Whole Church is 'called to repentance' over sexual abuse failures, says Bishop of Blackburn


The Church of England's failure to adequately deal with past sexual abuse cases is "a form of re-abuse", senior clergy in the Diocese of Blackburn have said.

The letter was sent out to clergy in the diocese this week in the wake of a damning report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which said that the Church of England had put the reputation of clergy before the welfare of victims in its response to abuse claims.

Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, said he and other senior officials in the diocese were moved to urge others of the need to spend time reading the report after engaging in a period of reflection on it themselves.

He said the report revealed the "desperate suffering" of the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy and church leaders and the "lifelong impact" it has had on them.

While the report focuses on the Diocese of Chichester and the Peter Ball case, the letter said that the whole Church was "called to repentance" over the scandal of clergy abuse.

"We are writing to urge all of you to take the time to read the report which, whilst coming from a secular body, surely speaks to the church with something of a prophetic voice in the challenges it lays before us," it reads.

"And as you read, it is important to remember that, despite the title, this report is not about the past and nor is it about Chichester. It is about the whole Church and it is about today."

The letter continues: "The Church should be the conscience of the nation and yet as the report shows, again and again we have placed the reputation of the institution above the needs of the vulnerable.

"In addition, when the contemporary church fails to respond properly to allegations from the past, this becomes a form of re-abuse, adding a fresh layer of hurt and harm to those whose lives are already damaged.

"Trite, formulaic apologies will not do. There has been grave sin within the Church, and unless corporately we name, confess and deal with that sin, our mission to the nation is fatally undermined."

The bishop went on to say that the challenge for the Church was to "give even greater priority" to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, and make sure that any complaints "are heard and acted on".

He said that local-level safeguarding measures needed to be "robust" and "not just about ticking boxes and following rules".

Churches must also make sure that people with concerns "know how and where to report them", the letter said.

"Also vital is that, if you have any safeguarding concerns which are either current or historic, you come forward and report these," it said.

It concluded: "To spend proper time with the report is a powerful emotional experience and the overwhelming impressions we were left with were those of sorrow, guilt and deep sadness.

"We must keep in our prayers all who have suffered at the hands of those claiming to represent the Church. And we must promise to listen properly to those who have for too long felt silenced or who have been mistreated when coming forward."

Other signatories to the letter were: the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, the Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff, the Dean of Blackburn, Peter Howell-Jones, the Archdeacon of Lancaster, Michael Everitt, and the Archdeacon of Blackburn, Mark Ireland.