Church of England shifts safeguarding focus from apologies to survivor support and culture change

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The Church of England has said it will continue to apologise over historic safeguarding failures but wants its "main focus" now to be on "recognising the distress caused particularly to victims and survivors and acting to improve its safeguarding structures and to change its culture."

Publishing its detailed responses to the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Church of England said it recognised that it had "failed to protect some children and young people from sexual predators within their midst". 

"The recommendations made by the Inquiry have been accepted in full," the joint report from the National Safeguarding Steering Group, the House of Bishops and the Archbishops' Council said. 

In response to the IICSA report, they have committed to replacing diocesan safeguarding adviser with qualified diocesan safeguarding officers (DSOs), meaning that bishops will no longer be responsible for investigating abusive priests. Nor will they be involved in safeguarding decision-making. 

The commitment comes after last year's IICSA report found that many safeguarding complaints were not properly investigated, allowing abusive priests to stay in post and continue their abuse. 

"It is essential that DSOs, as qualified safeguarding professionals, can and do take decisions of the kind set out in this recommendation independently of clergy (including diocesan bishops)," the report reads. 

The Archbishops' Council and bishops are also "urgently" moving forward with the establishment of an independent structure for safeguarding oversight. 

The aim is to have an interim structure in place by the end of 2021. 

Elsewhere, the document promises legislation "to reintroduce the power to depose from holy orders", which "will be brought forward as soon as practicable." 

The 12-month time limit for all safeguarding-related complaints will also be removed, and the Clergy Discipline Measure replaced with a new system that will "make improved provision for the way in which the Church addresses discipline and capability".

"The new system will also provide for early allocation of complaints to a different track depending on seriousness," the document says.