The most recent figures for 2016 show that dioceses were dealing with 3,300 “concerns or allegations”, the vast majority related to “children, young people and vulnerable adults within church communities”.
About a fifth of the reports were made against clergy and other church officials, with the rest relating to other members of the congregation who perform unofficial roles or volunteer within the church. The 3,300 figure related to both open cases and those newly reported that year. It is not known how many involved active claims against the church for compensation.
The figures were revealed by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Rev Peter Hancock, who is the church’s lead bishop on safeguarding issues. He issued the figures in response to a written question from Kat Alldread, a lay member of the church’s General Synod, which starts its three-day meeting today.
The bishop said that in 2016 alone 338 risk assessments were carried out by the church’s dioceses, of which 19 per cent were carried out on priests. In the same year, 867 “safeguarding agreements” were in place, made when someone is believed to pose a risk to young or vulnerable people and must agree to be monitored or to restrict their interaction with possible victims of abuse.
Of these 867 agreements, 682 related to known sex offenders.
Bishop Hancock was also asked whether it was right for the church to refer to those who made abuse allegations as “victims” or “survivors” instead of “complainants”.
He replied that church guidance stated that the terms were used without making any judgment about the veracity of the allegations and explains: “This guidance will use the terms ‘victims/survivor’ and ‘respondent’ without presupposing the accuracy of the complaint. These should be regarded as neutral terms that do not imply the innocence or guilt of either party.”
The church commissioned Lord Carlile of Berriew to conduct an independent investigation into the church’s handling of abuse allegations made against George Bell, the revered former bishop who was posthumously accused of abusing a child. The report criticised the church for “rushing to judgment” in declaring that he was likely to have committed the abuse and paying out compensation of almost £17,000 to his alleged victim, who is now in her 70s.
Bishop Hancock revealed that the review cost the church £38,000 in addition to any costs incurred by dioceses that were asked to provide information.
He also said that bishops would look at ways to “strengthen independent oversight” of the church’s safeguarding practices.
The bishop said that there were no plans to change church laws that state that general complaints against clergy must be made within a year of the alleged incident for them to be dealt with under Clergy Discipline Measure but he said that this one-year limit had been removed in cases of alleged sexual misconduct towards children or vulnerable adults.