Sex Abuse and the Correct Response

You can’t have failed to have noticed today that a former choirmaster was jailed today for sexual abuse on choirboys decades ago, but which the church “swept under the carpet”. The abuse happened between 1985 and 1990, but despite some in Guildford Diocese knowing about it, they didn’t report it to the police. The Church of England had this to say:

“The Church of England is committed to the safeguarding, care and nurture of the children within our church community. “We carefully select and train ordained and lay ministers; volunteers and paid workers with children and young people using the Criminal Records Bureau, amongst other tools, to check the background of each person. “We respond without delay to every complaint made, that a child or young person for whom we are responsible may have been harmed, and fully co-operate with statutory agencies during any investigation they make into allegations concerning a member of the church community.”

I think that’s pretty fair, and we’ve come a long way in 20 years. If we were in the place of the Roman church which had systematically covered up child sex abuse for years and years then we would have a problem. But this seems to be a very unfortunate single instance where the longing to extend grace was compounded by the parents of at least one of the victims not wanting to put their child through the rigours of a court case.

And while it does seem that the Diocese of Guildford ultimately mucked up in this case, today things are very different. All of us in ministry know (or at least SHOULD know) the law that now tells us that we need to disclose any allegation or suspicion of abuse to the correct authorities. In my church, and in principle across the whole Diocese of St Albans, anybody involved in youth or children’s work MUST have a CRB check before they begin. No CRB check, no children’s work. This unfortunate incident should not happen today in today’s Church of England and if it were to it would demonstrate that the people involved in not disclosing the abuse to the authorities were not just acting incorrectly out of a concern to “do the right thing by all” but rather because they were deliberately, knowingly and illegally concealing the truth.

And please let’s not get on the “evil nasty hypocritical church” bandwagon either. Just because one church mucks up in it’s child protection does not mean that the rest of us are guilty by association. When a nurse kills a patient do we immediately accuse all other nurses of being evil? When a teacher hits a child do we immediately accuse all other teachers of being violent? There are thousands of clergy, youth workers, choir leaders and others getting on with their jobs this morning who will have been as shocked and horrified as you were by this story. Don’t demean the great work they’re doing and the care they take to protect those in their charge by suggesting that this is a fundamental problem in the church OR that it demonstrates widespread hypocrisy. It doesn’t.

I’ve worked with a number of people who have been affected by sexual abuse in one way or the other. In all cases the bringing into the light of the abuse and then coming to the cross to find healing has been the path to wholeness. The church today, despite some within it who might want to (intentionally or unintentionally) diminish the power of the cross, is much better at not only dealing with sexual abuse when it happens but also pastorally with the aftermath. The news today should be a reminder to everyone that sexual abuse is serious and it needs to be dealt with immediately for the good of all. The days of moving people on and sweeping under the carpet have gone.

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