The Church of England failed to protect children from sexual predators within its ranks for decades, allowing abusers to hide in an attempt to defend its own reputation rather than following its duty to protect young people, an inquiry has said.
The publication on Tuesday of the government-commissioned Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) detailed how a blind eye was turned to rapists and abusers within the church, and prompted an apology from it.
The IICSA blamed a decades-long culture of secrecy and silence that exacerbated victims’ suffering.
Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry, said the church over many decades facilitated “a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome”.
“If real and lasting changes are to be made, it’s vital that the church improves the way it responds to allegations from victims and survivors, and provides proper support for those victims over time,” she added.
The primary concern of many senior clergy was to uphold the church’s reputation, the inquiry said. Senior clergy often declined to report allegations to the appropriate agencies and hindered criminal investigations, allowing some abusers to escape justice.
From the 1940s to 2018, 390 people who were clergy or in positions of trust associated with the church were convicted of sexual offences against children, according to the IICSA.
The inquiry said sometimes sexual offences were minimised. Citing the case of Reverend Ian Hughes, who was convicted in 2014 of downloading 8,000 indecent images of children, the damning report said that a fellow clergyman, Bishop Peter Forster, suggested to the inquiry that Hughes had been “misled into viewing child pornography” – even though more than 800 of the images were graded at the most serious level of abuse.
The Church of England acknowledged that progress has been too slow in supporting abuse victims and survivors, and said it was “completely committed” to improving this.
“The report makes shocking reading and while apologies will never take away the effects of abuse on victims and survivors, we today want to express our shame about the events that have made those apologies necessary,” it said in a statement.
“The whole Church must learn lessons from this inquiry.”
The church announced last month that it had set up a large compensation fund for survivors of past abuse by members of the clergy.
The report came after the inquiry held several public hearings in 2018 and 2019.
The IICSA made eight recommendations, covering topics such as clergy discipline, information-sharing and support for victims and survivors.
It said that both the Church of England and the Church in Wales should each introduce a church-wide policy on the funding and provision of support to victims of child sexual abuse concerning clergy.
The inquiry last year published a linked report focusing on disgraced bishop Peter Ball, a former bishop of Gloucester who was imprisoned in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 young men over some 30 years.
Ball had suggested to victims that humiliation – which included praying naked, masturbation and flagellation – was part of the teachings of St Francis and would provide a more direct route to a closer relationship to God.
One of his victims, Neil Todd, took his own life aged 38 in 1992. Nothing was done about a complaint by Ball’s housekeeper to a senior bishop working with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
George Carey, then archbishop of Canterbury, supported Ball who sought to use his relationship with Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, to influence an investigation, the report said. Carey later expressed his regret over the case.
In a letter to the inquiry, Charles said: “It remains a source of deep personal regret that I was one of many who were deceived over a long period of time about the true nature of Mr Ball’s activities.”