Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury from sexual abuse survivor Gilo

By staff writers
November 2, 2017

Earlier in October 2017, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote a letter personally apologising to sexual abuse survivor Gilo for his office’s failure to respond to 17 letters seeking help and redress. That letter of apology, further reported with background here, has not itself been published, though it has been quoted in part. The Church of England additionally issued a statement on the mediation process involved. Gilo has now written an Open Letter in response to the Archbishop, setting out the serious issues that the Church of Engand and EIG need to address. "The way the Church and its insurers has treated survivors institutionally compounds the abuse we have already suffered," he notes. This letter is being published by Ekklesia and Thinking Anglicans at Gilo's request. We are pleased and honoured to support his brave, dignified and considered advocacy.

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Dear Archbishop Welby,

Thank you for your letter. 

The mediation was a very public process. And I hope it will make improvements for many others who have suffered abuse by those we have encountered because of their connection with the Church. In recognition of that, I am making this an open letter. It is written I hope on behalf of the many that remain silent, unable to face the challenge of disclosure, or having done so are then defeated by heartless bureaucracy or the culture of denial, discrediting, and silence. The mediation was a major step forward, and its outcome demonstrated how much more needs to be done before the Church can claim to be acting decently and with compassion. It exposed long-standing fundamental systemic flaws that began to be recognised by the bishops in their searingly honest letter to EIG. I seek in this letter to invite you as Archbishop to join them in publicly recognising these flaws and commit the Church to a series of concrete measures to address them. The way the Church and its insurers has treated survivors institutionally compounds the abuse we have already suffered. 

I cannot speak for others, but can say a little of the consequences for me of the episodes of abuse I suffered. I have been long term bi-polar, with long periods of quite severe illness, including several sustained times in my life of near catatonic state. The effect on my quality of life and relationships has been substantial. And despite being reasonably intelligent, the long term impact on my employability and earning power has been considerable. Relative to this, the sum I received from EIG was by any standard of pastoral care, derisory and heartless, especially when delivered through the bewildering legal games that EIG plays out. MACSAS tell me many survivors could tell a similar story. Bi-polar illness, amongst other mental and physical health conditions, and related economic impact seems to be a common pattern. And I know that many have lived with far more severe impact than mine.

The reality is that EIG settlements are conveniently based on very old precedents with figures 20-30 years out of date. EIG goes to great lengths to keep all our cases out of court, and has been very successful in this. Lawyers and survivors agree that the direct consequence is that this prevents these very low settlements from being updated. New precedents would recognise inflation increases and the greater knowledge we now have about the extent of adverse life-changing consequences that often follow abuse. Further pressure to accept such low settlements arises through the severe time constraints imposed by EIG on victims only too aware that failure to agree could lead to the withdrawal of the settlement and becoming liable to both side’s legal fees. EIG can easily take such risks but claimants cannot. This raises a question of equity if not also a legal one about agreements reached under such pressures. Becoming liable would plunge most of us into bankruptcy. It is this extreme duress in particular that makes these settlements unjust, and the whole process contrary to the Church’s stated aims.

The Church has claimed in the past that EIG and the lawyers to whom they subcontract, will act in accordance with the Church’s claimed policy of exercising pastoral responsibility. Yet no lawyer I have spoken to recognises any real improvement since EIG’s guiding principles were introduced. The Church could instruct EIG how it wishes claims to be handled, but any change seems unrealistic given EIG’s recent statement and their lack of willingness to regard their ‘horse trade’ approach as inappropriate. This puts the onus solely on the Church. Yet beyond words of apology and offers of prayer there does not seem to be any obvious mechanism to exercise this in a tangible way.

The following questions might suggest a path forwards: 

(1) Would you be prepared to set up a formal mechanism to look at past and present settlements where survivors have been put under duress? And would you envisage survivors being able to apply to the Church for additional capital and recurring sums, and for reimbursement for specific expenses such as counselling, help with housing where necessary, retraining, and for these categorised sums paid to be published annually, obviously without names?

(2) Will you review the settlements made by EIG during your time in office as Archbishop and express an opinion as to whether these settlements demonstrate a level of pastoral care and justice with which you and the Church are content to be associated?

(3) Will you relieve EIG of the responsibility of reaching settlements, and instead set up settlement mechanism independent of EIG and the Church? One which in a calm dignified way, free of any pressure or duress, can reach fair and just settlements on the Church’s behalf? If abuse settlements remain insured by EIG, they can reimburse the Church directly, or, perhaps better, the insurance might be curtailed and they play no role at all; there is no financial need for the Church to insure against abuse.

(4) Would you agree that the Church accepts that its pastoral responsibility to abuse victims can, and generally should in future, include the provisions such as reimbursement or provision of medical care, additional lump sums or regular payments for the rest of survivors’ lives.

(5) Are you prepared to commit the Church to initiate and publish reasonable and pastoral settlement criteria that recognise degrees of harm, culpability, and impact, and are inflation-based.

(6) Will you create a mediation, or truth and reconciliation, structure so that where survivors have faced denial, silencing, discrediting, dishonourable responses of various kinds, the church will work towards meaningful apology and reconciliation?

(7) Lastly, could I ask you whether you would be prepared to commit the Church to work actively to introduce mandatory reporting of institutional abuse as it used to do, for example in co-operation with Baroness Walmsley?

If you lead the call for change these questions embody – you will be remembered as a pioneering archbishop who guided your church justly through the crisis that has caught up with it. I hope your reply may have the potential to improve the lives of victims of abuse for which the Church has been and is responsible. For healing to happen across the survivor community the Church has to recognise the full extent of abuse, the harm it has done and how the Church has compounded it as described above. It has to now buckle beneath the weight of these things, and do justice in a transparent, tangible and honourable way. And it has to find ways of transforming surviving … into thriving.

Warm wishes,

Gilo

 

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