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Church of England makes Chichester child abuse apology

media captionThe Right Reverend Paul Butler: "We cannot do anything but own up to our failures. We were wrong"

The Church of England has formally apologised for past child abuse by Anglican priests and its own "serious failure" to prevent it.

The ruling General Synod, meeting in York, endorsed a report apologising for abuse in the Chichester diocese.

Members also unanimously backed an earlier apology issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said there needed to be "a complete change of culture and behaviour" in the Church.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby told the Synod: "And, in addition, there is a profound theological point.

"We are not doing all this, we are not seeking to say how devastatingly, appallingly, atrociously sorry we are for the great failure there has been, for our own sakes, for our own flourishings, for the protection of the Church.

"We are doing it because we are called to live in the justice of God and we will each answer to him for our failings in these areas."

The cases of two priests - Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard - who abused several children during the 1970s and 1980s, prompted an inquiry by the Archbishop of Canterbury's office into safeguarding procedures in the diocese.

The ensuing report described a "profoundly unhelpful and negative culture" there, producing an "appalling" and "dysfunctional" record in handling allegations of abuse.

'Individual wickedness'

Opening the debate, the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, said the Church had "failed to listen properly".

"We did not acknowledge the wrong done and we protected the institution at the expense of the person abused," he said.

"We cannot do anything other than own up to our failures - we were wrong."

He said the church's "failures were sin just as much as the perpetrators sinned".

The bishop read out a statement from victims of child abuse in the Church who called for a public inquiry to find out the number of victims, how the Church protected abusers and whether there was a cover-up.

In response to the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, offered their own apology for the "individual wickedness on the part of abusers" and serious failures by the Church to protect children or listen properly to victims.

They said the suffering inflicted on the victims would be a source of grief and shame for years to come.

The motion before the Synod endorsed the archbishops' apology and the contents of the report.

After a debate lasting about 1 hour 45 minutes, it was approved by 360 votes to none.

The Synod also agreed plans to take further steps to improve policies and practices on safeguarding children, including by ditching the current one-year limit on making complaints of child abuse, and giving bishops the right to suspend clergy who are credibly accused of abuse.

image captionA man was arrested at a General Synod service at York Minster after allegedly assaulting two stewards

Meanwhile, a man was arrested after two stewards were allegedly attacked at a Synod service in York Minster.

A Church of England spokesman said a man entered the minster as the service was starting and attacked the stewards when they asked him to stop.

He was restrained as members of the congregation and senior members of the church, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, looked on.

A member of the Archbishop of York's staff and a steward suffered minor injuries.

'Inescapable truth'

The General Synod also debated the government's welfare changes.

Archbishop Welby and Dr Sentamu were among the 43 bishops to write to the Daily Telegraph earlier this year criticising the government over benefit cuts.

And a briefing document drawn up by Philip Fletcher, chairman of the Church's Mission and Public Affairs Council, had accused government spokesmen of making "political capital" by presenting unemployment as a "strivers" versus "scroungers" debate.

The Synod backed by 331 votes to 1 a motion that rejected the "misleading characterisation" of welfare recipients.

The motion recognised that "in times of austerity hard choices must be made" by the government but urged politicians to "pay close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable".

On Saturday, the MP who acts as the Church of England's link in the House of Commons told the Synod it had been divided into a "gathering of tribes" as a result of disputes over the role of women.

Sir Tony Baldry, Second Church Estates Commissioner was speaking after General Synod members spent the day in private talks in an attempt to solve the impasse over introducing women bishops.

A debate and vote on endorsing draft legislation on women bishops is to take place on Monday.

Sir Tony told the meeting: "There is, I believe, an inescapable truth that the Church of England probably has no more than 20 years to reassert its position as the national Church of England."

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