It is my fervent prayer that the church is a place where all people are welcomed into open and secure communities that make known Christ’s reconciling peace and love. Over the years it has been with sadness and horror that I have heard stories from survivors and victims of clerical abuse. Their stories have included not just the appalling acts of abuse but the way the church has added to their injury by not responding well when they disclosed them
Since I received the Elliott report two years ago I have seen change. I know it may not have been fast enough for survivors, but we should welcome the change which has taken place.
Most significant has been the beginnings of a cultural change which is reflected in the importance safeguarding is being given within the Church by those in senior leadership: improved and increased training, better policies and independent monitoring by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
It is of course easier to change structures than change culture yet without culture change true, lasting change does not occur. I know of a church whose new vicar wanted to change the format of the chairs from rows into a circle to develop a more loving community. So he did. But every time he went on leave, the congregation moved the chairs back because they couldn’t bear looking at each other. Perhaps if he had enabled them to grow their love of one another first the chairs would l have stayed – but that change would have taken much more effort, much more time.
So starting with culture change is good. But our challenge remains how do we accelerate how we involve survivors in improving the church’s culture? How do we find that balance of being open to those who disclose without rushing to conclusions?
We will over the coming weeks hear more about how the church has and has not dealt well with survivors and victims of abuse – we will find incredibly difficult and painful to hear these stories, but they have to be heard and they have to motivate us to change more, and more quickly so not to undermine all those who have to date paid the personal price for us not yet getting it right.