London (Reuters) – The Church of England failed to protect children from sexual predators within its ranks for decades, allowing abusers to hide in an attempt to defend its own reputation rather than following its duty to protect young people, an inquiry said on Tuesday.
The Church apologised for the abuse and said it would learn lessons from the inquiry.
From the 1940s to 2018, 390 people who were clergy or in positions of trust associated with the Church have been convicted of sexual offences against children, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said.
“Over many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome,” Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry, said.
“If real and lasting changes are to be made, it’s vital that the Church improves the way it responds to allegations from victims and survivors, and provides proper support for those victims over time,” she added.
The primary concern of many senior clergy was to uphold the Church’s reputation, the inquiry said. Senior clergy often declined to report allegations to the appropriate agencies and hindered criminal investigations, allowing some abusers to escape justice.
Responding to the findings on behalf of the Church, Jonathan Gibbs, Bishop of Huddersfield, said: “The report makes shocking reading and while apologies will never take away the effects of abuse on victims and survivors, we today want to express our shame about the events that have made those apologies necessary.”
“The whole Church must learn lessons from this Inquiry,” Gibbs said.
The report recommended that both the Church of England and the Church in Wales should each introduce a Church-wide policy on the funding and provision of support to victims of child sexual abuse concerning clergy.
The report detailed the case of Peter Ball, a former bishop of Gloucester, who in 2015 pleaded guilty to indecent assault.
Ball had suggested to victims that humiliation – which included praying naked, masturbation and flagellation – was part of the teachings of St Francis and would provide a more direct route to a closer relationship to God.
One of his victims, Neil Todd, took his own life aged 38 in 1992. Nothing was done about a complaint by Ball’s housekeeper to a senior bishop working with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, supported Ball who sought to use his relationship with Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, to influence an investigation, the report said. Carey later expressed his regret over the case.
In a letter to the inquiry, Charles said: “It remains a source of deep personal regret that I was one of many who were deceived over a long period of time about the true nature of Mr Ball’s activities.”