Archbishop of Canterbury describes church’s ‘failure to face misdeeds’ as ‘inexcusable’
By Tim Wood | 25 October 2014
His strikingly candid comments underline the scale of the task for the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse, whose terms of reference were announced on Tuesday.
He wrote the letter after the mother, Marilyn Hawes, a committed Christian from Hertfordshire, turned to Exaro because an official at Lambeth Palace twice fobbed her off when she tried to raise the issue with the current and previous archbishops.
Hawes, a former music teacher, first wrote to Rowan Williams in 2003 after her sons’ abuser was convicted. The headmaster was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
She wrote: “I have been an active church-goer my whole life – 50 years – and for the first time I am doubting, not my faith, but the sincerity, value and integrity of a church community.”
She received a two-paragraph, routine reply from an official. Hurt and angry, Hawes set up Enough Abuse, which aims to help tackle the problem by providing support and training.
Welby, appointed as archbishop of Canterbury last year, has publicly acknowledged the church’s problem with paedophilia.
So Hawes decided to try again, writing to Welby at Lambeth Palace in July.
She wrote that the church community “abandoned” her, saying: “I went on to have a nervous breakdown and suicidal thoughts. People would cross the road or exit the Post Office rather than face me. Nobody from the church cared.”
Her sons, now adults, had “achieved great things”, she wrote, and had “overcome the sexual abuse”. However, she added, “Nobody in any church has shown them any active help.” But she again received a two-paragraph, non-committal reply – from the same official as 11 years earlier.
She said: “I was outraged. It was obvious that the archbishop had not been shown my letter. It was another two-fingered salute from Lambeth Palace.”
She contacted Exaro following our report in August about how the CoE had earmarked £2 million for counselling and other support for victims of paedophile priests.
We advised her to contact Paul Butler, bishop of Durham who has responsibility in the CoE for child safeguarding.
This prompted Welby’s letter to her. He wrote: “Paul Butler, bishop of Durham, passed on to me your rightly angry e-mail about the reply that you received from my office.”
“It should be obvious that anything sensitive – and I cannot imagine anything more sensitive than your letter – should not be handled in this way.
“I read your story with the same deep sense of sadness and dismay that I have felt on far too many other, similar accounts. The betrayal of Christ in such behaviour is complete; the church’s failure to face the misdeeds of those in its service is inexcusable.
“I can only apologise for what happened then, and for what has happened now, most sincerely and with deep sorrow.
“It is now clear that in a huge number of institutions and localities, the abuse of children and vulnerable adults has been rampant. That is not in any way mitigation or excuse for the church, but is why I have been, with Paul Butler, pushing for the public inquiry that the government has promised.”
“It is also clear that there is a very significant legacy of unacknowledged cases in the Church of England. We are taking all necessary steps to face these.”
He has asked the chief of staff and the bishop at Lambeth to review the handling of correspondence, and concludes his letter with a further apology.
He suggested to Hawes that she and Butler have a meeting, which is due on Tuesday.
Welby’s comments come as the CoE plans to roll out training on safeguarding children for all its clergy.
Tim Loughton, former children’s minister, said: “The new archbishop should be congratulated for clearly focussing on the wrongs of the past throughout the church and his determination that every effort should be made to prevent them again in the future.”
Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread