishop of Gloucester ,who was subsequently jailed in October 2015 for sexual abuse has said, “The Church is guilty of two distinct crimes: cover-up and its treatment of survivors. The corporate narcissism and hubris of the Church of England’s leadership has meant they’ve made horrendous mistakes. The hearings are going to be immensely uncomfortable for the church, but the key question is whether they will bring about change.”
The Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson who has, “pressed for cultural change within the church on abuse” said the IICSA hearings would only “examine the tip of a large iceberg”.
“The Inquiry has promised to go beyond individual failures and the processes by which they were handled and examine habits, attitudes and beliefs that made them so possible and pervasive. An ounce of culture is worth a ton of policy.”
It is hoped that the evidence heard at the Inquiry will show the need for external oversight of the Church’s safeguarding polices, their handling of complaints and the mandatory reporting of allegations of abuse to the Police and Social Services.
The Church says that they see the IICSA hearings as an opportunity to learn from its past mistakes and acknowledges that it must strengthen its response to survivors.
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