Archbishops of Canterbury and York to urge General Synod to issue apology to victims
By David Hencke | 6 July 2013
Leaders of the Church of England are considering the launch of a “truth and reconciliation” commission on child sex abuse in organised religions.
As a preliminary step, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, will urge the General Synod in York tomorrow to issue a public apology for the cover-up of sexual abuse of children by the Anglican church.
It comes after a church investigation into child sex abuse by priests in the Diocese of Chichester.
The proposal for an apology comes in a report submitted by the two archbishops to the Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod.
They are urging the General Synod to “be able to identify with the apology that we wish to offer unreservedly for the failure of the Church of England’s systems to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by its clergy and others, and for the failure to listen properly to those so abused.”
But the Church of England is yet to agree plans for a special commission to conduct a thorough investigation into the issue.
Graham Wilmer, director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports victims of child sex exploitation, is pressing the Church of England and the Catholic Church to set up the commission to cover all faiths in the UK.
The Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit is carrying out a wide-ranging investigation into the Catholic Church in the UK over child sex abuse.
As part of this, detectives are investigating schools run by the Salesians in Great Britain, a Catholic order.
The Church of England and the Catholic Church have had discussions about the idea of a commission, but no firm plans have been agreed.
Wilmer, who is also part of the campaign group, Stop Church Child Abuse, said that the apology proposed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York does not go far enough. He thinks that they should “provide a non-judgmental forum through which victims of sexual abuse can submit testimony in person or by other means to enable their voices to be heard, and the harm they suffered acknowledged and responded to appropriately.”
Paul Butler, bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, wrote to Wilmer, in his role at Stop Church Child Abuse, ahead of the General Synod in York to say that there is no guarantee that it will even agree to an apology.
The bishop invited Wilmer to attend the debate at the General Synod on the archbishops’ proposed apology, scheduled for 5pm tomorrow, saying: “It provides the opportunity for members to wrestle with the pain of this matter, the fact not only of abuse within the church, but of the failure of the church to listen or to act properly.
“This failure, as you well know, relates not just to listening to the victims or trying to provide appropriate support. It also relates to a failure to actively pursue reports about anyone who may pose a risk, including passing all information to the statutory authorities.
“The Synod will be debating the appropriateness of offering an apology to victims for these failures.
“The Synod has done this once before, in relation to slavery, and much of the debate there was not about the core issue, but about whether or not a body such as General Synod can sensibly offer an apology in circumstances like this.
“It is hard to predict what may arise on this occasion. It will be important for us to stress at the debate, as we will in any surrounding publicity, that this is only a step along the road of engagement with victims/survivors.”
Wilmer has decided against attending the debate, although other people from the Lantern Project will go.
Exaro has run a series of reports exposing the failure of a wide array of authorities in the UK to tackle child sex abuse. Last week, Exaro revealed that a private school used by the children of service personnel is to close after failing to raise the alarm about sexual abuse of girls there by male pupils.
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