Hundreds of new cases have recently come to light involving allegations of abuse of vulnerable adults and children within the Church of England by clergy, Church officers and volunteers. The revelation comes as a result of a review of Church records.
The first Past Cases Review (PCR 1)
This is the second review of past cases that the Church of England has had to undertake because several Church of England clergy and church officers have been prosecuted with sexual offences against children. The first review, called Past Cases Review 1 or PCR1 was conducted between 2007 and 2009.
In May 2016 concerns were raised regarding the judgements presented from PCR1. An Independent Scrutiny Team (IST) chaired by Sir Roger Singleton was convened and it concluded that whilst the review was well motivated and thoughtfully planned, limitations existed in relation to its execution. As a result, Past Cases Review 2 (PCR2) was commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council in 2019 as part of the overall commitment to improving the way in which the Church responds to allegations and concerns.
The call for mandatory reporting
The PCR2 reviewers found 383 cases relating to abuse, that the Church says require further attention. What that means in practice remains to be seen.
PCR 2 has been published at a time close to when the IICSA final report is to be published on 20 October 2022.
Survivors of clergy abuse are looking to IICSA to recommend mandatory reporting of CSA concerns and ultimately for Parliament to finally enact mandatory reporting legislation.
Some survivors are looking to the Church of England to establish a redress scheme to compensate them in some small way for the harm they have suffered. A national, cross-Church, Church of England scheme to be known as the National Redress Scheme is apparently in development. This is further to a commitment made by the General Synod in February 2020, and as the response to Recommendation 7 of the IICSA report to introduce a Church wide policy on the funding and provision of support to victims and survivors.
The archbishops of Canterbury and York apologised and expressed “profound shame” at the findings set out in PCR2.
PCR2 is highly critical of a culture within the Church that is portrayed as still not adequately dealing with abuse.
The report said:
The Church is still at risk of failing others in the future unless there are further significant changes of culture and attitude as well as adherence to more detailed and effective safeguarding practices
Of the 383 new cases, 168 relate to children and 149 to vulnerable adults.
The alleged perpetrators, who are still alive, include 242 clergy, 53 Church officers and 41 volunteers whose role included engagement with children. Many no longer hold positions in the Church – but in some cases, their identity was not recorded.
The cases range from errors in information sharing to those that should have been referred to the police. The report does not include details of the seriousness of the abuse.
Some of the most damning parts detail issues surrounding the culture within the Church of England relating to abuse.
The reviewers mention victim-blaming, deference to those in power, inertia and inaction in dealing with allegations of abuse. They found that there are still inconsistent responses to and inconsistent treatment of survivors and victims across dioceses. It was encouraging to note that the response to survivors and victims from first disclosure has improved with independent reviewers recognising the diocesan safeguarding professionals’ commitment to responding appropriately. The introduction of safeguarding professionals to the Church is acknowledged as a key factor in this improvement. The report concludes that there is still evidence that poor practices exist and there is considerable room for improvement.
While we welcome the publication of this report, its findings show that far too many people have been failed by the Church of England and that far more needs to be done to safeguard the children and vulnerable adults that come into contact with the Church.