‘Shameful’: Church of England head decries child abuse cover-up

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The Church of England’s spiritual leader said on Wednesday it was disgraceful that the institution had for decades failed to protect children from sexual predators within its ranks and shown lack of care for victims.

From the 1940s to 2018, 390 clergy and people in positions of trust with the Church were convicted of sexual offences against children, an inquiry found this week.

“It’s shameful and disgraceful and reveals exactly what they said – a culture in which there was cover-up and hiding,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the BBC in his first public reaction since the report was published.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found the Church allowed abusers to hide so as to defend its reputation rather than help young people.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby . EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN

“It didn’t come as a surprise,” Welby said, adding that the Church had begun “a journey of change”.

“We have not gone quick enough or far enough yet.”

The Catholic Church has been similarly excoriated for belated action over decades of scandals around the world, though it has paid billions in damages and Pope Francis has urged an “all-out battle” against clerical child abuse.


Welby, who became archbishop in 2013, said he had known abuse was happening because of the case of a former bishop of Gloucester, who in 2015 pleaded guilty to indecent assault.

Peter Ball had suggested to victims that humiliation – including praying naked, masturbation and flagellation – was a teaching of St Francis and would bring closeness to God.

One of Ball’s victims took his own life years later.

“I was shocked by the level, when I came into this job, by the extent to which it was happening,” said Welby, 64.

“We have been poor at dealing with redress and dealing with the victims and the survivors … The whole lack of care in this is shocking.”

Welby said the Church had now overhauled internal systems to deal faster and better with allegations and helping victims.

The archbishop is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion – a global network with 85 million believers. Queen Elizabeth is the supreme governor of the Church of England, a title dating back to Henry VIII’s split with the Pope.

One abuse victim has said Welby should resign.

“I can understand his anger,” the archbishop said.

“I know that since I came into this job, I have worked as hard as I could to move the Church to a different place.”

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