This week, the abuse team discuss a recent headline in the BBC which discusses a vicar from Solihull who failed to disclose to the Church of England her husband’s sexual abuse of children, which led to her being barred from the ministry.
It emerged in October that the then Rev Helen Greenham had admitted saying nothing to her diocese, despite knowing of abuse by spouse Peter Jenkins.
She was suspended from St Helen’s Church in Solihull pending the outcome of a disciplinary tribunal.
A penalty has since been handed down, with a permanent ban placed upon her.
The Church of England’s removal of her from public office, in addition to “Prohibition from Ministry for life”, reflected “the severity of the misconduct”, said the Diocese of Birmingham.
Further findings are to be published in due course.
Jenkins, a former teacher, was jailed for 13 years in August 2022 over a raft of sex offences, including rape, committed between 1984 and 2005. The offences predate the pair’s association with St Helen’s and there is no evidence of any criminal behaviour connected to the church.
No criminal charges have been brought against Ms Greenham.
Jenkins’ victims were four females who were young girls when he abused them. One of them has told the BBC Ms Greenham’s silence had enabled Jenkins to work with people who could have gone on to become further targets.
Peter Jenkins was jailed for 13 years after admitting a string of sexual offences
Ms Greenham joined the Diocese of Birmingham in 2011 and, according to the Solihull parish website, acted as director for the children and families ministry.
Last year her failure to disclose knowledge of Jenkins’ behaviour had spanned a period between her appointment and 2019, when criminal proceedings began, after which time the pair separated.
Church documents revealed that in addition to her admission of that silence, she admitted exposing others to risk of harm as a consequence. There was a further admission that she had failed to manage the risk by allowing him to perform roles within the church.
At our recent Abuse Conference, we welcomed Peter D WilsonConsultant Surgeon, Medical Director, Church Safeguarding Officer, Survivor Representative with the Anglican National Safeguarding Team as a speaker. He spoke about how his experience of medical duty of candour as a doctor might transfer to religious organisations facing sexual abuse. He has been a member of 7 different churches throughout his lifetime. He currently acts as a Church safeguarding officer. His role falls into 3 categories: Awareness, Guidance and Policy.
What is the current procedure within the Church?
IICSA: Reporting Policies within the Church
Guidance and papal laws
In February 2019, at the conclusion of the meeting in the Vatican on ‘The Protection of Minors in the Church’, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued guidance which states:
“It is essential that the community be advised that they have the duty and the right to report sexual misconduct to a contact person in the diocese or religious order. These contact details should be in the public domain … In every case, and for all the phases of dealing with cases, these two points should be followed at all times: (i) protocols established should be respected; (ii) civil or domestic laws should be obeyed.”
An instruction by the CDF does not change canon law but, as Monsignor Gordon Read (an expert in canon law) explained, it is “guidance that ought to be followed”.
However, in May 2019, Pope Francis issued a papal law (Motu Proprio) which focussed specifically on crimes of sexual abuse. The papal law stated that where a priest or member of a religious institute has “notice of, or well-founded motives to believe” that child sexual abuse has been committed, that person “is obliged to report promptly” the matter to their bishop or religious superior. Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that:
“This is, in effect, the canonical establishment of a duty to report suspicions of abuse within the Church.”
The Motu Proprio also states that there must be cooperation with state authorities in compliance with national law.
As a result of both the Motu Proprio and the CDF guidance, it is clear that child sexual abuse allegations should be reported internally within the Church and externally to the statutory authorities.
Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service policies and procedures:
The CSAS procedures manual (published on its website) sets out the circumstances in which allegations made to the Church must be referred to statutory authorities. At the time of the final hearing, this included a 25-page chapter entitled ‘Children – policy and procedure for the management of allegations and concerns’, which provides separate advice for management of allegations and concerns depending on whether the individual who is the subject is:
not in a role within the Catholic Church; or
“Clergy, Religious, Rectors, Vice Rectors, Seminary Staff Members, Members of the Safeguarding Structure, Lay Persons and Volunteers acting in the name of the Catholic Church”.
In relation to reporting, Christopher Pearson (chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC)) said that the Church “expect[s] if an allegation comes in, it’s reported”. When shown a passage of the CSAS policy for managing allegations and concerns for those not in roles within the Church, Mr Pearson acknowledged that it appeared that in some circumstances the safeguarding coordinator had a discretion whether to refer the allegation to the statutory authority. He said this discretion was “at variance” to what he had understood the position to be. He considered that there should be mandatory reporting “in any allegation where somebody is in a position of trust in the Catholic Church”. As a result of this evidence, CSAS and the NCSC told us that they have reviewed and amended this part of the policies and procedures to ensure there is no possibility of it being interpreted as allowing discretion in respect of reporting.
The CSAS policies and procedures manual for the management of allegations and concerns in relation to children is not an easy document to follow. It is essential that the Church’s reporting policies are set out clearly and succinctly in language that is easy to understand.
Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.
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