Friday, 8 June 2018

Abuse survivors respond to safeguarding liturgy resources

We linked previously to the resources published by the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England, Towards a Safer Church.

Today the Church Times has a news report: Survivors of clerical abuse object to C of E safeguarding liturgy guide.

SURVIVORS of clerical sex abuse have criticised the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England, saying that the safeguarding liturgy guide that it published last week had not been informed or approved by survivors, as had been claimed (News, 1 June).

The liturgy guide, Towards a Safer Church: Some liturgical resources, states that, while most of the Bible readings, prayers, hymns, and set liturgy were already in general use, the texts had been supplemented by new material, including prayers suggested by survivors.

An accompanying blog written by the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, said that the content had been “chosen in consultation with survivors”…

The article then refers to a letter, which can - and should - be read in full here, from eight survivors (scroll down to fourth item).

Sir, — We are survivors of physical and sexual abuse by office-holders in the Church. Our abusers include bishops, a dean, an archdeacon, several parish clergy, and at least one Reader. We are just a few of the scores of victim survivors who are forced to struggle for justice against the deaf and intransigent hierarchy of the Church.

Last week, one more example was added. The Liturgical Commission published a set of resources (“Safeguarding liturgy for survivors is published”, News, 31 May), which, it said, had been “chosen in consultation with survivors”. This was not true, as the compilers presumably knew.

One of our number, Graham Wilmer, who reviewed the collection, is very unhappy that his comments about it have been taken out of context and used without his permission in the launch material. No other survivors appear to have been consulted. MACSAS, the organisation for Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, was not approached; nor was the collection seen or approved by those survivors who sit on the National Safeguarding Panel — the only national Church of England body with representative victims of abuse…

In the news report, the Bishop of Hereford, vice-chair of the Liturgical Commission, responds:

…“We apologise if survivors on the National Safeguarding Panel feel that they were not adequately consulted,” he said.

“The resources were referenced at the April meeting, and one survivor representative on the group — along with survivors from other parts of Church life — had been consulted in depth, and he commended them at that meeting.

“Our prayer is that they will be used by all those involved in safeguarding as part of our commitment to make our churches a safer place for all. As a commission, we are committed to reviewing and supplementing these resources as their use becomes more widespread.”

One of the survivors, Janet Fife has written two articles at Surviving Church which analyse the perceived failings of these resources in much more detail.

‘Towards a Safer Church’ Part 1 by Janet Fife

Towards a Safer Church A Critique Part 2 by Janet Fife

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 8 June 2018 at 7:02am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

The "one size fits all" assumption is quite shocking - maybe not that surprising. The sections of liturgy quoted here seem far to up front and very insensitive, as a survivor of abuse I would feel uncomfortable with them. The church would do much better if it were to address the language it uses around guilt and shame. There should also be a lot more teaching and raising awareness of the often destructive effects of placing the need to forgive at the centre of counselling and pastoral work with those abused. Instead the emphasis should be on healing and, within that, permission to express emotions such as anger at the abuse, its consequences and the lack of justice. I was at a church once where the child protection officer told me she had never met anyone who was abused and felt it must be very rare. I don't think churches are generally very good at dealing with issues like abuse, sex, relationship, emotions, honesty... It's quite a list. I don't attend any more, so not such an issue for me now, but from the sidelines, I'm sometimes still astonished at the snail's pace of change.

Posted by: Sue on Friday, 8 June 2018 at 8:49pm BST

One issue, among many others, is entitling anything that is designed for use with survivors a "liturgy of penitence". Too many survivors have been manipulated into feeling that it is their fault and they are bad and guilty. The penitence must be from abusers and from the church which for too long has been blind to the needs of survivors.
Even if we don't mean to the message can be reinforced, subtly or not so subtly and continue the abusive cycle. Lament yes but don't even look as if we are calling the survivor to repent of anything

Posted by: Priscilla White on Saturday, 9 June 2018 at 9:52am BST

The Chair of the Liturgical Commission, Bishop Robert Atwell and the Vice-chair, Bishop Richard Frith have confirmed that neither of them was aware of the nature of the claimed involvement of abuse victims in the collation of the material. By Friday, both bishops had still not been appraised of who might have been consulted, or when or how. When they repeat the assertion that survivors were involved, they are relying on what they have been told by the National Safeguarding Team. Bishop Richard further admits that the “apology” that appears in his name and was carried in the Church Times was also written for him by the NST.

The process was entirely (mis)managed by the National Safeguarding Team. It is fair to say that a great many victims don’t trust the NST, and find it hard to take them at their word when the insist they are telling the truth about the way the material was collated.

One wonders how long the House of Bishops will want to go on staking their own reputation, not to mention the welfare of abuse victims, on the dysfunctional NST.

Posted by: Andrew Graystone on Saturday, 9 June 2018 at 7:26pm BST

I have now had a response from the Bishop of Exeter, Robert Atwell. Bp Robert chairs the Liturgical Commission and wrote the introduction to 'Towards a Safer Church'.

'The resources that have recently been published were two years in gestation and have been collated from various sources, including the Methodist Church. As a matter of policy, where existing material is published under copyright, the Commission first obtains permission to use it and acknowledges this in its sources. Apart from that, in order to give its publications a high degree of coherence, it does not normally acknowledge or source the contributions of individuals, including members of the Commission.

We were grateful for the input of survivors in collating this material and for helping the Commission to 'get the tone right' as best we could. You will appreciate just what a sensitive area this is. The National Safeguarding Team helped facilitate their engagement. Throughout the process I did not know (and still don't know) the names or backgrounds of those consulted in order to protect their identity. '

I will be responding to Bp. Robert. However, I will note here that I did not ask for the names of people who contributed material to the resources; I asked instead which material was contributed or chosen by survivors. So far that question has not been answered. Surely the Liturgical Commission must have that information? If they haven't, they weren't in a position to claim that survivors had contributed.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Sunday, 10 June 2018 at 10:39am BST

I saw the resources before publication and offered comments. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I am not prepared to say any more because I do not wish to disclose my identity.

Posted by: Sarah on Sunday, 10 June 2018 at 6:19pm BST

Dear Sarah. I am deeply sorry to hear that you have been a victim of sexual abuse. Whether recent or long ago it is a terrible experience that should not have happened to you. I hope that you have people who can offer you support and friendship.

There are other survivors and supporters who would gladly offer you support, and you do not need to reveal your identity. If you would like to be put in touch, please make contact with me via Alternatively you could visit the MACSAS website (for survivors of abuse by ministers and clergy) or ask your GP to refer you to an organisation that will help. In any case, please don’t carry this alone.

Posted by: Andrew Graystone on Monday, 11 June 2018 at 7:57am BST

Thank you for your concern, Andrew, but I am not carrying this alone and have a good deal of support, including from the Church.

My post wasn’t about me, it was to say that to my certain knowledge at least one survivor - me - read and commented on the resources before publication. I wanted to set the record straight as there seemed to be a growing consensus that the bishops were lying about having consulted survivors before publishing these resources.

Posted by: Sarah on Monday, 11 June 2018 at 8:54am BST

This is a classic example of the National Safeguarding Team tail wagging the Liturgical Commission Dog. While the NST is chasing around, trying to justify its existence and 'do something' to counter the growing reputational damage being sustained by the C of E, it creates yet another shambles.

Previous comments on TA have called for Graham Tilby to go. This, surely, is another reason why he should.

Posted by: Mike Nolan on Monday, 11 June 2018 at 11:53am BST

Sarah, I'm glad you had a chance to look at and comment. on Towards a Safer Church before publication.

However I would have expected there to be a very wide consultation on such a sensitive subject as this, and it remains a concern that neither MACSAS nor the 2 of the 3 survivors on the NST were consulted. The one who was consulted thought complains that he was quoted out of context and without his permission.

A number of survivors have contacted me to say they are not happy with the resources. We could have done much better than this, and it's a shame the opportunity was missed.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Monday, 11 June 2018 at 4:17pm BST
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