Today PCR 2 – Past Cases Review 2 – was published by the National Safeguarding Steering Group. It describes itself as “the most extensive review of records ever conducted by the Church of England”. “There are no possible excuses, no rationalisations for our church’s failure to share the love of God and value each and every person”. The Group writes that they “sincerely apologise for our failures and want to reach out to those who are still suffering from the pain and misery they endured. … It was not your fault and you are not to blame.” It saddens me that this still has to be said.
This blog post builds on a series of tweets I wrote as I worked my way through the document this afternoon, and uses direct quotations from the document to give a sense of it. I think it’s a good report, but its overall message of pockets of good practice existing alongside pockets of denial is depressingly familiar. Many of its comments, particularly about senior clergy who have covered up anything that they would rather not have known, and about the “culture of deference within dioceses towards the bishops or other senior members of clergy” which prevents them being challenged, repeat what we already know all too well from the IICSA reports. Again, we read of the closing of the ranks: “There is an impression that members of the Clergy do not like to upset other clergy”. That sense of déjà vu includes the sexism of the Church of England: instances of bias identified here “included misogyny, sexism and attitudes relating to women in the Church, especially as ordained priests; as well as to same-sex relationships”. A woman who is a priest and who experienced misogyny from her fellow clergy is quoted as saying “I was told I would be good for the parish with legs like that, I would draw in the parishioners”. What, I ask myself, is wrong with this church? Why must it still necessary for it to state that “the Church must promote a positive culture towards women in general”?
So, what is PCR2? It is a process which began in 2019 in which 65 reviewers looked at a total of 75,253 files from the dioceses and from other church bodies such as training institutions and religious communities. The reviewers were independent; while the “Archbishops’ Council maintained oversight of the process throughout the initiative and provided some financial support to dioceses, decision making was delegated to the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG)”. They identified 383 new safeguarding cases, most of them relating to abuse by clergy, but the work included lay readers, lay employees and volunteers. As of August 2022, the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors “were continuing to assess information relating to 208 safeguarding concerns raised by the independent reviewers”, and some of those may lead to yet more cases being identified. While “The independent reviewers were overwhelmingly supportive of the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors and their teams”, serious concerns remain about their lack of resources and their heavy workload. And there are cases described of some bishops actively ignoring professionals: “the disdain with which the then bishop, even as recently as 2018, treated the DSA, excluding their expertise at every juncture”.
The report issues 26 recommendations, including four where the C of E “must improve”. These are that the “National Safeguarding Team must develop and deliver a national survivor and victim charter with survivors and victims”; that there must be better information-sharing about lay/ordained ministers with a Bishop’s Licence; that Ministerial Development Reviews need to engage with safeguarding; and that there should be more awareness of domestic abuse. The concerns about domestic abuse relate to “a culture of minimising the seriousness of domestic abuse”, observing that “the attitude towards domestic abuse was linked to the belief around the sanctity of marriage”. As we move forwards with the Living in Love and Faith process, that comment on the negative side of our focus on marriage needs to be kept in mind.
The majority of the report’s recommendations concern areas where there is good practice, but it turns out not to be consistent: “some excellent work completed in several dioceses” versus “examples where the engagement was poor or non-existent”. For example, there’s no “common approach to updating victims”; “referrals to support services were not always completed effectively”; “support provided for survivors and victims, once they had come forward, was inconsistent.” This is an ongoing C of E theme! The independence of dioceses and the power of the bishop mean that this inconsistency is sadly predictable.
On this theme, a key area is inconsistency in information gathering, keeping and sharing. While the reviewers found evidence of good practice in record keeping, they noted “too much inconsistency across dioceses in how practice and recording guidelines were applied”. It is dangerous for different dioceses to have different standards in record keeping. There is some hope that this will improve, with a new “consistent electronic case management system for all dioceses”, but I wonder if that is going to work? Clergy and others (lay musicians are a particular concern here) move from one diocese to another, but records may, or may not, go with them. “The security arrangements in one diocese were described as robust without explaining what ‘robust’ meant or what measures were thought to be robust.”
The most significant cases mentioned are “examples where concerns were reported, but processes were not considered or not followed up” which goes with “a reluctance to address issues due to the seniority of clergy and church officers”. Indeed, “In one case a bishop failed to introduce suitable safeguarding measures to manage an individual, which culminated in them controlling and influencing the Bishop, leaving the offender in a position to commit further offences.” And the report notes “how difficult it is to remove a failing and problematic member of the clergy”.
In some dioceses, information had a tendency to disappear completely, not only because files were ‘weeded’ with no record being kept of what was removed, but also because some documents were just too potentially incriminating: “In another case cited as a cause of concern, a file that was connected to a safeguarding case contained a memorandum from a bishop, stating that material would be removed from a clergy file as the complaint made ‘had no bearing on your ministry in the diocese’”. The report picks up IICSA concerns about information sharing, particularly about abuse by chaplains employed by organisations: there were cases of “little or no evidence that indicated liaison between the diocese and the employing organisation”.
So, not that much which is new here, but this review is a further step in what it calls “extending our search for the truth” about abuse within the Church of England, and the report argues strongly that safeguarding is not an “add-on” but is “at the heart of our very being”. For saying that, very strongly indeed, we should be grateful to the authors – and to all who spoke to the independent reviewers about their experiences in what is still a shamefully toxic institution.