The Church of England has 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 says.
The Church – the mother church of the international Anglican Communion – 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.