Following renewed criticism of its past practice, the Church of England has confirmed "the broad principles for a protocol for the systematic review of past child protection cases", following on from the Archbishop of Canterbury's announcement earlier in 2007.
Effectively, the Church of England has agreed it will investigate the records of thousands of clergy, dating back decades, in an attempt to uncover unchecked incidents of child abuse.
Over 2,500 letters will be sent to clerics and staff urging them to come forward with information on any cases of abuse or concerns that were not followed up at the time in the way they would be now.
Each diocesan bishop is to initiate a review of clergy and other files, including priests who have retired to their diocese, diocesan lay employees and Readers (as such files are held at a diocesan level, not centrally). An Independent Reviewer will be appointed by each bishop to review the files to assess whether any ‘causes for concern’ exist.
Each diocesan bishop is also to write to previous bishops, archdeacons, bishops’ chaplains and secretarial staff to ask whether they have any information about any cases of abuse or concerns expressed that they can recall from their time in the diocese, which were not followed up at the time in the way that they would be now.
Such concerns will be listed alongside any issues raised by the diocesan file search. Additionally, any concerns expressed by other clergy or members of congregations will be included in the list. If any urgent issues arise these will be dealt with immediately by referring to the relevant statutory authorities.
The Reviewer will recommend action on each case, and pass the portfolio to the Diocesan Child Protection Management Group to formulate an action plan to be led by the Diocesan Child Protection Adviser.
Dioceses are being encouraged to complete the above process within 18 months of the final protocol being published, likely to be early next year.
The protocol is currently being finalised in light of feedback from the House of Bishops to a draft text. The Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford and Chair of the Church’s Central Safeguarding Liaison Group, which produced the draft protocol, commented: “Children deserve the very best care, nurture and teaching the Church is able to provide whatever the context of their contact with the Church."
The House of Bishops representative says it is "deeply committed to the safeguarding of all children, based on our understanding of the value and dignity of every human being and Christ’s own example of treating young people with status and respect.”
He explained: “This model protocol is a significant step for the Church in the continuing efforts to minimize any possible risk to children or young people. It will ensure that any cases where concerns have been raised in the past can be reviewed professionally. Any potential risk to children and young people will then be assessed, and appropriate steps taken to manage that risk by taking action in the light of current statutory guidance and other best practice.”
Several agencies have been involved in providing advice to the Liaison Group, including the NSPCC, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service. The Liaison Group itself is made up of Child Protection experts from different parts of the country.
The House of Bishops produced its first policy document on child protection in 1995, which was updated in 1999 and then again in 2004. The Church continues to learn and improve its good practice from the experiences of parishes and dioceses since the publication of the first document and from new statutory guidance.
The model Protocol on the review of past child protection cases forms part of the Church’s commitment continually to develop best practice, it stresses.