Apologies for abuse are 'cheap' if not followed by actions, says Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin WelbyREUTERS/Jean Pierre

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the Church of England must "put actions behind the words" if its apologies for abuse are to have any meaning.

At a public inquiry on Thursday, the Most Rev Justin Welby was challenged on whether he had given bishops "an easy ride". 

Fiona Scolding QC, counsel for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), asked him why only six safeguarding complaints against bishops were acted upon last year.

In reply, the Archbishop said his power over other bishops was restricted to that of "influence". 

"It is hard to say where influence moves into power and control, I have the power to suspend," he said.

Asked whether he believed bishops had been given an "easy ride", the Archbishop replied: "My honest answer is I don't believe so, but I would say that, wouldn't I.

"I am not likely to say 'I give bishops an easy ride but I just don't want to tell you that'.

"I do not do it in any way consciously at all, quite the reverse.

"I think suspending a bishop is not giving a bishop an easy ride.

"It is not an easy ride, however much you say it is a neutral act. It is immensely public and immensely humiliating and hard."

Abuse survivor the Rev Matthew Ineson accused the Archbishop of failing to take action to deal with abuse in the Church. 

"I cannot see the face of Jesus in the Archbishop of Canterbury or York," he said. 

"The Archbishop of Canterbury consistently takes no further action and, to me, therefore, condones all these actions."

Rev Ineson also denied receiving a letter of apology sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2017 in which Mr Welby said he was "deeply sorry" about the abuse and the Church's handling of it. 

The Archbishop told the inquiry: "Mr Ineson feels I didn't apologise, he may well be right. I thought I had, but clearly I didn't communicate it well ... We've got to learn to put actions behind the words because 'sorry' is pretty cheap."

In other remarks, he said that he felt "shame and horror" that abuse had taken place in the Church of England and that the Church needed to move towards mandatory reporting of sexual abuse. 

"I hope God will forgive us," he said.