NSS urges Charity Commission to investigate CofE safeguarding

Posted: Thu, 29th Jun 2023

NSS letter comes amid mounting criticism of the decision to sack the Independent Safeguarding Board

NSS urges Charity Commission to investigate CofE safeguarding

The National Secular Society has urged the charity regulator to investigate safeguarding practices in the Church of England.

The NSS wrote to the chief executive of the Charity Commission after the Archbishops' Council sacked the independent body scrutinising the Church's record on safeguarding last week. The Archbishops' Council is one of the seven bodies that promote the mission of the Church and is a registered charity.

Government guidance for charity trustees states protecting people and safeguarding responsibilities "should be a governance priority for all charities".

It adds that trustees "must take reasonable steps to protect from harm people who come into contact with your charity."

The Archbishops' Council actions are potentially in breach of the guidance, and therefore the Commission must hold its trustees to account, the NSS said.

The letter comes amid mounting criticism of the decision to sack the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) from within the Church of England itself.

The Church's deputy head of safeguarding, bishop of Birkenhead Julie Conalty, said the decision to sack the ISB makes the Church "less safe". This sentiment has been echoed by Jane Chevous of the Church's National Safeguarding Panel, who said "external intervention" from the Charity Commission is now required, adding it is "dangerous to trust the Church".

Members of the Church's General Synod and survivors of clerical abuse wrote to the Chair of the Charity Commission last year requesting an independent review of the Church's safeguarding practices.

The Archbishops' Council has claimed the sacking was a result of working relations with the ISB "breaking down". But former members of the ISB have disputed this account, with one, Jasvinder Sanghera, calling it "a lie".

The sacked ISB members have said there was "clear interference" from the Church with their work. They said the Church treated them with "hostility", a "lack of transparency" and a "reluctance to provide information". Sanghera said she was told by the Church's National Safeguarding director she was "too survivor focused".

The ISB's first review of how the Church handles abuse found "significant consequences of the lack of strategic oversight and management of the response to survivors with chronic and enduring needs".

The ISB was set up in the wake of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse's finding in 2020 that the Church was a "hiding place for sexual abusers". The inquiry also found the Church prioritised its reputation over the wellbeing of victims and survivors.

Concerns over the Church's safeguarding record have deepened in recent weeks. In May, former archbishop of York John Sentamu was forced to step down from his Church of England role. This followed revelations that he had failed to act when told a priest had raped a teenager. The report also lead to calls from within the Church for the bishop of Oxford to be suspended from the House of Lords.

Numerous allegations of sexual abuse have also arisen in relation to the Anglican festival Soul Survivor. These include founder Mike Pilavachi wrestling young men and giving them massages in their underwear. Over 100 victims have now come forward and the Church is alleged to have known of the abuse for 19 years. The bishop of St Albans said he could not call for an independent investigation into the abuse for fear of "disciplinary action" from church authorities.

NSS: 'Archbishops' Council incapable and unwilling to protect those under its auspices from harm'

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "The Archbishops' Council appears incapable and unwilling to do what is required to protect those under its auspices from harm. We believe the only way forward to protect victims is to set up a safeguarding body entirely free-standing from the Church as a matter of urgency.

"We therefore ask the Charity Commission to intervene to ensure this is achieved speedily and with due regard to victims' and survivors' interests."

Image: Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury (left) and Stephen Cottrell, now archbishop of York. fourthandfifteen, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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