Baptist safeguarding review finds ministers may have abused

A review of the confidential files of 4,370 British Baptist ministers has found cases of safeguarding incidents that were not handled appropriately.

The historic safeguarding case review conducted by the Baptist Union of Great Britain examined files of past and present ministers, dating back in some cases to the 1940s.

The review led to some ministers being reported to the denomination's ministerial recognition committee with a view to considering them for removal from the list of accredited ministers.

Baptist House, Didcot, the headquarters of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

A BUGB statement said: 'Any file containing information that suggests a safeguarding incident involving a minister has been passed to an independent reviewer with specialist safeguarding expertise and experience. Where immediate action has been needed, the appropriate statutory authorities have been informed and we have cooperated fully with them in their investigations.'

The statement said: 'The number of cases where further action was needed was low compared to the number of files reviewed. However, we have identified a number of historical cases where the safeguarding of children or adults at risk had not treated been as a priority, and where it was hard for victims of abuse to be heard.

'Wherever possible, and even where many years have passed since the original concerns were raised, we have taken steps to address these failings and to offer fresh support to survivors and their families.'

It also said improvements were being made to safeguarding and disciplinary processes for ministers and churches, and that colleges and regional associations were being given additional training.

According to BUGB, there are now more than 120 trainers around the country who are able to deliver Excellence in Safeguarding training at levels 2 and 3, (up from just 25 in 2014). New resources at Level 1 have been launched in the last few weeks.

Last year the denomination provided DBS checks for 11,400 people, 3,000 more than 2014; and more than 4,000 people participated in the BUGB safeguarding training programmes. Baptist ministerial recognition rules have changed so it is now mandatory for ministers to keep their safeguarding training up to date.

The review only considered ministers rather than including deacons or other church leaders because of the denomination's structure, in which each church appoints its own officers.

Rev Andy Hughes, BUGB's ministries team leader, told Christian Today: 'The review that we have undertaken has focused on the individuals who we have accredited or nationally recognised. We have done that as an accrediting body rather than the employer of these individuals. This means that our process has been different from other denominations as our structure is significantly different.

'Consequently we've not been able to undertake a review of the actions of Sunday school teachers and deacons, as it would be the responsibility of their church to do that. However, if in the course of our review we've become aware of ther matters which should be reported, we have done that.'

Asked whether BUGB should have provided specific numbers of cases reported to statutory authorities, he said it would have been misleading to do so as 'numbers will change' according to decisions made by the police and Crown Prosecution Service.

He said: 'While any case of abuse is one case too many, as our statement makes clear the number of files which concerned us was low, we could have said very low, and of those a significant number of the cases reviewed had been handled appropriately at the time or the outcome was a requirement for more training for those concerned.'

He stressed that the Charity Commission had been 'very positive' about the thoroughness of the process.

Rev Lynn Green, BUGB general secretary, said: 'We must continue to pray for all those who have been abused by someone they should have been able to trust, whether that was a Baptist minister or church leader. Alongside our prayers, our practical and whole-hearted commitment to good practice will be the lasting legacy of the historic case review.'

The review of centrally held ministers' files is the first stage of a longer process that will see regional associations, colleges and churches reviewing information they hold that was not available to BUGB.