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Archbishop "shocked at the level" of church child sex abuse, years before inquiry

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The Archbishop of Canterbury says the findings of an inquiry into child sexual abuse within the Church of England are “shameful and disgraceful” but not a surprise as he had known about the level and extent of abuse since taking up the post seven years ago.

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Justin Welby says the report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, released on Tuesday, is “a big wake-up call” and the Anglican Church has been poor at dealing with victims of abuse.

The damning report said the Church put its own reputation above the safety of children and young people, and found examples of clergymen being ordained despite a history of child sexual offences.

Welby told BBC Radio 4’s Today program the revelation of a culture in which such abuses had been covered up was “deeply shaming” but not a surprise.

“It’s shameful and disgraceful and reveals exactly what they said, a culture in which there was cover-up and hiding, and it is deeply shaming,” he said.

“It wasn’t a surprise because I’ve lived with that for the seven and a half years I’ve been in this post.

“I was shocked at the level when I came into this job (and) the extent to which it was happening.”

The IICSA inquiry heard that from the 1940s to 2018, 390 people who were either members of the clergy or in positions of trust associated with the Church had been convicted of sexual offences against children.

Inquiry head Professor Alexis Jay said that for “many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome”.

The inquiry found that the  primary concern of many senior clergy was to uphold the Church’s reputation, often declining to report allegations to the appropriate agencies and hindering criminal investigations, allowing some abusers to escape justice.

“If real and lasting changes are to be made, it’s vital that the Church improves the way it responds to allegations from victims and survivors, and provides proper support for those victims over time,” Jay said.

The report recommended that both the Church of England and the Church in Wales should each introduce a Church-wide policy on the funding and provision of support to victims of child sexual abuse concerning clergy.

Welby said he was “not going to contradict” the report on allegations that many abusers had been given more support than their victims.

“The whole system has been broken,” he said.

“The way we deal with this … it needs to move towards, as the report suggests, to move towards a much more independent oversight of safeguarding in which there is responsibility clearly assigned and it is not in the hands of those who are, in a phrase that was used in the report, seeking to mark their own homework.

“I think we have been poor at leading with redress and dealing with the victims and survivors – I don’t dispute that for a moment.”

-with AAP

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