A survivor reflects on his experience
I was somewhat astonished to read the two articles published the April and May editions of New Directions “We need to talk about Safeguarding”. My experience as a survivor is completely different from the circumstances the writers outline in their articles. In my case, a couple of years ago whilst on an overseas pilgrimage, and vulnerable at that time, I was subjected to some extremely unpleasant experiences whilst sharing a hotel room with a retired priest. I reported this to the pilgrimage leader (a Parish Priest who was also his friend) who did nothing to protect me from further abuse. After receiving a reply to a letter which I sent to the offending priest once we were back in England, safeguarding procedures were undertaken and a CDM investigation was carried out. The retired priest admitted his offences and as a penalty had his PTO withdrawn indefinitely. The Parish Priest who led the pilgrimage wrote an extraordinary letter of support for the offending priest, which resulted in a further Safeguarding investigation by the National Safeguarding Team. I know for a fact that both priests knew the nature of the complaints made against them and the name of the person complaining. They were both given the opportunity of “mounting a defence” – I have written evidence of this from the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser and the National Safeguarding Team.
Understandably, the process dragged on; it was agony for me, I was ostracised by congregation members, lost many friends and was left without a Church to attend. This was a great shame as I was embarking on discernment to ordained ministry.
The Parish Priest who led the pilgrimage is now retired and as a result of the investigation he too has had his PTO withdrawn indefinitely. After reading the articles I am somewhat perplexed and concerned that the examples are at odds with my own experience as a survivor of clerical abuse, as both abusers and victim were made well aware of what had been said and given opportunity to respond.
I agree with the writers of the articles that it is only fair and right that when Safeguarding matters are raised, both at a diocesan level and through the National Church Institutions, clerics should be informed of the nature of the Safeguarding issues raised and the name of the person complaining in order to be able to put their side across, as they were able to in the matters that I was involved in. It may well be that not all Safeguarding Advisors are “singing from the same hymn sheet” and if this is the case then this is something that quite rightly needs to be addressed in the interest of natural justice.
I feel very sorry for the priest who cannot tell his side of the story and hope and pray that he is given an opportunity of doing so in the foreseeable future.
On a positive note, we will soon have an Independent Safeguarding Board which has recently been instituted by the Archbishops’ Council and ratified by General Synod, and this will hopefully address the first article writer’s questions of “Who guards the Safe-guarders?” and “Who oversees the Overseers?”