Creation of safe communities is a core part of the Church’s global mission, say bishops
Bishops at the Lambeth Conference agreed to take forward a Lambeth Call on Safe Church and recommitted to making the safety of all people in the provinces of the Anglican Communion a priority of their focus. They made this public commitment following a plenary session on Safe Church, which included a presentation from a survivor and interviews with the Archbishops of Canterbury and Cape Town.
Abuse survivor Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, who has given evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), gave a powerful video testimony in which she spoke of the trauma of the church-related abuse she suffered as a child and subsequent abuse as a young woman and adult. Issuing a challenge to bishops across the globe she said that in order to be relevant to the next generation they must clear up the past, give a clear apology and ensure protections are in place that will ensure that the Church of the future will have no place for abuse.
During a follow up interview Mandy Marshall, the Anglican Communion’s Director for Gender, asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba (Southern Africa Province), what effect dealing with Safe Church issues has had on them.
Archbishop Justin spoke about the impact of abuse on survivors and said that the biggest challenge of his ministry had been to try and get the institution of the Church to be serious about it and never to cover up. Talking in the context of countries where there is much persecution and violence, he stressed that the issue of misuse of power is fundamental. He said that he always took those who disclosed very seriously, and that it is vital that all clergy know how to report concerns appropriately. He stressed the importance of the verse from 1 John: 1:8 “If we say we have no sin we lie, and the truth is not in us.”
Archbishop Thabo said he had found Ann-Marie’s video message very moving and apologised for the sins of former priests. He described the understandable anger of victims with the Church and its leaders and said how important it was to deal with people in a pastoral way – which can be especially difficult if cases are played out in the public domain. But, he said, it was important that Safe Church in South Africa is now carried out independently.
Chair of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission, Garth Blake, outlined the development of work on safeguarding in the Communion, noting the establishment of a Charter by the Anglican Consultative Council, followed by the establishment of the Safe Church Commission in 2016 and the publication in 2019 of Safe Church guidelines.
As part of the Call, the bishops committed to intentionally sharing safeguarding information about clergy between Churches of the Anglican Communion to improve safety and standards around the Communion. They also committed to adopting the Communion-wide Charter for the Safety of People (see above).
The Call also speaks of the creation of communities in which all people are safe and cared for as a key part of the Church’s mission and commits to action that will make churches of the Anglican Communion places of enhanced safety for everyone. Provinces of the Communion, through their representatives, will regularly report their progress on fulfilling their responsibility to protect all people in their care.
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