Church of England urged to face up to sexual harassment in its own ranks

The Church of England is being urged to face up to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in its own ranks and take a lead in tackling the issue.

As revelations of widespread sexual assaults rock Westminster politics and Hollywood, a senior member of the CofE's ruling general synod said harassment within the Church in 'manifold' and present 'at virtually every level of the hierarchy'.

In a letter to the Guardian Jayne Ozanne urged the CofE to lead the way in addressing the scandal and set up an independent process to raise concerns and allegations of assaults.


'Abuse of power, particularly in relation to sexual misdemeanours, will never be dealt with by those within the same said power structures,' she wrote. 'The urge to protect one's reputation is too strong, as is the human inclination to believe one's "mates" rather than an unknown protagonist set on "causing trouble".'

It comes after Helen* (not her real name) told Christian Today there are numerous 'Harvey Weinstein' figures among clergy who use their position, power and pastoral skills to abuse women.

A newly ordained priest, Helen spoke anonymously for fear of the repercussions and said: 'We are talking married men making inappropriate sexual pushes at people, trying to start affairs with women.'

A victim of abuse herself, she added: '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.'

A number of senior female clergy within the church have used the #MeToo campaign on social media to indicate they are also victims of harassment, including the Bishop of Dorking, Jo Bailey Wells.

Christian Today approached Bishop Jo for comment.

The Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, said the issue was widespread across all of society and warned against thinking the Church was exempt.

'I think it's an issue in society and therefore we would be naive if we thought it wasn't also an issue in the church,' she told the Guardian. 'The danger is when we imagine that the church is somehow an elite group of people. Yes, we are trying to be followers of Jesus Christ and therefore we should be aspiring to living our lives differently. But actually we are all human beings.

'The danger is if we begin to think it doesn't exist in the CofE. Of course it does. We need to ensure we have conversations to ensure people can come forward and will be taken seriously.'

A spokesperson for the CofE's national safeguarding team said: 'Any allegations of sexual assault, including unwanted sexual attention, will be treated with the utmost seriousness and both diocesan safeguarding advisors and the national safeguarding team will listen to any concerns in complete confidence, offering full support.

'While we would not comment on any individual cases we are absolutely committed to making the church a safer place for all and will always consider any suggestions that could help improve our practice. We would also advise that if a serious sexual assault has taken place, medical help must be immediately sought along with reporting to the police.'