It has not been an easy afternoon in Synod. It began with legislative business on Faculty Jurisdiction and then the Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, which, as the name suggests, is a catch all bit of legislation tidying up different measures as diverse as provisions relating to Christ Church, Oxford to the Burial Act of 1857. It is work that needs doing.
But the real business of the afternoon was to be on safeguarding which was focused on the follow-up to the Chichester Commissaries report. The debate was introduced by Bishop Paul Butler, the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham who began by reading out a statement from the survivors group. Members of that group were in the chamber but they had not been allowed to address the Synod themselves. So they wrote what was a painful statement to listen to. They highlighted a lack of consultation with them in the process and they questioned the value of any apology that might follow and the debate we were going to have, if we thought that this was our response.
In fact as the debate proceeded it became very clear that no one thought that this was the response of the Church of England but only the beginning. Bishop Paul was clear in his apology to the survivors of abuse in our churches. He said that we ‘confess our sin, repent and commit to being different in the future’. His words were echoed during the debate, chaired by the Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett from the Diocese of Southwark, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop and Archdeacon of Chichester.
Professor Glynn Harrison was the first person to be called and he spoke on behalf of a clergyman who had himself been abused. That testimony was powerful and moving and set the tone for a serious and profound debate. Southwark representatives – Mark Steadman, Simon Butler and April Alexander – all made significant contributions. The Bishop of Hereford made the important point that it is not just individuals who are groomed by potential offenders but whole church communities and that was echoed by others. Many people, not least ++Justin, spoke about the need for a change in culture in the church. The Archbishop speaking of the report said ‘What we are looking at today is far from enough .. it has to be a complete change of culture and behaviour’.
The Bishop of Chichester was the last person to be called to speak. It was he who said that we must be a ‘humbler, compassionate, more humane church.’
It was a good debate on a painful, agonising subject. Before we voted we kept a time of silence as the full importance of what we had heard sank in and we could pray that we would do the right thing. A division of the whole Synod had been called for, which means voting with our electronic voting system. The result was 360 people voted in favour of the amended motion (the amendment simply strengthened it) with none voting against and none abstaining.
As the Archbishop said, this was only a beginning and we must work with the survivors to change our culture and our behaviour and get things right. It is a gospel, kingdom issue.
The apology was made on behalf of the whole church and all we can say is