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Today Programme: Child Protection

Friday 25th May 2007

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme about how the Church of England has responded to recent high-profile cases of child abuse, and the Church's plans for new guidance for dioceses on reviewing 'historic' cases.

The interview, conducted by John Humphrys was preceded by extracts from interviews conducted with some of the victims of three recently sentenced child abusers, each of whom had held positions of responsibility within the Church.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: ... The Archbishop of Canterbury is with me, Dr Rowan Williams. Archbishop, firstly, your reaction to what you have just heard there?

ARCHBISHOP: It makes very painful listening because of course it is a record of the Church letting people down in various ways over a long period, and some of the weaknesses identified - well, worse that weaknesses, the real errors identified - from the early 90s for example. Those are exactly the kind of things which prompted the drawing up of the current guidelines issued in 1995, which have been reviewed every 5 years since, and are currently being reviewed again.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: So, this is not the Archbishop apologising for the abuse, which of course one would expect, you are apologising for the way in which they were handled, you are acknowledging that errors were made?

ARCHBISHOP: I fully acknowledge that errors were made in the period that is being discussed; certainly before 1995, practice was very variable, very uneven, and often not very competent or well informed about the law or best practice.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: And what are you now doing that you were not doing then?

ARCHBISHOP: We now have - as I said, from 1995 onwards - a very clear policy about this, which involves avoiding some of these very inadequate 'we look after it ourselves' responses. Prompt reporting to police and social services is built into this. That of course is a policy, we've got to make it work.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: It didn't work in the case of Mr Halliday, did it, and that was as recent as 2003?

ARCHBISHOP: What happened in the Halliday case - I won't comment on all the details - but what happened there, I think, was that we were looking at someone who was a volunteer within the Church, not a Church employee, and I think there was...

JOHN HUMPHRYS: None the less...

ARCHBISHOP: ...[Yes], acting intolerably and indefensibly. But what I am saying is that because he was a volunteer there was not quite the same level of check and accountability that there should have been.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: So you acknowledge that there should have been? And that...

ARCHBISHOP: We're looking at precisely that. I am saying that we've got to get this into the bloodstream. While I think the policies are good they need to be constantly reviewed and they need to be challenged and probed by the type of people we've just been hearing from; pointing out where, even now, there can be mistakes. I think in fairness to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, when a case was reported - an allegation was reported in I think 2005 - he responded at once...

JOHN HUMPHRYS: But it was wrong to suggest, wasn't it, that the victim had not made a complaint at the time?

ARCHBISHOP: I don't know the details of that I'm afraid, I only know what was said in court, that a complaint hadn't been made - why that was I don't know, but...

JOHN HUMPHRYS: What about the problem? The point that those three victims raised. And that is that they believe that there should now be a thorough trawl going back through his time- admittedly historic cases - but nevertheless, what we can't be absolutely certain of is that the people involved, the perpetrators of the abuses in those cases, are not still doing things they shouldn't be doing?

ARCHBISHOP: We've had three quite substantial meetings this week during the routine House of Bishops meeting in Leicestershire, which have been looking at precisely what we ought to be doing next. And what we need to do quite clearly - and we've agreed to do it - is to take advice from the Church's Central Safeguarding Liaison Group - which is the sort of chid protection clearing house - on how we should best conduct a review. We don't just want to look good, we want to do it properly, and so we need to have the best professional advice on how we might review these historic cases.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: You will know that the Bishop of Manchester is appointing an independent lawyer to examine the 850 clergy files held by his office to make sure that none of them contain outstanding child protection offices [sic]. You approve of that, I take it?

ARCHBISHOP: Yes, and I think we need now to look at how that pattern of review can be replicated in every diocese and how to do it most professionally and with independent advice.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Right, so that was the question I was going to ask you - is that going to happen throughout the country?

ARCHBISHOP: As I say, we've asked our Group to draw up a method of doing this, which dioceses can implement, we hope in the next few months.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: So we are going to have this trawl. Should there be - they want an independent enquiry into the way the Church has handled this over the last many years. Do you believe that enquiry is called for?

ARCHBISHOP: I hope that if we can get adequate professional independent advice on how we review this, [then] that will meet the needs; but meanwhile we need to remind our own parishes and people of the commitments they have entered into - the fact that every parish has got to have a child protection policy and that it needs to work properly. It's worth mentioning that one diocese has already circulated some material about this, which says: 'Can you imagine yourself responding to a child's abuse allegation in any of these ways: this has been blown out of proportion, we can handle this ourselves', and it's listing all of the ways that we have got it wrong, and could still get it wrong, so that parishes are aware of these dangers.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Because we did have an interview - I did an interview on the programme a few weeks ago with one of your colleagues - and the impression given in that interview was that there was maybe a degree of complacency about it.

ARCHBISHOP: Well, I think the policies we have are good and they are professionally reviewed regularly. It's, as I said earlier, building them into the bloodstream that's the challenge.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: And having independent advice...?

ARCHBISHOP: And having independent advice on this, which I think is entirely proper and right and the Church is committed to doing that.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Archbishop, many thanks.

ARCHBISHOP: Thank you.


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