Church facing years of shame as extent of abuse emerges, bishop warns

The Church of England has upped its spending on safeguarding five-fold since 2014 as it attempts to address hundreds of abuse allegations against clergy and officials.

Despite this rapid increase in spending, Peter Hancock, the Bishop of Bath and Wells and the CofE's lead on safeguarding, warned the Church faces a painful couple of years as it goes before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (ICSSA)'s public hearings.

Rt Rev Peter Hancock is Bishop of Bath and Wells and the Church of England's lead bishop for safeguarding.Church of England

'This will not be an easy couple of years – we will hear deeply painful accounts of abuse, of poor response, of "cover up",' he told the ruling general synod on Saturday. The Church, he added, will 'feel a deep sense of shame'.

In a presentation on safeguarding to the synod, he said: 'For too long, the Church has not responded well to those who allege abuse within our church communities. This is now changing and further change is needed.'

He added that while progress was made on safeguarding as a result of the spike in spending, the pace of that change must accelerate even more.

Figures revealed to synod revealed the Church dealt with 3,300 safeguarding cases in 2016 alone, around 594 of which were claims against clergy and officials. These include a mixture of new and historic accusations.

'I want to pay tribute to victims and survivors of abuse, regardless of their age or the circumstance in which the abuse took place or how long ago it took place. I have been humbled by their courage,' he said.

'We must discern how to use this influence wisely and ensure we do not misuse our power.

Earlier the Archbishops of Canterbury and York joined several abuse survivors for a vigil outside the synod along with a number of other bishops.

Sarah Mullally, the future Bishop of London who has spoken out strongly for victims, stood alongside them at the vigil and watched the synod's presentation from the public gallery with a number of survivors.

Graham Sawyer, who was abused by Peter Ball, the former Bishop of Gloucester told Christian Today is was significant that both archbishops joined survivors. But he added the Church's national safeguarding team was not fit for purpose and safeguarding must be taken away from the control of the Church.

However Bishop Hancock rejected the call, which has also been made by a number of other victims of abuse.

'We cannot simply walk away from safeguarding or hand the responsibility over to someone else,' he said. 'We are all responsible and need the courage not just to admit our failures but to make the progress that is needed.'