The Church of England has this morning stressed its practical commitment to the safeguarding, care and nurture of the children within the church community – following allegations in Bristol Crown Court that it failed to stop the alleged abuse of young boys after receiving complaints about a priest, and similar claims by the BBC in the case of a choirmaster.
The BBC Radio 4 Today programme says it has learned that Peter Halliday from Hampshire, who will be sentenced today after pleading guilty to abusing choirboys over a period of five years, admitted his offences 17 years ago.
A Church of England spokesperson told Ekklesia that “a fuller, statement on the Halliday case will follow later this morning from the Diocese of Guildford, after sentencing.”
The separate case against a Somerset vicar, being heard in Bristol, is still in process.
In the meantime the Church says that it is extremely concerned to make sure that abuse does not happen and has the greatest sympathy for its victims.
It says its good practice in this area is demonstrable: “We carefully select and train ordained and lay ministers, volunteers and paid workers with children and young people using the Criminal Records Bureau, amongst other tools, to check the background of each person.”
Clergy are also told that they must go to the authorities if cases involving possible abuse arise. And they receive expert advice, with dioceses appointing protection officers and local churches adopting clear policies.
Some 160,000 children are involved in activities associated with the Church of England, and those who work with them are properly vetted.
The Church has spent thousands of pounds on overhauling its entire approach to the safety of children and young people following previous criticism. It has also worked proactively with ecumenical partners on wider sexual abuse issues – which has included the publication of the report Time for Action (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland).
But it remains vulnerable to situations in the past when protection approaches were less clear, said the Rev Pearl Luxon Safeguarding Adviser (Child and Adult Protection), on the Today programme.
The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service, an independent Christian based charity, says that there is still a need for greater awareness, improved attitudes and better policies and training in many Christian congregations – but it acknowledges the hard work the C of E and other voluntary agencies have taken.
The Catholic Church has faced a mass of negative publicity after allegations of covering up the extent of abuse in its ranks.
In the continuing Bristol case, a choirboy said that he "feared for his life" after suffering abuse at the hands of his parish priest in his local vicarage.
The Rev David Smith from Clevedon, Somerset, denies accusations that he abused seven boys aged under 16, between 1975 and 2005.
Complaints were made about him at different times and without the other victim's knowledge in most cases, it was claimed.