Archbishop of Canterbury promises sex abuse inquiry

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby Image copyright PA

The Archbishop of Canterbury has promised to investigate sex abuse in the Church of England if the judge-led abuse inquiry does not look into it within six months.

Justin Welby made the promise during a private meeting with survivors of clerical abuse earlier this week.

The independent inquiry into child sex abuse led by Justice Lowell Goddard is expected to last five years.

Lambeth Palace said the archbishop wanted the Church to be reviewed first.

But it said if this did not happen within six months, the archbishop would instigate an "independently-led past cases review".

The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Revered Graham James, said the archbishop was one of the first to ask for a national inquiry into abuse and "from all indications" it appears the Church will be first to be examined.

In 2010, the Church published the results of a three-year investigation into abuse in the Church of England, spanning a 30-year period.

It uncovered just 13 cases which needed reporting to the authorities, prompting survivors to say the investigation was inadequate.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt said for this reason not all survivors of abuse wanted the Church to investigate itself.

Marilyn Hawes, who was one of five people representing survivors' groups at the Lambeth Palace meeting, said the archbishop had been compassionate and focused.

The founder of Enough Abuse UK, which she set up after three of her four children were abused by a Church of England headteacher, said she had "every hope and belief" he would follow through on his words.

But if he didn't, they would start "banging drums again and making a noise," she said, "because this is about a safer society and an environment called the church where people have to feel safe."

She described the day of the meeting as a "momentous one for the survivor community," adding that there needed to be an emphasis on abuse prevention in future.

"If we don't care for our children, then actually we care for nothing and nobody, and the people who should lead that are the Church," she said.

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, who speaks for the Church on safeguarding issues, acknowledged sex abuse had been covered up in the past.

"There are cases where that undoubtedly has happened and we've been slowly but surely uncovering more of them," he said.

"When the home secretary first called we said 'please, take the Church first' because we've been calling for this kind of inquiry earlier as well."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Justice Goddard has said the independent abuse inquiry could last until 2020

Institutions scrutinised

Home Secretary Theresa May ordered the independent inquiry into abuse in England and Wales in July 2014, following claims of a high-level cover-up of child sex abuse involving public figures, including politicians and clergy.

The inquiry, which was given statutory powers and a new panel in February, was opened earlier this week by Justice Goddard, who is a New Zealand High Court judge.

It will investigate whether "public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales".

Justice Goddard has issued a call for anyone with information about sexual abuse cases to come forward, urging institutions responsible for caring for children, which may come under scrutiny, to take a "proactive stance towards the inquiry".

She has written to more than 240 institutions, including the police, National Health Service and churches, asking for any documents that could be used in the inquiry.

'Inadequate' inquiry

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt said the 2010 case review came after a three-year investigation by the Church of England into child abuse.

About 40,000 diocesan files dating back more than 30 years were examined during the inquiry.

Victims of alleged abuse in the Church of England compared this with a recent review of historical abuse cases by the much smaller Methodist church, which showed more than 900 such allegations going back to 1950, our correspondent added.

The Methodist Church's investigation uncovered reports of nearly 2,000 cases of abuse - including 914 allegations involving sexual abuse.

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