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General Synod: Archbishop Justin's statement on safeguarding

Archbishop Justin addressing Synod in York today. (Picture: Keith Blundy | Aegies Associates)

Sunday 7th July 2013

General Synod members today voted overwhelmingly to acknowledge and apologise for past safeguarding failures. In the debate, Archbishop Justin called for a culture "that looks first to justice for survivors" and to clarity, transparency and admission of failures. He added this must be done "with survivors, not to them." Read his full statement below

The statement we heard at the beginning of this debate was, I know, to all of us – as has been said – absolutely agonising. And what it says above all is that, for us, what we’re looking at today is far from enough. We are opening a process, continuing a process in many ways, that will go far further than we can imagine. The reality is that there will always be people who are dangerous who are part of the life of the church. They may be members of the congregation; we hope and pray that they will not be in positions of responsibility, but the odds are from time to time people will somehow conceal sufficiently well. And many here, as the Bishop of Herefordshire said, have been deeply affected, as well as the survivors who have so rightly brought us to this place. Many other people here have been deeply affected and badly treated. So we face a continual challenge and reality. This is not an issue we can deal with; it is something we will live with, and must live in the reality of – day in day out, for as long as the church exists – and seek to get it right.

And so the actions that we are developing must be ones that are persistent. It has been said they must be persistent by bishops. We wholeheartedly agree with that, all of us. We cannot, in twenty years, be finding ourselves having this same debate and saying ‘Well we didn’t quite understand then.’ There has to be a complete change of culture and behavior.

And in addition there is a profound theological point. We are not doing all this, we are not seeking to say how devastatingly, appallingly, atrociously sorry we are for the great failures there have been, for our own sakes, for our own flourishing, for the protection of the church. But we are doing it because we are called to live in the justice of God, and that we will each answer to Him for our failures in this area. And that accountability is one that we must take with the utmost seriousness.

As Bishop Paul said in his opening speech, this is part of a journey. It is part of the next step. And the answer to that profound, terrible and penetrating question from the survivors’ groups, about ‘Is this it, or is this a beginning?’, must be: ‘Yes, it is only a very beginning.’ We not only have to deal with processes, but we have to deal with culture, and our culture change is by far the hardest one to do. Many parts of our society are trying to deal with culture change in the way that large organisations, groups of people, clubs, whatever it is, behave. And it is very trying to find a way of facing those issues. And therefore we require enormous determination to do so, so that we have a culture that looks first to justice for survivors, to clarity, to transparency, to admission of where we have failed. It must be done, this change, with the survivors – not to them. We have spent very very many years doing things to them. We must only act with them. And that will mean much more than we imagine as we sit here listening to what we are listening and reflecting dark and desperate acts in the past.

Practically, a change of culture will require resourcing. Not ‘a’ post, let alone half a post, but very dramatic increases in resourcing. Practically, all issues in our common life will come up for consideration. We’ve spoken of the confessional. We must also speak of the indissolubility of orders. We’ve spoken of dropping time limits and that seems to have broad acceptance. But most of all we must speak of a process that is done carefully, urgently, determinedly, extensively, and with those whom we have so harmed over the years.

Read the joint foreword by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to 'Safeguarding: Follow-up to the Chichester Commissaries' Reports', June 2013

 


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