Church of England to rewrite canon law to make bishops guard against child sex abuse
By David Hencke | 15 October 2014
The training, to include how to respond after receiving a complaint of child sex abuse within the Church of England (CoE), is to be introduced first for new clergy. The plan is to roll out training for existing bishops and vicars later.
The CoE is also to change canon law to make bishops accountable for the safeguarding of children in their diocese for the first time since it broke away from the Roman Catholic church during the reign of King Henry VIII. The changes mark what one expert called a wholesale “re-writing” of the CoE’s policy towards safeguarding children in the wake of scandals over paedophile priests.
Paul Butler, bishop of Durham and co-chairman of the Anglicans’ and Methodists’ joint safeguarding liaison group, is behind the new policy, which is backed by Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury.
Graham Wilmer, who is a member of the joint safeguarding liaison group and is on the panel for the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse, told Exaro: “The committee is engaged in re-writing the whole of the church’s safeguarding policy.
“This includes making bishops responsible for the first time for safeguarding children, and changing canon law to ensure that this happens.”
The change to canon law will make bishops responsible for policing safeguarding arrangements and ensure that clergy who are accused of sexual abuse can be suspended from holding office while the case is being investigated.
A new disciplinary code will also bar people with records of child abuse from being churchwardens or sitting on the CoE’s parochial parish councils. The code will also end the time limit on when complaints about sexual abuse can be considered.
Wilmer, who is also director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports victims of child sex abuse, and author of ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, stressed that the change in canon law will mean that bishops will carry great responsibility for safeguarding children in their dioceses. “Bishops will face the position of being struck off if they fail to do so,” he said.
Safeguarding procedures at the CoE have previously allowed bishops to keep allegations of child sex abuse away from the authorities.
A CoE spokesman said: “These measures are part of wider approach by the church based on what the survivors of sexual abuse want us to do. The whole impetus is on tackling the problem from the survivor’s point of view.”
Tim Loughton, Conservative MP and former children’s minister who was part of what was ultimately a successful cross-party call for the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse, said: “The Church of England has given a strong lead, and instituted urgent root-and-branch reform of how it deals with child abuse.”
Exaro revealed in August that the CoE had earmarked £2 million for counselling and other support for victims of paedophile priests.
A CoE spokeswoman said that a definite decision on spending the money was yet to be made.
However, Wilmer said that the CoE had already committed to funding pilot schemes as part of the process of deciding how best to spend the earmarked cash.
The CoE was at one time considering the launch of a “truth and reconciliation” commission on child sex abuse in organised religions. Anglican leaders, as an initial step, agreed just over a year ago to issue a public apology for the cover-up of sexual abuse of children within the CoE.
As Exaro revealed then, the CoE and the Catholic Church held discussions about the proposed commission, but no firm plans were agreed.
The government urged the CoE and the Catholic Church to set up an inquiry into child sex abuse within all faiths in the UK.
But Welby told David Cameron, prime minister, that a much wider inquiry was needed a year before Theresa May, home secretary, announced just such an overarching investigation after parliamentary pressure built up over a series of reports by Exaro.
Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread