A senior Church of England bishop has revealed that the Anglican Communion led by Queen Elizabeth II is facing more than 3,300 sexual abuse allegations before an independent inquiry into child abuse next month, despite fivefold increase in spending on issues relating to such abuse since 2014.
“This will not be an easy couple of years – we will hear deeply painful accounts of abuse, of poor response, of ‘cover-up’. We will … feel a deep sense of shame,” said Bishop of Bath and Wells Peter Hancock and the church’s lead bishop on safeguarding during its General Synod – the church’s legislative body -- in London on Saturday.
The church will be the focus of intense scrutiny at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which starts hearing evidence of abuse cases in March, according to local press reports.
“For too long the church has not responded well to those who allege abuse within our church communities. This is now changing and further change is needed,” Hancock added, as the church has appointed professional safeguarding advisers to every diocese to deal with disclosures of abuse.
Many survivors of clerical sexual abuse “remain deeply mistrustful, suspicious and angry towards the church,” he further underlined.
The synod also heard recorded accounts from five survivors, who spoke of shortcomings by the church in dealing with their abuse.
This is while the protestant church revealed that in 2016 it was dealing with over 3,300 reports of sexual abuse within its parishes, most of which involving “children, young people and vulnerable adults within church communities.”
Nearly one in five of abuse reports were filed against the clergy and other church officials, with the remainder linked to other members of the congregation that volunteered within the church.
According to local media reports, the church has unveiled more than 25,000 documents to IICSA and submitted 36 witness statements.
In the past two years, meanwhile, three independent inquiries into the church’s handling of abuse allegations have been very critical of its leadership.
This is while Chichester bishop Martin Warner observed that the Church of England’s response could further compound the impact of abuse, saying: “A prolonged period of denial, particularly by the church when we fail to face up to our responsibilities in this matter, can reinforce the damage done by the abuse itself. It becomes a double abuse.”
Moreover, a member of the church’s national safeguarding panel, Roger Singleton, also said that there was “a common theme running through recent reports of audits, reviews and inquiries. That is a continuing need for culture change within the church.”
He then added that there was a minority of parish clergy and lay members of the church who “appear unable or unwilling to accept the need for sensible, proportionate measures; or who minimize the adverse impacts which physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual abuse can have on people’s lives; or who believe that complainants are only in it for the money.”
Earlier, the archbishops of Canterbury and York joined victims of sexual abuse by church authorities for two minutes of silence on the steps of Church House in Westminster.