The Church of England has suffered from a culture of deference, inertia, misogyny, protectionism and victim-blaming, a three-year internal review of abuse cases has found.
Almost 400 new cases involving actions by clergy, officials and volunteers against children and vulnerable adults were uncovered in the most extensive review of personnel records ever undertaken.
In a foreword to the review team’s 129-page report, published on Wednesday, the archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote of the “great sadness and profound shame that we, again and again, come face-to-face with the brokenness and failings of our church”.
The review led to 26 national recommendations, including the establishment of a victims’ charter to enable children to be “truly ‘heard’ when they are expressing distress or communicating that something is wrong”.
The review team trawled through more than 75,000 files, some dating back to the 1940s, across all the C of E’s 42 dioceses, as well as the archbishops’ headquarters in London and York.
Allegations of abuse were often dealt with informally, without appropriate investigations, records or referrals to professional bodies.
Of 383 new cases found during the review, 168 related to children, 149 to vulnerable adults, and 27 were recorded as both. The remainder had no recorded data. No details of the cases were published in the report, but the C of E said they had all been referred to diocese safeguarding teams or, where appropriate, statutory authorities.
The review of past cases is the second carried out by the C of E, after the first, in 2009, was found to have shortcomings. The purpose of the second review was to identify institutional failings in the handling of abuse allegations and assess risks.
Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell, the two archbishops that lead the C of E, said there were “no possible excuses, no rationalisations for our church’s failure to share the love of God and value each and every person”.
They added: “We sincerely apologise for our failures and want to reach out to those who are still suffering from the pain and misery they endured. We extend this apology to wider family members affected from this past abuse. We are so sorry that this ever happened. It was not your fault and you are not to blame.”
Jonathan Gibbs, the bishop of Rochester and the C of E’s lead bishop on safeguarding issues, said the report included “trenchant comments, rightly made” about the culture within the church.
The review found a “culture of deference within dioceses towards the bishops or other senior members of clergy … [and] a longstanding ethos where individuals felt unable to challenge back over safeguarding concerns”.
It cited examples where the seriousness of allegations or cases had been minimised, and noted instances of bias, including “misogyny, sexism and attitudes relating to women in the church, especially as ordained priests; as well as to same-sex relationships”.
The term “protectionism” indicated “a culture which allows alleged and convicted perpetrators to work and worship unchecked, failure to listen and act, disbelief and in some cases diverting blame on to the victim of abuse”.
At a press conference, Gibbs said the church was on a “journey of change”. The report was “unflinching in its criticism, and it’s absolutely right that the whole church should hear that criticism”.
Among the recommendations was a national survivor and victim charter, regular independent external auditing of the C of E’s safeguarding policies and procedures, the maintenance of records, including personnel files, and additional training.
John Bakker, an abuse survivor who assisted the review, said dioceses should be prepared for more survivors to come forward.
The church must “demonstrate its Christian values and actions. These include repentance, justice, compassion, caring, love, forgiveness, respect, honesty, and truth. The church has so often failed in many of these,” he said.