Church of England

While the Church of England becomes a safe place for children, it is hell for those wrongly accused of abuse


“To address the whole culture of silence in Church is vital,” writes the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in the Church of England Newspaper, “it is a form of abuse,” he adds, mindful of the church’s past reluctance to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse and its manifest failure to protect the vulnerable from predatory paederasts who abuse their sacred positions of authority and trust. Innocence is destroyed and faith is lost. In order to ensure that it can never happen again, and by way of an attempt to right a few heinous wrongs, the church has put in place stringent preventative measures.

“We are here to go back to first principles, which is to let Jesus be heard through us. That means being compassionate and attentive to those who have been abused and sinned against. It means being far more attentive to their pastoral care and the establishment of ways in which they can feel safe to tell their story and be listened to,” the Archbishop writes. “We have to be.. responsible for ensuring the Church is a place safe for all.. We cannot go on keeping them from Jesus.”

Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God‘ (Lk 18:16). ‘It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones‘ (17:2).

All of which is noble, right and just. But what of the accused? Should they be kept from Jesus? Should they be denied a thousand years of refined justice?

Contemporary changes in legislation combined with a certain media obsession have had a profound effect on prevailing practice and institutional attitudes. No corroborative evidence is needed now for prosecution of historical sexual abuse. There is an ‘always believe the victim’ attitude, as we have see in the case of Bishop George Bell. “Arrest first and investigate later,” directs the head of the National Crime Agency Lynn Owens. And the accuser is legally assured of anonymity for life, which is convenient if you’ve made it all up. The possibility of generous compensation is an undoubted incentive for false accusation (as can be primordial revenge, or psychological causes such as false memory, attention-seeking or other mental illness).

The Church of England requires a risk assessment to be carried out and a safety agreement to be implemented for all those accused of sexual abuse. The only exception to this is if the allegation is malicious or unfounded, but there is no explanation as to how either of these particular outcomes may be ascertained. If the allegation has gone to the police, which it will often do, it can only be dropped if there is deemed to be ‘insufficient evidence’ to prosecute. As Sir Cliff Richard has discovered, ‘insufficient evidence’ is not a judgment of innocence, and mud sticks.

While the Crown Prosecution Service may determine there is no case to answer, the Church of England appears to work on the assumption that ‘insufficient evidence’ means there remains sufficient evidence to proceed with both risk assessment and safety agreement. Further information could be obtained from public bodies such as the CPS or police to help the church make an informed decision of innocence, but this doesn’t appear to happen in practice (and there is no indication in their Guidelines that it should).

And an allegation is rarely, if ever, investigated for malice, or the accuser prosecuted for malicious allegation. It is almost impossible to prove that an allegation of historical sexual abuse is unfounded. Every accused may therefore assume that they will have to have a safety agreement in place even if the CPS determines that no further action is necessary.

This leaves an innocent victim of a false allegation having to suffer further trauma and humiliation by having to accept the quite unnecessary restrictions of a safety agreement within the church. These can include an obligation to sit in a certain place; not being able to arrive more than 10 minutes before a service and not being able to stay longer than 10 minutes afterwards; not speaking to children under 16, as well as the more obvious restrictions of being unable to hold certain positions of responsibility. Justin Welby explains: “We have to be.. responsible for ensuring the Church is a place safe for all.”

But the Church is not a safe place for all.

For the innocent victims of false accusations, the only route back into their church is fraught with anxiety and imposed shame. For those already suffering the trauma of a false allegation, and possible arrest, the Church is neither welcoming nor safe.

The implementation of a safety agreement means that clergy, churchwardens and safeguarding representative of the church attended by the accused are all informed. The innocent who are falsely or wrongly accused fear that to sign a safety agreement may be wrongly interpreted as a confession to the abuse, somewhat akin to accepting a police caution. For many who suffer from being falsely accused, their situation has not been made public. They need protection. They do not want further shame and fear when they are in need of, and hoping for, support from their church. Their lives might even be in danger if such information about them is disseminated. The current climate is not sympathetic towards those accused of such crimes, and some innocent people have suffered appalling acts of violence. In the zealous forging of a safe space for all God’s children, the Church is ceasing to be any kind of space at all for the innocent victims of false accusations. There is no place for them to tell their story, and no-one particularly cares to listen to it.

If the innocent accused attends a church in the diocese without a safety agreement in place, the Guidelines (5:19) state that “a wider circle” of people may be informed. The exact people and numbers are not stipulated. This constitutes a manifest threat to those wrongly accused and adds further to the sense of fear associated with church. This is far from being “compassionate and attentive” to the innocent victims of false accusations who have themselves been “abused and sinned against” twice – once by the false accuser, and now by the church.

In some (if not many) cases, the innocent victim of false accusation is provided with no pastoral support. For these people the church is not “attentive to their pastoral care” and appears cruel beyond belief. They are now the members of the Church family “not listened to”.

If you have had an allegation of sexual abuse made against you, the church informs you that you are unable to worship anywhere in your diocese without a separate safety agreement in place for any church attended. If you cannot accept the imposition of a safety agreement, you are effectively excommunicated. There is no alternative. Is the Church of England not thereby responsible for “keeping them from Jesus”?

The Guidelines (2:8) state that the risk assessment should be evidence-based, compiled by those with no bias or connections, and should always collect and take into account relevant information from all statutory agencies involved (5:4). However, at least one diocese takes the view that “the risk assessment is not a process to determine guilt or innocence. It is not our remit.” No information was sought from a professional body involved nor the reasons given by the CPS for ‘no further action’. Section 5:12 of the Guidelines stipulates that the individual’s relevant background history should be taken into account. This is not always done. The result is that innocent people of upright character are perceived and treated as though they are guilty.

Astonishingly, there is no right of appeal, since “appeals cannot be made against the assessment conclusions and recommendations, which stand as the assessor’s opinion and cannot be challenged as such” (5.35). That is a fundamental denial of natural justice. Damned by an “assessor’s opinion” with no hope of redemption is not a channel for fellowship or communion. How can it be, when a safety agreement must effectively be in situ for life, and carried out again and again if the accused seeks out an alternative church (and what innocent soul wouldn’t?). As each “wider circle” of people is informed of the accused’s presence among them, the church taints their names and destroys their reputations in perpetuity. The “assessor’s opinion” is untouchable, immutable, infallible.

This isn’t a hypothetical injustice: this Kafkaesque corruption of divine justice is happening now. One only has to consider the appalling case of Sister Frances Dominica to realise that a false allegation of child abuse can have devastating effects on the accused. Sister Frances would have preferred her case to have gone to court in order that her guilt or innocence might have been established beyond doubt. Yet here she is, trapped in cyclical years of depression, shunned by her peers, unable to fathom why the Common Law and Human Rights Act both assert the presumption of innocence but it does not seem to apply to her.

Sister Frances is by no means alone: consider the Oxford University report ‘The Impact of Being Wrongly Accused of Abuse in Occupations of Trust: Victims’ Voices‘. It ought to be compulsory reading for all bishops and other assessors of risk and safety in the realm of allegations of child abuse. In their reluctance to take responsibility for making decisions to determine innocence, the Church of England is creating a new class of abused people – abused not by individuals, but by the institution of the Church itself, alienating and expelling them from the family of God, and denying them the natural interchange of fellowship and spiritual life. It is a heinous evil to turn a blind eye to child abuse. It is a grievous infraction to deny justice, pastoral care and comfort to those in reputational limbo.

  • IanCad

    A timely post YG, and one that defines how far we have strayed from the basic principles of justice.

    History and faulty memory – or fevered imagination – and an eye to the wallet, go hand in hand.

    You state: “–No corroborative evidence is needed now for prosecution of historical sexual abuse.”
    If such is the case it will be only a matter of time before the same rule is applied to other deeds the righteous deem beyond the pale. Speaking ill of diversity, suggesting that one or another social group or race is a threat to the good of the whole – I could go on.

    Our laws were founded on bedrock of fairness. Blackstone’s most famous dictum gets short shrift today:

    ” It is better that ten guilty escape than that one innocent suffer”

    • Ian G

      Agreed. It is by such means as this that our hard won historic freedoms are being stolen. The Church, which should be protesting, is complicit. It is called the fear of being abused of child abuse; in reality, it is the fear of man.

      • Dominic Stockford

        Those who are ‘beyond the PC pale’ will also find such false allegations deliberately used, in time, to seek to destroy us and the Gospel we preach. Be aware.

        • magnolia

          Very important point, and one that David Wilkerson prophesied, that clergy and their families would come under enormous opposition. Not that I think we are in “the last days” but I think we are in times that are very dangerous, for all sorts of reasons, which have happened before and will happen again before the real last days.

          Many have fallen away, are apathetic, or unable to hear the message of salvation. Food, sex and interior decoration are where most are at, and the church is somewhere between an oddity and an irritating fly buzzing around. The church has by and large lost grip on the spiritual, or why would the predominant Myers-Briggs “type” in the church be ESFJ when spirituality veers towards the N, which is intuitive, when people sit down and listen to God. Thus systems overabound, and who ever got salvation through a system?

  • len

    Child abuse has been concealed in all aspects of our society for decades it is only recently that the true extent of child abuse has begun to be realised.
    ‘Cover ups’ are still going on at the highest levels and it is those who are at their most vulnerable who have become victims of this heinous crime.

    For justice to be served however their must be evidence of guilt not just an accusation which can devastate the lives of the innocent.
    A truly difficult problem for anyone to come to the truth of the matter.

  • Jon Sorensen

    “The Church of England becomes a safe place for children”
    I’m glad people see that now that is was not a safe place before, but there is know way to know it is safe now. We have heard these claims before…

    It is amazing how CoE, Catholic Church, JW etc. has a culture of abuse and child rape and shuffling around pedophile priests instead of firing them…. Yet they claim non-religious have no morals (yes “no morals” not just no moral bases)

    Luke 6:44

    • IrishNeanderthal

      Are you looking to play a lead role in “The Desolation of Smug”?

      • Jon Sorensen

        Yet another apologist for child abuse…

        • Little Black Censored

          Gosh, you read a lot into that comment!

  • Sybaseguru

    Have you ever disagreed with, say a relative, about something that happened 30 years ago that you both experienced and have not spoken about since? Most of us older ones probably have on several occasions. It seems a nonsense to rely on one persons distant memory for such a critical issue.
    This is compounded by the changes in social mores over time. Should we judge an action committed 30 years ago by today’s standards? If so then every company should provide back-pay to women, and as for financial decisions made, lets recast them in the light of current rules. It becomes a nonsense. My wife and I both had interesting pasts before we committed ourselves as Christians, and we were discussing how standards have changed since the 70’s. To try to judge actions from then by the standards we hold now is a complete nonsense.

    • The Explorer

      Agreed. It’s like complaining that Shakespeare doesn’t talk about aeroplanes or the Internet.

    • preacher

      I agree, I’ve heard many times of incidents that apparently occurred, but others who were present deny them, despite the protests of the original individual that they remember the incident clearly.
      Sometimes part of the story had a factual base, but has become over time embellished by its retelling.
      The arguments that ensue can sometimes become heated to boiling point & have even resulted in the break up of old friends or family.
      I have witnessed this happening on several occasions when an incident has occurred that I have been a witness to but upon listening to the related story I know that it’s wrong even though the individual relating the incident really is convinced of it being true.
      Most of these are humorous & not threatening of persecution or other loss of reputation or freedom, & even though I have at times tried to correct the story & on being aware that the raconteur is getting angry or upset at my efforts, I’ve let the matter drop for the sake of friendship & to spare the teller the embarrassment that they are experiencing.
      These experiences though are not in the same category as those above in our host’s report, but I share them to show how often the innocent accused can have their lives ruined by the innocent but wrongly recalled memories of their accusers.

  • Mrs S wilson

    Reading this article makes me afraid. My husband is a godly man who would never even have dreamed of abusing a child in all his years as an Anglican cleric. Yet now I often wonder what chance he would have, if falsely accused of such a crime, of proving his innocence by being able to remember where he was at the time of the accusation if it supposedly happened thirty or forty years ago. I have watched TV programmes where fathers were accused of abusing their children through so-called cousellors inducing false memory syndrome. One man was able to prove conclusively that he was innocent, but his daughter refused to believe the facts. Another man was suicidal because he could not prove his innocence. And as you mentioned, money is a great temptation also here.
    Is it not past time for those proven to have made false allegations to be named and shamed? Perhaps this would make some think twice before ruining the lives of innocent people?

    • The Explorer

      Ask me where I was all day and what I was doing on Thursday 28th July 2016, and I would struggle to remember. Ask me where I was and what I was doing on 25th July 1972…

      • magnolia

        By far the more usual scenario is that if someone makes these allegations they are true. The statistics are up in the 90s there I seem to remember from experts. Indeed often victims don’t want to go through the hassle of making them as they are already scarred and just want to recover.

        Most of the police and child protection officers I have come across have been very high quality people with lots of sense and analytical wisdom and decency. (I should add I was the responsible adult here!)

        There is little to fear, though inevitably sometimes people get wrongly accused, and that abuses the inner child within that person. But there are false accusations with things like cot deaths as well. There was an awful case of a solicitor eventually found innocent but not before she had taken to drink, and she ended up taking her own life in despair. False accusations happen …and always have. Not just for this, but also murder, rape, robbery, fraud…you name it.

        Furthermore with child abuse sometimes the perpetrators like to accuse others as a smokescreen. Have seen that..Life is not risk free. We just have to do the best we can for all parties, and that has to be biased towards the vulnerable. No escaping that.

        • The Explorer

          “Most of the police and child protection officers I have come across have been very high quality people with lots of sense and analytical wisdom and decency.”

          I’m sure you’re right. But quality control seems to have been lacking everywhere in the case of Bishop Bell.

        • Royinsouthwest

          What you say about allegations being true might be correct under most circumstances but not that is not necessarily the case certain type of allegation becomes almost fashionable like the pokemon game. Were the allegations made at the Salem witch trials true?

          • magnolia

            It is enormously difficult to strike a balance. I have come across too much of this stuff and been shocked at the plausibly innocent who were far from, and the very occasionally unfairly investigated, though never to the extent of unfairly charged. If someone makes an accusation it has to be investigated, no matter how hurtful it is to that person, and just the idea of possibly being doubted is horrifying to the innocent mentality.

            But set that against the ability of the guilty person to self-delude, prevaricate, and pretend to innocence until the last moment and there lies the problem.

            I am not sure that cases with a severe lack of evidence do make it to court. There are complaints on either side, and much bitterness, particularly amongst abused men, that the sexually abused have not been heeded, and so many self-medicated themselves to death with drink or drugs, or committed suicide in their twenties.

            The balance needs to be found, and part of it really is to listen earlier so that these cases that go back decades are much rarer.

          • James Bolivar DiGriz

            I suspect that, as a responsible adult, you came into the case some little way in and so quite a number of cases had already been dropped by that stage.

            By way of an analogy. Some people quote a statistic of, from memory, only 4% of rapes leading to a conviction. The number of rape prosecutions that lead to a conviction is actually around 44%.

            The difference between those two is that the 4% is as a %age of allegations of rape. A huge number of allegations get dropped or are dismissed very early on as there is no evidence to support them.

            Similarly I think that many allegations of child sexual abuse get dropped very early on, before an arrest is made and you as a responsible adult (appropriate adult?) would get called in.

          • magnolia

            I don’t know why. Maybe it started with all the bashing down of boundaries with the promiscuous society but we have a big problem. Had people heeded scripture it would not have effected the church. Had no other beliefs either surreptitiously or through ignorance not infiltrated the church we would not have a problem. But society in general, and the church not in particular but as a subset that has not stood out for purity enough, does have.

            Incidence of child pornography are appallingly widespread. To most of us here in our halfway right minds as we are, such a thing is unthinkable and appalling. To others not.
            I think though there are appalling casualties on the innocent of all charges side the majority by far of appalling cases are on the other side.

            Here is a link which does not overstate and explores contexts, but which shows something appalling has happened.


            I sometimes think my own experiences must be disproportionate, but I fear I have just seen through circumstance more of what lies usually hidden behind the exterior.

          • Little Black Censored

            “I am not sure that cases with a severe lack of evidence do make it to court.”
            It is the cases that do not make it to court that are often more worrying for the accused, with no possibility of clearing the air.

        • Dominic Stockford

          There is a difference with the cot death – the child did die. Albeit, the mother was not guilty of anything. However, in the cases of false sexual abuse NOTHING actually happened.

          • magnolia

            Agreed, though have to say I have come across far more cases where allegations were proven, and prosecutions with very good evidence happened. It is rare, for instance, for abuse to happen without pornography being found on computers. And then there is solid evidence.

            This may not be so for allegations going back decades, but if people unknown to each other all come up with similar quirks, birthmarks and so on, a case may emerge,though clearly in some cases time has made evidence impossible, and that this should be acknowledged to be so. I know it is more than tough for the innocent accused, and yes, they should be pastorally supported, but rarely are.

            Pastoral care and disciplinary oversight being sometimes in the same hands is a problem in its own right

        • Slack Alice

          What has any of this got to do with the points raised by Cranmer about the CofE’s guidelines?

          • magnolia

            A mpicking the pocket of a lame pensioner atter of balance? Like balancing the needs of victims with the accused, as well as possible, but realising that because we are human we are unlikely to get it completely right.

            Even with cases of full presumption of innocence we skew things to the vulnerable. If someone is accused say of pickpocketing an old lame pensioner he would need a more solid defence than if he was accused of shoplifitng for the same amount.

            So it is hardly surprising if the Church does the same. Will there always be cases that fall out at either end as vastly unfair. I don’t know; I hope not.

      • Royinsouthwest

        Well, if you can remember what you were doing on 25th July 1972 either you were doing something unforgettable such as getting married, or you have invented an alibi and therefore are obviously guilty!

        • The Explorer

          I fear I have been guilty of ambiguity. All I meant to say was that I can hardly remember what I did on any given day even a month ago, never mind 44 years ago.

  • John Waller

    The warnings here against false memory are most appropriate. My earliest childhood recollection is of jumping through the paned glass of our living room window in stark terror at being left alone in the house. I have a vivid memory of running down the street to a neighbour’s house that my mother was visiting. I clearly recall standing in front of her gasping for breath, yet unharmed.

    My parents are dead so cannot be consulted but I have two older siblings who have absolutely no recollection of the incident & insist it did not take place. The oldest would have to have been around 15 at the time so surely would have remembered.

    Presumably it was a dream, yet 45 years later I could certainly describe the scene to a court’s satisfaction- the correct window, the number of the house I ran to, the look on my mother’s face…and testify to my belief that it happened.

    How many innocent accuseds might be going through hell because of “memories” like this?

    • OscarJones

      I have had 2 quite frightening false memories : one was that a certain person was elected as an MP 30 years ago and made to stand down due to his non-British nationality. I have argued this vehemently with people until about 2 years ago this supposed MP said it never happened and his non-immigration status would not have affected that anyway at the time.. How did I become so convinced?
      The other was that my brother as a prank, put me as a baby in the back of a truck and I was only discovered in the next town. But when discussing this with my mother before she died she looked perplexed: my brother had done this but it was to a small cousin and I wasn’t born until 8 months later. The cousin regularly stayed with us and I had somehow picked up and absorbed his experience as mine possibly because it became a family joke.

      So children can absorb others experiences as their own or invent episodes and I have dome it at least twice to myself. How many other times have I done it and how many times do others do likewise?

      • James Bolivar DiGriz

        Oscar Jones, I have written a reply to John Waller that touches upon some of this.

    • dannybhoy

      Slightly different thing though; you (vividly imagined) you were alone and panicked. No one was trying to harm you.
      The problem in our society is that we separate at risk children from their parents and place them in the care of others.
      The children are in unfamiliar surroundings. They are frightened, they crave love and reassurance.
      Ergo, they become vulnerable to those who would harm them.
      Personally I think a far better system would involve the whole family being overseen in an assessment centre by trained professionals. Far better to treat the family as a unit than break it up, which I think does more long term emotional damage to the children.

    • James Bolivar DiGriz

      Memory is a funny thing indeed and can be lead astray very easily.

      In one experiment people (IIRC adults & children) who had visited Disneyland were asked about their quite recent experience and about which characters they had seen. A list of characters was suggested including Bugs Bunny, who, as a Warner Bros character, we can be sure would not be there.

      Not only did people include Bugs Bunny in the list, they described when & where they had met him in some detail. My understanding is that they mentally slot the character into the real memories of Disneyland. So the location where the meeting ‘happened’ and what was going on in the background are real.

      So I think that it would be far too easy for an investigator to ask someone if X had ever done anything bad to them and for them to create a ‘memory’, that was a mixture of something bad that had happened to them (or that they had heard about) and the real location in which they had met X.

      Somewhat akin to OscarJones story where he put himself in the place of his cousin.

  • Royinsouthwest

    “Arrest first and investigate later,” directs the head of the National Crime Agency Lynn Owens.

    Except when the accused belongs to a certain minority in Rotherham or some other English cities.

    • IanCad

      I could scarcely believe your quote Roy, so I checked it out.
      Why is the woman still employed?

      • Orwell Ian

        If this report is accurate one can only be amazed that she was ever appointed to head the NCA in the first place.

        • IanCad

          There must be a way to get her removed, although gross incompetence by public officials seems not to be grounds for dismissal. At least that is my conclusion from experience in an unrelated matter.

  • IanCad

    The practice of false accusation is punished far too lightly.

    Whilst not advocating a return to Mosaic deterrents, I do think firmer punishment than today’s wrist slap would be in order.

    “If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;”

    “Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”
    Deuteronomy 19:16,19

    • Old Nick

      This was also a principle of law under the Roman Empire (along with not allowing anonymous accusations – as Pliny and Trajan agreed in their famous correspondence about persecution of the Christians in the first decade of the 2nd century AD).

      • IanCad

        How far we have fallen!

  • David

    Yes I agree with the main thrust of this article. In a badly thought through process driven by a zealous panic to protect one innocent group, another victim group is being created, without either the protection of the innocent until proven guilty assumption, or any chance of restoring their good name – truly a Kafkaesque situation, yet created by the Church ! This is shocking and the Bishops are responsible for this travesty of justice. How God must weep ?

    • Yes, and He also weeps for the corruption of innocent souls who live a life scourged and devastated by the horror of abuse at the hands of those who shelter behind service to Him. Those ministers who are innocent and hold steadfast to their faith in Him through their trail will receive their full reward from Him. Jesus Christ knows about false accusations, suffering, betrayal, and a lack of justice.

      One can never prove innocence – only guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Risk assessment and safety agreements are not statements about guilt and, if conducted properly, the former may not result in the latter. Those charged with undertaking them have a heavy responsibility. These steps are necessary to protect children. They are not inherently wrong. They are seeking to rebalance a system that has institutionalised disbelief of children. And there’s no reason why the Church should not exercise due care of its members and provide them with necessary support.

  • Martin

    Seems to me that the Bible addresses this problem and is being ignored:

    Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (I Timothy 5:19 [ESV])

    A single accuser is not sufficient.

    • Yes, that’s why the abuse of young children has gone on for centuries. Go ahead, you tell a child of ten their word is insufficient to suspect or charge a priest, elder, or minister. By listening to them, taking them seriously and investigating further, you will bring forward other victims.

      • chefofsinners

        Nicely phrased opinion, Jack. Unfortunately it contradicts scripture, so it’s wrong.

        • Jack is a Catholic so has permission to do this.

          • chefofsinners

            Express an opinion? Things have really loosened up lately. Must be that new chap, you know, the Jesuit.

          • Hmmm ….

            Scripture was written before modern technigues of investigation – DNA for example.

          • Eustace

            Unless a child has the presence of mind to save a DNA sample from his attacker and keep it in conditions where it doesn’t degrade for a period that may stretch to many years, it’s unlikely that DNA testing will be of any help in confirming accusations of abuse.

            It certainly wouldn’t have established the guilt – or innocence – of Bishop Bell.

          • The point, Eustace, is that not everything written in scripture has universal applicability. The bible is not a scientific manual, nor is it a manual for conducting investigations into the clergy when they are accused of sexual assaults.

          • Eustace

            “…not everything written in scripture has universal applicability.”

            See, we do agree about some things.

          • Eustace, Jack has blocked you. This means he will no longer be exposed to your vile and hateful comments that litter this blog just like after an untrained dog who shits on public pavements. Your inane comments will no longer appear in his threads. Just like any narcissist, you crave attention and a mirror to peer in. And your sterile, verbal masturbation is boring and soils all those exposed to it.

            The air feels fresher and Jack feels cleaner.


          • chefofsinners

            This is true. The burden of proof required in court ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ approximates to the scriptural measure.
            The problem is that the current policy of the CofE is nowhere near these standards.

          • No, because it’s not a criminal process – it’s a risk assessment and safety plan based on the balance of reason. Our children deserve protection. Would you allow a child of ours access to a man you suspected of child abuse even if there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction? Jack most certainly wouldn’t. The duty of care requires more.

          • chefofsinners

            Whether it is a criminal process is irrelevant. What matters, in relation to scripture, is whether the man is a leader of the church and whether the accusation is substantiated by a significant body of evidence. If these conditions are not met then the scriptural injunction is clear: The charge should not be admitted.

          • Are women still required to cover their heads? Is it wrong for men to have long hair? How about women wearing trousers? Scripture concerns matters of faith and morals necessary for salvation – not investigations into crime or the protection of the vulnerable from predators. This is guidance about Church governance – not infallible instructions carved in stone and applicable to all times and circumstances.

            The general principle of making sure of the truth of any accusation against ministers before it is upheld and punishment is given, is certainly sound. However, Saint Paul is not saying a single witness should not be heard or that enquiries should not take place. He is also silent on situations where there is very justifiable concerns about the conduct of clergy but insufficient evidence to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.
            Should clergy be in a privileged and protected position when children are at risk?

          • chefofsinners

            Some women choose to cover their heads. I would not question them doing so. Some men choose not to grow their hair long for spiritual reasons – me for instance. Scripture says that women should not wear that which pertains to a man. Some years ago that might have included trousers. The fact that women ‘wear the trousers’ in many modern relationships is a reversal of God given order. Scripture is timeless.
            Scripture plainly does include matters of crime and the protection of youngsters. Virtually from cover to cover.
            Paul is not silent about reasonable doubt. The passage quoted is clearly addressing exactly this situation. It underpins the basic principle of justice, that a man is innocent until proven guilty: precisely the principle which the CoE is undermining.
            This is not a privilege of clergy, but a universal entitlement.

          • My point is context has changed for the application of these principles. There is no sin in a woman not wearing a veil in church, or wearing trousers. And men are at liberty to grow their hair long. History tells us the protection of children requires robust preventative measures. Risk assessments and safety agreements are precautionary measures.
            Is the potential lack of justice of these measures, which are not intrinsically evil, outweighed by the undoubted good that will result?

          • chefofsinners

            My point is that the context has not changed one iota. Allegations of this sort have always been made and always treated equally seriously, as demonstrated by other posts, some of them yours.
            The actual injustice of these measures offends natural justice but more importantly contradicts scripture.

      • Martin


        It’s a basic principle in Scripture, the Old as well as the New Testaments. A charge may not be brought except on the testimony of two or three. A witness may be the highest in the land but if their testimony is not corroborated it is not valid.

        • Anton

          The problem is that there are some heinous crimes for which two witnesses is very unlikely, such as adultery and child abuse. In ancient Israel God himself would clear, or convict and punish, a woman accused of adultery (the ‘trial by ordeal’ in Numbers 5). But He has made no similar promise to guarantee the accuracy of English court proceedings.

          • Martin


            I think it is rare that others do not know when wickedness is afoot.

          • Anton

            I think it rare that they do not suspect. But what can you do with suspicions?

          • You can remain vigilance and awareness for all children. And frequently there will be no suspicion as clergy have privileged and private access and those who do abuse are skilled at silencing their victims.

            The nub of the problem is that people tend not to suspect professionals of child sexual abuse. We think it is “dirty old men” in rain coats. It isn’t. Most abuse is by those close to children – fathers, relatives, teachers, clergy etc.. Plus, these men also have connections with colleagues and others in positions of power who seek to shield them or unthinkingly give the benefit of any doubt and ignore warning signs. That’s why these risk assessments are a good idea.

          • Anton

            You have always spoken well on this subject, Jack.

          • Thank you, Anton. 30+ experience in the field of child sexual abuse in London and in Scotland. Of course, I speak well on every subject.

          • Martin


            Closer observation, on a personal basis, before making any accusations? But an accusation of a heinous crime does not justify public action against a person unless the witnesses exist.

          • Guglielmo Marinaro

            Well said. Two or three witnesses who can testify that they “know when wickedness is afoot” but who can’t give any concrete evidence for anything specific. I ask you, what could possibly be more useful than that in a court of law?

          • Martin


            And what could be better than that suspicions are tested?

          • Guglielmo Marinaro


            Quite so, but finding “witnesses” who have not actually witnessed any wrong-doing, but who always “know when wickedness is afoot”, is quite useless for the purpose.

          • Martin


            So you do not prosecute unless there is evidence. It’s what we normally do and have done for generations.

          • Guglielmo Marinaro


            Quite right. But in a case of alleged sexual abuse of children that evidence will very seldom – if ever – consist of the testimony of two or three witnesses of the actual abuse.

          • Martin


            So you abandon the rule of law and take just one unverified claim? That’s what has already got us in this mess.

          • Guglielmo Marinaro

            No, of course you don’t, but if the testimony of two or three direct witnesses of the actual crime were required, almost no-one who was guilty of sexual abuse could ever be convicted of it. It would be a crime that one could commit with near-impunity.

          • Martin


            There are plenty of ways witnesses can testify without having observed the actual crime. It’s common place in the courts today. You are simply arguing for the sake of it.

          • Guglielmo Marinaro

            “There are plenty of ways witnesses can testify without having observed the actual crime.”

            Yes, precisely. In the average criminal case in court many of the witnesses for the prosecution will not have observed the actual crime. Often none of them will have done. But the testimony of “witnesses” merely to the effect that they “know when wickedness is afoot” will not count as evidence.

          • Martin


            But if awareness is raised who is to know what evidence will arise.

      • James Bolivar DiGriz

        Jack, The point is that it is (at least as far as I understand it) incredibly rare for it to be a “child of ten” who is making the allegations.

        In child abuse cases it is normally the case (de definito in historic cases) that years typically decades have gone by. Witness testimony is unreliable at best even when it is a mature adult recounting a non-traumatic event that happened recently. The recollections from years or decades before of a traumatic event to a child are incredibly unreliable.

        I do not see how anyone can use such unreliable testimony to tarnish the reputation of someone without even any semblance of a trial.

        And as for bring forward complainants sooner, the procedures described in this piece will have no impact on that as the results of the secret investigations are kept secret, apart from a select few.

        • A feature of the child abuse cases in the Catholic Church in America, Australia and Ireland, is that children did come forward. Their claims were often dismissed as unreliable or kept secret and the perpetrators were moved on to other parishes to abuse again. Create a climate where children are listened to, where investigations take place and where an abuser is held to account, and children will disclose earlier. If it is historical, the accusation cannot be ignored to protect the reputation of a person who might be an abuser. Often in these situations where there has been abuse, one person comes forward and another gains the courage to do also.

          • James Bolivar DiGriz


            “A feature of the child abuse cases in the Catholic Church in …”
            Which is not irrelevant to the topic under discussion. As I explained to you, a secret inquiry whose condemnation of someone is kept secret by definition cannot have impact on the likelihood of someone coming forward.

            “Often in these situations where there has been abuse, one person comes forward and another gains the courage to do also.”
            Reliable stats to back up that “Often”?

            In the Bishop Bell case it one woman. In the case of Cliff Richard it was one woman. In the case of Lord Bramall, Edward Heath, Lord Brittan, Harvey Proctor (and IIRC others) it was one man.

            I am not sure but I think that the cases against each of, Paul Gambaccini, Jim Davidson, Freddie Starr and Jimmy Tarbuck were based on the word of a single person.

            None of these were convicted in a court of law, none were prosecuted, against some of them (e.g. Lord Bramall) the evidence was so flimsy that the police did not even send it to the CPS.

            You sound as if you would be perfectly happy for all of these people, had they been in relevant positions in the CofE, to have been forced to sign ‘safety agreements’ & have their activities restricted or face de facto excommunication.

          • Really you should examine the evidence of the sex abuse enquiries in America, Ireland and Australia.

            If the men you cite were ministers who have access to vulnerable children, then, yes, notwithstanding a lack of prosecution or a criminal conviction, they should be assessed as to whether they present any tangible risk to children. If, as you say, the evidence is flimsy, then this will inform any assessment and safety plan.

            Why are you assuming there will be a safety agreement in every case?

          • James Bolivar DiGriz

            “Really you should examine the evidence of the sex abuse enquiries in America, Ireland and Australia.”
            No I shouldn’t, because it is not germane. Those were people who were convicted in a court of law, this article is talking about people who have *not* been convicted and may not even have been investigated by the police.

            I see that you have not supported your “Often in these situations …” line. I take that as meaning that you cannot do so.

            “Why are you assuming there will be a safety agreement in every case?”
            Why do you think that someone’s life (possibly career) should be damaged or even ruined based on the imperfect recollections of a single person about events that may or may no have happened decades ago.

            Bear in mind that is what has happened (albeit post mortem) to Bishop Bell and (very much ante mortem) to Sister Frances Dominica.

          • These evidence is in the reports Jack has directed to you. He’s not about to do your work for you. Read them. Get informed.
            No, these reports are not about people convicted in a court of law. Many were not because the children were not believed and the crimes against them were not investigated. Children were silenced by priests, bishops and civil authorities. There were children who came forward and reported abuse and were ignored. And priests were allowed to continue abusing children.

            Jack shares your concerns about historical abuse. However, it’s all a question of balance and reasonableness. Jack doesn’t know the detail of the quality of evidence against either Bishop Bell or Sister Frances, or how they were investigated, so cannot really comment. Do we continue leaving power with adults and get all tied up in the possible loss of rights of their abusers? Or do we place the protection of children centre stage?

          • Mike Stallard

            And you trust children?
            Even when they are being led on by an adult to “disclose” or by being asked to “remember”?
            Do you actually know any modern children at all?

          • It’s that attitude that places children at risk.

          • Mike Stallard

            And what places even more children at risk is getting rid of all men because they constitute a threat. This is happening fast at the moment and it presents a real disaster for boys especially as they are presented with no role models.
            Gangs, unemployment, ignorance and becoming a sperm donor instead of a working father are the alternative, not “safety”.
            Children need to be listened to, known, and cared for, yes. Indeed. I have been doing it all my life.
            But they, like the rest of us, are humans and they, like the rest of us, sin, lie and cheat.

  • It is hell for those wrongly accused and no doubt there will be innocent people wrongly convicted and those who’s reputations are severely damaged. There may be suicides or mental breakdowns. And the Church will pay compensation where it is unmerited.

    However, taking the broader perspective. For centuries children have been violated by abusers within our churches and have been effectively silenced. They have been unable to share this, or when they did they were dismissed as either bad or mad or confused. By taking this stance, children will be protected. They will be empowered and encouraged to come forward earlier and have the abuse stopped. The harm caused by sexual abuse is gross and blights the lives of victims. And, significantly, abusers will now know children will be listened to and they will be found out.

    It’s a balancing act. What’s the lesser of the two evils? The ongoing spiritual and physical rape of countless children and the scars they carry throughout their lives, or the danger of miscarriages of justice?

    • Old Nick

      “For centuries children have been violated by abusers within our churches”: I should be interested in knowing the historical evidence for this bold statement. One should not surely be extrapolating backwards from the ‘New Morality’ of the 1960s (which some of us thought at the time looked rather like the Old Immorality). .

      • Pubcrawler

        It’s a commonplace of anticlerical literature in the Middle Ages; for that to have traction, it probably has an element of truth. And even within the church, figures such as Peter Damian (11th cent.) railed against it:

        He was especially indignant about priests having sexual relationships with adolescent boys. He singles out superiors who, due to excessive and misplaced piety, have been lax in their duty to uphold church discipline. He opposes the ordination of those who are given to homosexuality and wants those already ordained dismissed from Holy Orders. Those who misuse the sacraments to defile boys are treated with particular contempt. Significant attention is given to the hurts of the victims

        • Old Nick

          Thank you for the Peter Damian reference. I asked partly because I can think of v. little patristic evidence for this sort of thing (e.g. the occasional serious disapproval in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers).

          • At the Synod of Elvira in 306 CE, it was decided that: “Those who sexually abuse boys may not commune even when death approaches.”

      • Inspector General

        Old Inspector is similarly sceptical. Not enough emphasis is put on the corruption of the soul by modern life and most definitely the sexualisation of everything that has a face. Good chap Nick for raising the point.

        • Sexual sin is not modern.
          In 1049 Damian wrote to Pope Leo IX (1048-54) about the cancer of sexual abuse that was spreading through the church: boys and adolescents were being forced and seduced into performing acts of sodomy by priests and bishops; there were problems with sexual harassment among higher clergy; and many members of the clergy were keeping concubines. Damian warned the pope that bishops were contributing to the growth of the problem by their failure to enforce church discipline.

      • You really believe the sexual abuse of children is a modern phenomenon?

        Monasteries established in 6th-century Italy by St. Benedict explicitly listed fornication with children among the “graver sins.” Ireland’s 7th-century Penitential of Cummean, outlined an array of punishable sins, including sex by a clergyman with a teenage male. Peter Damian’s 11th century Liber Gomorrhianus was not just about homosexuality and sodomy. It included the sexual abuse of children.

      • dannybhoy

        Child abuse is one of the ugly facets of human nature, and probably started somewheres around Genesis 6, -even earlier. How widespread no one knows, but it is a fact that some humans will always abuse others.

    • chefofsinners

      False dichotomy, Jack. No child is more empowered to disclose as a result of church risk assessments.

      • No, perhaps not, but children will be aware of the change in climate and that their protection from sexual predators is now a priority.

        • Mike Stallard

          So you would trust a child?

  • Ivan M

    It was the homosexuals, assorted deviants and their allies the progressives who whipped up.the hysteria over child abuse in the 90s and early 2000s. But since it was directed exclusively at RCC priests few who are blathering today about false accusations, and find that “recovered memories” are dubious means of arriving at the truth cared. No one cared that these men including homosexual men had their reputations and lives destroyed in the witch-hunts. No distinction in behavior was allowed ; an innocent hug became a matter of suspicion. Well the modern Puritans really stuck it to the priests, so that today there are no expressions of affection possible for these men.

  • Anton

    Justin Welby explains: “We have to be.. responsible for ensuring the Church is a place safe for all.” But the Church is not a safe place for all. For the innocent victims of false accusations, the only route back into their church is fraught with anxiety and imposed shame. For those already suffering the trauma of a false allegation, and possible arrest, the Church is neither welcoming nor safe.

    I agree with these statements and am reminded unhappily of an earlier era of witch-hunts, but a crucial sentence is missing here. For those abused by churchmen, the church is not a safe place.

    • Mike Stallard

      Anton, nobody disputes that.
      The problem comes when someone is falsely accused.
      Keep up!

      • Anton

        The problem that Cranmer is focussing on comes when somebody is falsely accused. His Grace is entitled to discuss what he likes, but I think it is in order to widen the conversation a little and consider another aspect of the whole issue.

        • steroflex

          I do apologise

  • “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

  • Mike Stallard

    Men are the guilty – whether or not they really are guilty – parties nearly always. So women take over. This has already happened in the Scout movement, in schools – Primary especially but now more and more in secondary.

    We can look forward to a lot more women priests and bishops.

  • davidkennerly

    A good reason to quit the bloody church. Sign nothing. In fact, tell them you’re dangerous and bent on revenge. That should clinch it. You’ll be better off without them and their sentimentalist superstitious crap.