A retired teacher offers some reflections
I was extremely pleased and relieved to read the article – We need to talk about Safeguarding in the April edition of New Directions. I am a church warden and responsible for Safeguarding in my parish. I am a retired Deputy Head Teacher of a large inner city comprehensive school and I have delivered Safeguarding training to teachers and to those responsible for safeguarding in parishes in my diocese as well as having first hand experience of dealing with disclosures from young people and adults.
There appears to be a wall of secrecy and a lack of clear procedures surrounding safeguarding investigations within the Church of England especially those involving the clergy. In the case of Priest A mentioned in the article, if a risk assessment had been completed and he had agreed to undergo any further necessary training then an investigation must have taken place to provide this information which, it seems the diocesan Bishop and his Safeguarding Advisor chose to ignore. All the priests mentioned in the article have not been allowed to know what clear course of action would be taken in each case. Experience has taught me that both those who make allegations and alleged abusers are going through a distressing and traumatic time when clarity of information around “what is happening” and “what will happen now” is highly important for their physical and mental health and well-being. They and their families need immediate and effective support from someone with whom they feel positive about disclosing how they are feeling. Sadly, this does not appear to be recognised or understood by those in the church who should be aware of and sympathetic about their responsibilities to facilitate such an arrangement.
The writer of the article discusses two flaws in the current Safeguarding procedures. I particularly wish to support all that was said about the second flaw – how can we, as Christians who follow the teachings of Our Lord subscribe to a system of judgement with no possibility of forgiveness even after due sanction and repentance. Certainly, mistakes have been made in the past and some of those who have made allegations have not been listened to. However, I have known abusers (not clergy) who have been found guilty in the criminal courts, served a custodial sentence, engaged with reparation, risk assessments etc and have eventually been able to resume their place in society – something which is denied to some priests but with no right of appeal or accountability. It seems to me that the worst case scenario is presumed to be the only one for many clergy who currently face investigations.
Justice delayed is justice denied! Diocesan Bishops and their Safeguarding Advisors should have to justify their decisions which should be allowed to be the subject of an appeal. The current situation is indeed sinful and it must stop.