Speech from Bishop Paul Butler at July 2013 Synod

Speech to General Synod July 2013 from the Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Notts, Chair of the Churches National Safeguarding Committee.

"The Commissaries Reports will I suggest be seen as landmarks in the Church of England's responding to abuse committed by its clergy and other leaders. This can be the pivotal point when we turn from having a default position that is to defend the institution, even at the cost of failing to respond appropriately to those who have been abused, to one where we will listen to the survivor and begin from there.

"The Commissaries exposed serious failures in the Diocese of Chichester but in doing so exposed much wider institutional failings which affect every Diocese. For far too long the institution, and notably those in most senior positions, either disbelieved the stories that survivors told us or believed them but tried to hide the truth away or remove the offender elsewhere vaguely hoping that 'the problem' would go away. We can make all the excuses that we like about society being different in previous decades; or our understanding of abuse being so much better. We can note that our policies were different then and we followed those policies. But these take nothing away from the fact that we failed to listen properly; we did not acknowledge the wrong done; and we protected the institution at the expense of the person abused. We cannot do anything other than own up to our failures. We were wrong. Our failures were sin just as much as the perpetrators sinned. By failing to listen or act appropriately we condemned survivors to live with the harm when we should have been assisting them into whatever measure of healing might be possible.

"So we owe Bishop Gladwin and Judge Bursell a huge debt. However they are the first to acknowledge that the real debt is owed in particular to the survivors who have persisted tirelessly in raising the realities. They have struggled for years to have their voice heard. They have put up with institutional resistance time and again. In doing so we have repeatedly re-abused them. Yet they have persisted and at long last they are beginning to be believed. I honour them for their staggering persistence. We are sorry that we failed you for so long. We acknowledge that we have not yet got there in responding properly. This is only one step on the way. I understand why you will struggle to trust us that the journey will continue; you have been let down so often. I hope however you will be able to recognise that it is a significant point in our journey.

"The motion recognises this is only a step on the journey because it points to the raft of legal changes that we believe are required to improve the Clergy Discipline Measure and other matters in regard to how we respond well to abuse perpetrated by church leaders. Some are technical changes, others are significant including the proposal to abolish any time limit on the admissibility of complaints that concern child sexual abuse. Since these proposals affect the clergy specifically they have been put out for consultation. Once that is complete then the final version will be brought to this synod. What the motion requires is that this work is expedited with due speed; for many it will feel that it will take far too long. However the motion should assure everyone that this synod treats the necessary changes, all initially based on the Commissaries recommendations, with the seriousness required.

"The motion also recognises that whilst 'Responding Well' is a good policy, we have a long way to go in implementing it in every diocese. Here we give a clear time frame within which we will all work to bring this full implementation about. Good policies are useless unless they are effectively implemented.

"However the matters in clauses (b) & (c) will not be enough on their own. We will have to do more for we must move to a vision where all those abused by clergy, or other church leaders, feel able to come forward if they want to do so; tell their story; be deeply listened to, hear an apology and be supported into a measure of healing if at all possible. We also want to move to the Church of England, along with other churches, being part of the long term solution to the scandal of child abuse in our society. For some survivors the church, usually in its local setting, is already a place of refuge, recovery and healing. We must work towards all churches being such places. This will be a long journey but it must be part of our calling.

"This twin longer term task will mean doing much more than is contained in this motion. We cannot take too long in determining these next steps and we can only find them by listening to survivors and gaining their wisdom. But it is a task that the compassion and justice of God demands of us.

"I conclude by saying again, 'We failed big time.' We can do nothing other than confess our sin, repent, and commit ourselves to being different in the years ahead. This difficult journey is one we must make for the sake of the survivors, our wider society and the kingdom of God."