Church of England parishes are encouraged to promote a safeguarding hotline number because abuse by priests is so widespread, says an independent report by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
Another key recommendation is that the church’s 42 dioceses should no longer carry out safeguarding. Instead there should be a central national safeguarding service run by more experienced professionals. The church insists that local bishops should remain in charge of safeguarding.
One suggestion was for the church to adopt a public target for zero abuse, as now happens with building sites that must report how many days have passed since an accident.
The report was prepared at the invitation of the C of E after repeated failures by the church.
It paints a damning picture of how the church has dealt with the problem. Just 11 of 60 respondents said they received a meaningful response within a year of complaints.
More than half said the timeliness and quality of responses were unsatisfactory. Twenty said they received no response.
Stories of abuse emerging from the report suggest how dysfunctional the church had been in dealing with abuse claims and victims. One vicar said his bishop turned on him after he reported abuse by an older cleric.
A bishop who was not named in the report but who took no action against an alleged abusing priest told the victim, “The scent of failure will follow you throughout your ministry.” Another victim was told to attend prayer ministry to “be healed of my problem with men.”
A church statement said the report made “very difficult reading” and added: “The church acknowledges that victims and survivors of church-related abuse have not received a consistently good response from the church, and this can lead to being retraumatized.”
“It is essential that victims have confidence anyone coming forward to disclose abuse to the church is treated with compassion, offered support, and their concerns and allegations are taken seriously,” said Bishop Peter Hancock of Bath and Wells, who heads the church’s safeguarding work.
He said “significant changes” will be needed before survivors will find this level of confidence in the church.
The Church of England plans to work with the Catholic Church in England Wales on this shared crisis. Plans include online counseling for abuse victims and an independent ombudsman to hear allegations of cases being mishandled by church leaders.