LONDON—Alleged child predators in the Church of England were given more support than their victims, according to a report released Tuesday which has laid bare a toxic culture of allowing abusers to hide in plain sight for decades under the pretense of providing care and love.
The report, written following an independent inquiry into child sex abuse, reveals that 390 church leaders were convicted of child sex abuse between the 1940s and 2018. In 2018 alone, 2,504 safeguarding concerns were raised about children or vulnerable adults, and there were 449 allegations of recent child sex abuse. Less than half of those allegations were reported to outside authorities.
The report comes from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, which was set up in 2014 after hundreds of people accused former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile of child sex abuse following his death in 2011. Over the past six years, it has been systematically investigating claims against public and private institutions in England and Wales, as well as against powerful public figures like Savile, a television presenter and radio DJ.
The damning report said that, just like in Savile’s case, alleged abuses were able to happen because of a culture of deference to power, which made the church a place where alleged predators “could hide” without consequences. The inquiry said its evidence showed that, for decades, the church has been undermining “its own underlying moral purpose to provide care and love for the innocent and the vulnerable.”
“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,” said the highly critical report, which was published online Tuesday.
The document added: “Another aspect of the church’s culture was clericalism, which meant that the moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach.” It concluded that church leaders “should not hold operational responsibility for safeguarding,” and professional safeguarding officials must be brought in. It also recommended a rule to expel any church member found guilty of child sex offenses.
Richard Scorer, a lawyer representing dozens of survivors of abuse in the church, told The Guardian, “This is a very damning report. It confirms that despite decades of scandal, and endless promises, the Church of England continues to fail victims and survivors. Bishops have too much power and too little accountability. National polices are not properly enforced. Sexual offending by clergy continues to be minimized.”
The head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, hasn’t commented on the report’s findings, but he promised in a letter shortly before the report’s release to “listen, to learn and to act,” and added, “We are truly sorry for the shameful way the Church has acted.”
He went on: “We cannot and will not make excuses and can again offer our sincere and heartfelt apologies to those who have been abused, and to their families, friends and colleagues. We make an absolute commitment to taking action to make the Church a safe place for everyone, as well as to respond to the needs of survivors for support and redress.”
One victim of abuse, who says he was raped by a Church of England clergyman over 40 years ago, told the BBC it will take “courage” from the church and its leaders to “salvage itself and redeem itself.”