Wednesday, 7 October 2020
I am writing to you following the publication this week of the report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse into the Anglican Church (IICSA).
The report is based on public hearings held during July 2019, which examined the response of the Church of England and Church in Wales to allegations of child sexual abuse, as well as the adequacy of current safeguarding policies and practices. ‘
It found systematic failings within the Church of England in how it deals with safeguarding issues along with its failure to support victims of abuse. IICSA has published the report in full on its website https://www.iicsa.org.uk/publications/investigation/anglican-church.
It makes for difficult reading and I am sure many of you will be shocked by the stories and experiences it recounts.
In the Executive Summary it states:
“The culture of the Church of England facilitated it becoming a place where abusers could hide. Deference to the authority of the Church and to individual priests, taboos surrounding discussion of sexuality and an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims presented barriers to disclosure that many victims could not overcome. Another aspect of the Church’s culture was clericalism, which meant that the moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach.”
This culture, deference and clericalism is not something which has happened in some mythical national church, it has happened here at St Margaret’s in Rainham. In failing to acknowledge this we become complicit in it.
Historically we have failed as a Church to protect the vulnerable among us. We have failed to put systems in place to prevent abuse. We have supported offenders whilst vilifying the abused. This is abhorrent, unchristian and morally bankrupt and we should be deeply ashamed of our past. Abuse is evil. People are angry with the church and it is my firm belief that God is also angry.
Yes, we have and are always looking at ways to improve our systems; yes we have taken steps to address the power imbalance within the congregation here at St Margaret’s but until we repent corporately, until we face the past square on and seek forgiveness then we stand condemned. The Church of England needs to change its culture and that has to start with us.
I am committed to changing the culture in relation to safeguarding and to continually improve our practices here at St Margaret’s. To begin this journey, I have ordered 200 copies of the book ‘Letters to a Broken Church’ which are available free of charge to anyone in the Parish who wants one. The book is a collection of essays that drawon the personal experience of survivors of abuse and their allies and is a powerful message that calls for the structures, leadership, practices and culture of the Church to radically change and face up to the historic scale of abuse within its institutions at all levels. Please read the book. You can either pick one up at church or contact us and we will send you a copy.
As a church we are committed to change. We want to be at the heart of our community and given the findings of this report, it is only through brutal honesty that we can look them in the face and seek their trust. We will take time in services and other groups and meetings to reflect upon what we can learn from the IICSA process and what victims and survivors have said, and what it means for us as a church going forward. We will do this with a contrite heart and spirit of repentance. The journey will be long but journey we must.
If you have been affected by abuse within the church, firstly I am deeply sorry and ashamed. If anyone wants to talk to someone independently regarding a concern they have about something they have experienced within a church, now or in the past, there is support available:
- ‘Safe Spaces’ is an independent service supporting survivors of church-related abuse. This independent service is run by the charity Victim Support and is free to access via telephone – 0300 303 1056 (answerphone available outside of opening times), email – firstname.lastname@example.org, or web-chat via www.safespacesenglandandwales.org.uk/.
- You can also contact the Diocese of Rochester’s own Safeguarding Team on 01634 560 000 or find further contact details at: http://www.rochester.anglican.org/safeguarding/
- Other organisations offering support can also be found on the national Church of England website here: https://bit.ly/2Gu5geB
- Within the parish, details of others you may speak to can be found on our website www.rainhamchurch.co.uk/safeguarding.
Revd Nathan Ward
St Margaret’s Church, Rainham
Please see PDF version of letter below.