The archbishop of York has said there is a “crisis of safeguarding” within the Church of England after its executive disbanded an independent body on abuse.
Stephen Cottrell told the C of E’s ruling body, the General Synod, on Sunday that “mistakes have been made” and that Jesus would be weeping at the events of recent weeks. “We recognise things have gone wrong,” he said. “This is a watershed moment for us. We can’t get this wrong again.”
The synod later backed a proposal to set up a £150m redress fund for survivors of church-related abuse.
Furious members of the synod forced the suspension of formal proceedings to allow two members of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) who were sacked last month to address the meeting in York.
Steve Reeves, one of the sacked board members, said: “When the archbishops’ council talks about ‘independence’, they do not mean independence in the way … the average person in the street means independence. They mean semi-detached, not independent.”
When they spoke of trust, they meant “obedience”, and when they spoke of communication they meant “loyalty”, he said.
Jasvinder Sanghera, the other sacked board member, said: “We were too independent. We did our job too well.”
The three-member ISB was set up in January 2022 with a brief to pave the way for a system of fully independent safeguarding in the C of E – one of the recommendations of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.
Its chair, Maggie Atkinson, resigned in March after she was found to have breached data-protection rules. The archbishops’ council, the C of E’s executive body that is registered as a charity, replaced her with Meg Munn, who was and remains chair of the C of E’s national safeguarding panel.
Critics said there was a conflict of interest between Munn’s roles, and Reeves and Sanghera refused to meet her.
On 21 June, their dismissal was announced. In a statement, the archbishops of Canterbury and York said: “We bitterly regret that we have reached this point … But it is clear that there is no prospect of resolving the disagreement and that it is getting in the way of the vital work of serving victims and survivors.”
Survivors of abuse expressed dismay at the disbanding of the ISB. Jane Chevous, director and co-founder of Survivors Voices, who addressed the synod on Sunday, said: “The damage done is beyond words. For some it will be the last straw and cause irreparable damage, not just to their relationship with the church, but in their lives, their wellbeing and their faith.”
Cottrell said: “Clearly, this has created a crisis for safeguarding … Mistakes have been made and we do need to review that and learn from them, and do our very best to make sure they don’t happen again.”
The archbishops’ council had referred itself to the Charity Commissioners, “which is an acknowledgment that we recognise things have gone wrong, and there are things to learn”.
Of the lessons that needed to be learned from the affair, he said: “Not only do we need independent oversight and scrutiny of safeguarding, we need independent help in deciding how best to do it. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that it has taken this long for us to see it with clarity.”
Asked what Jesus would think of the debacle, he said: “I imagine Jesus weeps over this situation … And I know many of us are not far from those tears as well.”News