Wed 12 Feb 2020
Synod hears apologies must be followed by concrete action as it backs compensating survivor
The Church of England could face a multimillion-pound bill after its ruling body voted in favour of compensating survivors of sexual abuse.
In a debate on the church’s response to recommendations made by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA), the General Synod was told by the bishop of Huddersfield, Jonathan Gibbs, that words of apology must be followed by “concrete actions”.
Gibbs, who takes over as the C of E’s lead bishop on safeguarding issues at the end of February, said the move to pay compensation had major implications. “It will mean money, serious money – and we will need to work out how we’re going to fund that,” he said.
But the response to sexual abuse should be guided by “the righteousness and compassion of God’s kingdom, and not by the short-term and short-sighted financial and reputational interests of the church,” Gibbs said.
The chair of the finance committee, John Spence, said funds would be found for compensation payments. “This is not about affordability, it is about justice. Justice cannot have a different value depending on the finances of this or that diocese. Whatever we are told is required … for redress, then those funds will be found,” he said.
During the debate at Church House in Westminster, London, an abuse survivor in the public gallery unveiled a banner that read: “Church Commissioners: Lambeth Palace Library – £23.5m plus fittings, fees and VAT. Reparations for victims of church abuse – £0.00.”
It referred to the costs of a new library at the official London residence of the archbishop of Canterbury.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, reaffirmed earlier apologies to survivors for abuse carried out by clergy and the church’s role in covering it up. He said he was deeply committed to implementing the IICSA’s recommendations when the inquiry publishes its report.
As well as financial compensation, redress would include support for survivors and an approach to safeguarding that sought to “see things through their eyes”, said Gibbs.
As well as thousands of historic cases of abuse, there was a 50% rise in concerns and allegations about abuse between 2015 and 2017, according to the most recent church figures.
Incidents relating to the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, including some allegations of serious criminal offences, increased to 3,287 in 2017, compared with 2,195 in 2015. They concerned both current and past events, with 12% of concerns and allegations relating to clergy. Others against whom concerns and allegations were made included church wardens, employees, volunteers, congregation members and people with church connections.
The synod also agreed to set a target for net zero carbon emissions by the C of E by 2030, 15 years before the original proposal, after members called for swifter action to tackle the climate crisis. “Let’s really lead for once … there’s nothing more important than this,” said Martin Gainsborough, who tabled an amendment to change the target date.