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Safeguarding 'weaponised' in Church of England as report claims standards 'fall below secular groups'

Safeguarding 'weaponised' in Church of England as report claims standards 'fall below secular groups'
A report into safeguarding in the Church of England has found standards fall below what is expected in secular organisations. The church must "take action urgently".

21 February 2024

Safeguarding has at times been "weaponised" in the Church of England as a pretext for removing people seen as a "nuisance", the former head of the child sex abuse inquiry has claimed.

The church drafted in Professor Alexis Jay in July last year to get its safeguarding "back on track", after a row saw a panel of experts sacked the previous month.

In her report, she states safeguarding "falls below the standards expected... in secular organisations" and outlines the need for the church to "take action urgently".

At times, safeguarding has been used to address issues unrelated to a risk to children or vulnerable adults, she added.

For example, she wrote, matters referred to safeguarding staff included parishioners with no vulnerabilities who were having extra-marital affairs and a preacher "praying too vehemently".

Professor Jay has therefore recommended the creation of two charities, with one delivering church safeguarding and another to provide independent scrutiny of those methods.

"The purpose of my work was to focus on how to achieve a safeguarding body that was independent," Professor Jay said.

"This report makes clear that, overall, Church safeguarding currently falls below the standards of secular organisations, with inconsistent guidance, data collection, accountability, professional practice and scrutiny."

Professor Alexis Jay was the chair of the inquiry into child sexual abuse.

After efforts to resolve a dispute between board members and the Archbishops' Council failed, the church ended the contracts of the three experts on its Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB).

The ISB was set up in 2021 after a damning report by the child sex abuse inquiry concluded the culture of the church had "facilitated it becoming a place where abusers could hide".

Professor Jay therefore set out to produce the report, having conducted more than 120 interviews, surveyed 1,000 individuals and met dozens of diocesan safeguarding professionals.

She highlighted a lack of a uniform complaints system, poor data collection, and no independent system of scrutiny as "major concerns".

Many safeguarding professionals are also managed and supervised by people lacking knowledge or experience of the subject, like bishops, clergy and church officers, she added.

'We are truly sorry'

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, welcomed the report.

"The Church is committed to the highest standards of safeguarding as it carries out its work in every community across the country, every day of the year," they said in a statement.

"The workings out of the report from Professor Jay will provide a vital next step as we move forward."

The findings will go before the General Synod - the church's parliament - on Saturday.

Lead safeguarding bishop, Joanne Grenfell, said the report contains "important findings".

She added: "We are truly sorry when we have got things wrong and we must continue to learn about how to respond well to the needs of victims and survivors of abuse, as we work to create a healthy culture in every part of the Church of England."


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