Back in October, I blogged for Via Media on the lack of connection between Living in Love and Faith (just published) and IICSA (published in October). I called for the Church of England to ‘connect the dots’: to recognise that the abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not a separate topic from the questions around sexuality and gender identity that prompted ‘Living in Love and Faith’.
In that blog post, I asked whether the LLF resources were reviewed by the National Safeguarding Team, as the Archbishop of Canterbury had said they would be “to ensure that they sufficiently address safeguarding issues”. I still don’t know the answer to that. I raised the points made in the IICSA hearings, that not being able to be open about your sexuality contributes to a culture of secrecy which has effects on the reporting of abuse, and that the church has a record of being confused about what is and what is not an appropriate same-sex relationship.
So now LLF is out: does it show evidence of learning from IICSA? The short answer is “No.”
At the July 2019 General Synod, the Bishop of Coventry answered a question about whether LLF would learn from the IICSA hearings by saying that
“The purpose of the Living in Love and Faith resources is primarily educational: the plan is for the resources to be widely used by parishes, deaneries, dioceses, the House and College of Bishops and members of General Synod to enable teaching and learning. In this way LLF will demonstrate its learning from the IICSA process by promoting a culture of mutual respect, clarity, openness and transparency across the Church in relation to matters of human identity, sexuality, gender and marriage. It will also provide appropriate correctives to misinformation about human sexuality and identity.”
There is, however, only one reference to IICSA in the LLF book: a textbox on page 87. This doesn’t engage with IICSA, or “demonstrate its learning” from it. Obviously the final report was only published a month before LLF came out, but as the transcripts of the hearings and an interim report were issued in 2018, and as I had asked questions about the connections between IICSA and LLF throughout the LLF process, I am disappointed to find the following sentence in the p.87 textbox:
“While acknowledging the reality of abuse in the church, it is important that the specific work of theological reflection on IICSA be carried out separately from the Living in Love and Faith project, and, importantly, together with victims, with great pastoral sensitivity and only after the findings of IICSA have been carefully assessed.”
This is not about learning from IICSA. It’s about making a case for separation from it. It suggests a future process of “reflection” at some point in the future. When? By whom?
I am updating this post as a result of reading the published answers to questions to the November 2020 General Synod, just released. In answer to Jayne Ozanne’s question (Q.61) about safeguarding changes made by the House of Bishops to prevent similar situations to that which led to the death of Peter Farquhar, the Bishop of Huddersfield replied that
The Living in Love and Faith work will seek to consult and engage safeguarding perspectives in its ongoing work.
In answer to a further question (Q.63) about implementing the independent reviewer’s recommendations concerning the same case, the Bishop of London replied
One of the ways in which Bishops will promote implementation of these recommendations is by encouraging the whole church to engage with the LLF resources.
She also replied to Q.65, this time saying that
the LLF Next Steps Group will work collaboratively with the National Safeguarding Team to ensure these lessons are incorporated into both LLF and safeguarding development work.
Does any of that answer my question about whether the National Safeguarding Team saw the LLF materials before publication? No. The message seems to be that, if the whole church (?!) engages with the LLF resources, this will enact the independent reviewer’s recommendations. At the same time, safeguarding perspectives will be brought into the LLF reception process; which is interesting, when one of the common reactions to LLF from the LGBTQI+ community seems to be that people are unhappy about taking part in group discussions because they don’t feel safe.
Finally, the Bishop of Coventry replied to another question (Q.70) in defence of keeping IICSA and LLF apart, just repeating what was said in the LLF book:
these reflections need to be carried out together with victims of sexual abuse (not talking about victims, but with victims) and only after the full published findings of IICSA had been assessed.
Clear as mud, then. Also, strangely circular. And reflection isn’t enough. On the same day as LLF was published, the House of Bishops met. Their statements never tell us very much, but this one included a reference back to an initiative proposed in September, stating that
The House was then updated by the Bishop of Huddersfield, (Bishop for Safeguarding) and the Director of Safeguarding on a range of safeguarding matters. The House noted and agreed that progress on the Interim Support Scheme must be made by the end of the year.
This Scheme is envisaged as a pilot project to help survivors of abuse. Progress “must be made”. I like that. Let’s hold them to it.