Is this the Achilles heel in the Church of England's safeguarding approach?

Concerns about the possibility of abuse in the Church of England's Diocese in Europe are being raised following analysis of an independent report into its safeguarding practices.

An anomaly in that it operates outside of England, the Diocese in Europe covers 42 countries across three continents. However it is still governed by the Church of England and an independent audit published last November laid out concerns about the possibility for abuse to go unreported.

Save the CathedralSt Paul's Anglican Pro-Cathedral is part for the Diocese in Europe's jurisdiction.

'The Diocese faces challenges that are unknown elsewhere in the Church of England,' the report said.

The audit is part of a wholesale review of the CofE's safeguarding practices. Each of the 42 dioceses has undergone an independent audit carried out by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and most have now been published.

The general trend across the reports, all of which have been analysed by Christian Today, is one of steady improvement in safeguarding attitudes and practices although there are still areas of concern in each.

But in Europe 'the auditors felt that the Diocese has obstacles unique to itself,' the audit found, adding 'these do not inhibit a shared determination to improve safeguarding'.

In one country where the diocese operates a man is legally permitted to abuse his wife and in others there is a lack of computer equipment or offices meaning safeguarding files are stored in priests' flats.

Auditors from (SCIE) pointed to a lack of insurance meaning churches bear all the risk if any claims of abuse are lodged.

'This could lead to pressure to close down an investigation or to re-instate, or even to a risk-averse culture,' the report said.

'Only a handful of chaplaincies have reserves or obtain income from sources other than the members of the congregation,' it added. 'Although the auditors saw no case evidence, there would seem to be a risk of locally influenced independence of attitude that could undermine safeguarding.'

It also said the Church was working with other denominations which had lower safeguarding standards, and the bishop in Europe even pointed to an example where another denomination had appointed a chaplain who would not have been allowed to practise in the Church of England.

'If this happens, there is a clear safeguarding risk and a reputational risk to the Church,' said the auditors.

The range of concerns lay bare the complexities the Church of England is facing in trying to change its historic failings in dealing with allegations of abuse.

It comes as it is facing three weeks of public hearings by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA). The inquiry is due to hear evidence from Edina Carmi, an independent social work practitioner, who wrote the overview reports on behalf of SCIE as to her views as to the strengths and weaknesses of the current safeguarding system within dioceses.

A spokesperson for the Diocese in Europe said: 'The Diocese in Europe regards safeguarding as an absolute priority. We follow the same principles of the House of Bishops Policy and Guidance as other dioceses, setting expectations of good safeguarding practice. A team based in London work across Europe to ensure chaplains in individual countries apply the policies as best they can.

'We lead the way in the Church of England in obtaining background checks from countries around the world where people have lived, even if at times this means a necessary delay before a person can be appointed or admitted to an official role in our congregations.

'While complicated, nevertheless in our 40 countries of operation we observe the higher of two standards: the CofE norms if higher than local norms, and local norms if they are higher than those of the Church of England.'