Archbishops urged to host debate on sexual harassment after rape claims against priest

The Church of England's ruling general synod is being urged to publicly debate bishops' response to sexual harassment at its next meeting after allegations of abuse and assault were levelled at clergy members.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York were told the 'urgent' discussion would allow the CofE's safeguarding system, which has come under fire for its lack of accountability, to be scrutinised.

It comes after a prominent member of the national synod, which meets twice a year, claimed she was raped by a priest and told by a bishop to drop the claims.

The General Synod meets twice a year and is the governing body of the Church of England.

Jayne Ozanne, a founding member of the Archbishops' Council advisory body, is calling for a separate, independent body to handle claims of assault and abuse within the church.

Writing for Christian Today she said: 'My trust in the institution had been utterly broken – if one man could carry his calling so lightly, why not another? Asking me to trust the Church to deal with this properly was like asking me to trust a tabloid newspaper to investigate its own journalists about alleged phone tapping. Impossible. The system is heavily weighted to protect its own. Then there was the question of belief. Wouldn't the Church of England be far more likely to believe a priest it had chosen to recruit, pay for and train rather than an unknown lay 'emotional' female? The imbalance of power felt enormous.'

She added: 'In my mind we have a system that is completely bust. It is unfit for purpose, no matter how much we might have done recently to try and improve things.'

In a letter to the CofE's two Archbishops on Sunday, Ozanne said a debate at synod would 'recognise the seriousness of the problem' across wider society including the Church and 'how the Church as modelling a new proactive approach to addressing these issues'.

She said: 'It would enable us to publicly scrutinise our current system of safeguarding in relation to dealing with claims of sexual abuse and harassment, past and present, and admit the shortfalls we are seen to have whilst also looking at how we might best address them.

Jayne Ozanne has written for Christian Today

'It would acknowledge the very real pain suffered by victims of such abuse, particularly those who have been abused by those they trusted in a pastoral capacity, and where there has too often been an imbalance of power that has stopped them coming forward.'

It comes after a female cleric and victim of assault said there 'are numerous "Harvey Weinstein" figures who use their position, power and pastoral skills to abuse women'.

'We are talking married men making inappropriate sexual pushes at people, trying to start affairs with women,' Helen [not her real name] told Christian Today anonymously for fear of the repercussions. 'I know of situations when men in the clergy have used their extensive pastoral skills to trick vulnerable people into a sexual relationship and then dump them when the next vulnerable person comes along.

'It is real manipulation and use of position,' she said.

'What I am talking about it is beyond familiarity and bordering on to actual sexual assault.'

The Church's next synod meets in Westminster in February and the Archbishops have the power to table an emergency debate up until the days beforehand if they consider a matter of importance.

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