Phil JohnsonImage copyright
Phil Johnson

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Phil Johnson: Church of England see ‘survivors as the problem’

The Church of England has made last-ditch efforts to engage with sexual abuse survivors before a report of how it recorded cases of abuse is published.

That report is expected to be highly critical of the Church.

The BBC has learned that abuse allegations involving dead and retired clergy were left out of a CofE review.

A spokesperson for the Anglican Church said recent criticisms “have been taken very seriously and acted upon”.

Survivors have accused the Church of a “wholly inadequate” response.

Since March the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has heard how the Church of England handled allegations of sexual misconduct stretching back to the 1950s.

It has been an uncomfortable experience for Church leaders.

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Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby gave evidence at the inquiry into child sexual abuse

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby described Church failures as “deeply shaming”.

The Church of England’s Past Cases Review (PCR) looked at over 40,000 case files – it is not known whether they all related to abuse claims – but the review concluded that just 13 cases of alleged child sexual abuse needed formal action.

‘Satanic ritual abuse’

The BBC has seen emails showing discussions and disagreements about which cases to include.

They show confusion about the criteria of who to include. Eventually the PCR excluded those who had died, retired, or who were deemed no longer to pose a risk.

Other excluded cases related to a cleric who was allegedly addicted to pornography and another said to have had an “obsessional interest in satanic ritual abuse”.

Sexual offences which had been decriminalised were also left out, leaving the possibility that cases involving abuse of boys of the age of 16 or 17 went unrecorded.

Allegations of grooming behaviour were also excluded. One diocesan bishop did not engage with the review at all and many files containing allegations remained unopened in filing cabinets.

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John Humphries

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Justin Humphries: The Church may have failed to identify some abusers

Justin Humphries of the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service says the review may have failed to identify some abusers.

“I can’t say for sure but I think it would be fair to say that yes, that is a distinct possibility.”

A report will be published next month into the PCR. It is expected to be highly critical.

‘Chaotic structure’

The report author, Sir Roger Singleton, has already told the inquiry about multiple failings in the way the review was carried out with “concern about the reliability of the statistics” and “chaotic structure”.

Documents also suggest the Church hierarchy worked behind the scenes to limit damage to the reputation of the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

In an email exchange in October 2010 – during the Chichester sex abuse scandal – a press adviser to Dr Williams said “the real danger here is that these stories are used to suggest that the CofE is as bad as Rome, both in abuse and cover-up” and “the aim must be to distance the current ABC (Archbishop of Canterbury) from it as much as poss”.

Dr Williams told the inquiry he had not previously seen the email.

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The Archbishops of York and Canterbury and supporters of abuse victims joined the silent protest

In most cases survivors were not asked to give evidence to the Past Cases Review and there has been criticism of the Church for failing to fully involve them.

Phil Johnson, who was abused by a clergyman in the Chichester Diocese, says the Church’s response to survivors has been “wholly inadequate… there’s been a sense of paralysis almost on the part of the Church” and “of seeing the survivors as the problem”.

The Church of England says criticism of its handling of the review have been taken very seriously and have been acted upon.

It says it will support the recommendations in next month’s report by Sir Roger Singleton and has also commissioned a survey from the Social Care Institute for Excellence, asking for the views of survivors.



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