Church sex abuse survivors hail 'significant' day at Canterbury protest

Victims of church sexual abuse are hailing a 'significant day' as they demand a 'tangible' shift in the Church's response to survivors.

A handful of those who have waived their right to anonymity, plus more who haven't, gathered outside Canterbury Cathedral on Friday while Anglican leaders from around the world met inside.

The Bishop at Lambeth, Tim Thornton – a senior aide to Justin Welby – came out to meet them, telling those protesting: 'We are deeply deeply sorry for all the abuse that has happened, not only against children but also against vulnerable adults.'

(From left): Bishop at Lambeth Tim Thornton, Andy Morse and Matt Ineson.Christian Today

Before holding a private audience with victims, Thornton told those protesting what had happened was 'absolutely wrong'.

He said: 'We have done lots of things wrong in the past and I am sure there are still things going on today. We are trying our best and I think we can show evidence of things we are putting in place.

'But yes we have still got lessons to learn and we want to carry on learning from and listening to you.'

Speaking to reporters he said Welby himself was unable to come out as the meeting of Anglican leaders from around the world was reaching a conclusion on its last day. But Christian Today understands Welby is planning to meet survivors in the coming weeks.

'If you are a victim of abuse in any form then enough can never be done. The horrors that have happened have happened and they can never be undone,' Bishop Thornton told journalists.

'We are learning and we are trying our best but of course there are always more lessons to learn and – as was pointed out to me today – we need to go back and make sure we go on learning from the lessons of the past.'

He denied reports church officials had spoken to victims beforehand to persuade them not to come.

'We have been very positive in saying we want people to come along and have their voice heard,' he said.

Survivors of Church of England clergy abuse have been bitterly critical of the Church's response to their plight, with one, Rev Matt Ineson, claiming his revelations about being abused as a teenager by Rev Trevor Devamanikkam had been repeatedly ignored.  

After their private discussions with Bishop Thornton, Andy Morse, who says he tried to commit suicide after being abused at the hands of John Smyth who ran Iwerne Trust youth camps, spoke to Christian Today about the meeting.

'He was saying all the right things,' he said of Bishop Thornton. 'Victims have a sense if we're being spun or if we're being told the truth and that Bishop Tim was telling the truth. That makes me feel good.

'This is a very significant day in the direction that I hope both the Church and survivors are going to take to work together towards making sure we don't need to have more days like this.'

The demonstration comes as the heads of Anglican provinces around the world met in Canterbury Cathedral this week to discuss religious persecution, refugees, climate change as well as their disagreements over sexuality.

Earlier in the week Justin Welby told reporters he often wakes up at night thinking about what the Church has done to victims – and survivors said they 'share that experience'.

Admitting there was 'a long history of significant failure' he said there was still 'a long way to go' in the Church.

'My profound sense of shame at what the Church has done remains and is central to my thinking about this,' he said.

'We should be held to a higher standard because we are Christians.'