No one particularly likes having to say sorry, or apologise. When such an apology has to be public on behalf of the Church of England for past mistakes relating to priests who abused children it becomes very uncomfortable. But this had to be done. Safeguarding in the Church of England has been carried out jointly with the Methodist Church for the last few years; we share a national officer and through a liaison group seek to ensure that best practices are followed. I co-chair this group. So when the two reports by Roger Meekings and Lady Butler-Sloss into specific matters in Chichester Diocese revealed serious failures in the selection and ordination of a priest in the late 1960s and his subsequent ministry in more than one diocese then an apology from the national church was necessary. Revd Roy Cotton (deceased) should never have been ordained, and once ordained should not have been allowed close access to children and young people. Revd Colin Pritchard who collaborated with Cotton in abusing boys has served a term in prison for his crimes; in his case too the church failed to heed warnings soon enough.
Official reports are one thing, listening to the story of those who have survived the abuse is quite another. I have wept over stories I have heard. I have felt physically sick at the thought that anyone, but particularly priests, should do such things to vulnerable, innocent children.
I am confident that the processes we have had in place since the mid 1990s mean that anyone with a past offence like Cotton would be very unlikely to make it to ordination in recent years. But the church has to remain vigilant. For many reasons churches can be vulnerable to being targeted by paedophiles (and indeed those wishing to harm vulnerable adults). Our safeguarding procedures have to be robust.
We are also concerned to respond better than we have done previously to those who have survived being abused by clergy (or indeed lay leaders). Last year we published the first policy on supporting survivors. It is called ‘Responding Well’. Every diocese is now engaged in working through putting this policy into practice. There is no doubt that alongside robust safeguarding practices the church must respond well to those who have been abused, and have survived such horrendous mistreatment from those whom they should have been able to trust.
This piece appearred first in Nottingham Post 6/3/11