The Church of England is experiencing an ordeal as its attitudes about accusations of child sexual abuse by clergy are raked over by a public inquiry. George Pitcher, a former media officer on the staff of Lambeth Palace, has testified that that the church’s attitude to abuse was to stonewall.

Pitcher, who worked during the tenure of Archbishop Rowan Williams, said staff had tried to shield him from knowledge of events. Testifying at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), Lord Williams said there was a mindset in the church that ordained ministers were beyond criticism. This was “definitely a problem” when it came to preventing and dealing with abuse.

Archbishop Justin Welby requested the three weeks of public hearings by the IICSA. This will not be the end of the matter, and more of the church’s dealings will be examined in future hearings. The initial sessions have focused on the Diocese of Chichester, in which a number of pedophile clergy and a former suffragan bishop were eventually jailed. The Rt. Rev. Peter Ball, former Bishop of Lewes, was jailed for sexual assault.

The Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, made public accusations the against the much-revered Bishop George Bell. He told the IICSA that he was shocked when he gradually became aware of attitudes and procedures in the south coast diocese. He found a culture of “pride and arrogance” that stood in the way of adequate safeguarding.

The Rt. Rev. George Carey, in a written statement to the IICSA, said he had not been aware of abuse in Chichester during his years in as Archbishop of Canterbury (1991 to 2002). There are questions about his later handling of the case of Bishop Peter Ball.

The IICSA has heard from survivors, and their testimony has drawn apologies from bishops in attendance. The Rt. Rev. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Hertford, told the IICSA he believed responsibility for safeguarding should be taken from the church and made the remit of an independent body.

John Martin

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