The Church of England (CoE) recently released new safeguarding standards, which create an integrated framework for preventing, identifying, and responding appropriately to abuse. The announcement comes at a time when the Episcopal Church is increasingly abandoning safeguarding efforts, even amidst the push for Title IV accountability for clergy.
The CoE standards comprise five key components:
- Culture, Leadership and Capacity: Church bodies have safe and healthy cultures, effective leadership, resourcing and scrutiny arrangements necessary to deliver high-quality safeguarding practices and outcomes.
- Prevention: Church bodies have in place a planned range of measures which together are effective in preventing abuse in their context.
- Recognising, Assessing and Managing Risk: Risk assessments, safety plans and associated processes are of a high quality and result in positive outcomes. The assessment and management of risk is underpinned by effective partnership working.
- Victims and Survivors: Victims and survivors experience the timeliness and quality of Church bodies’ responses to disclosures, and their subsequent support, as positively meeting their needs, including their search for justice and helping their healing process.
- Learning, Supervision and Support: All those engaged in safeguarding-related activity in Church bodies receive the type and level of learning, professional development, support and supervision necessary to respond to safeguarding situations, victims and survivors, and respondents, effectively.
Anglican Watch, with a few minor quibbles, welcomes and endorses the CoE standards. Specifically, we note that the standards:
- Form a coherent framework.
- Address all aspects of abuse, not just sexual misconduct.
- Recognize that a healthy culture prevents abuse, while unhealthy cultures often become abusive.
- Take a victim-focused perspective.
- Address resourcing.
Indeed, our only quibble at this point is that the standards overstate the experience of clergy when they talk about the “traumatic” nature of ministry. Yes, ministry inevitably has its traumatic moments, but our take on it is that anyone who finds ministry generally traumatic is probably in the wrong line of work.
The CoE standards are in marked contrast to the Episcopal Church.
Defunding safeguarding in the American church
Here in the United States, many dioceses have defunded safeguarding efforts entirely, including the Diocese of Virginia.
Meanwhile, dioceses increasingly turn to the online Praesidium courses, which are good but relatively thin. Indeed, our reaction to the online courses is they seem to have been done by committee and to have focused on lowest-common-denominator content in an effort to avoid offending anyone.
In doing so, dioceses overlook the reality, which is that online training is for low-level messaging.
Because it’s far too easy to do conference calls, watch TV, or do other tasks while online content rolls in the background.
Indeed, walk around the offices of corporate America, and we will see countless people ostensibly taking their online ethics refresher training, with the audio off, as they take care of more pressing matters.
Lack of structured framework leads to haphazard outcomes in the Episcopal Church
In addition, the lack of a structured framework is one of the reasons clergy disciplinary outcomes in the United States are so random. Dioceses are allowed to implement the already vague strictures of Title IV according to their whims, resulting in outcomes that are often ludicrously inconsistent.
Further, while the bar for intake in a Title IV case is low to adjust for the power imbalances between clergy and laity, once a complainant is in the process, it quickly becomes evident that the process does not favor victims.
Not only do most judicatories treat anything outside sexual abuse as a non-starter, but clergy are often taken at face value when they deny everything, pull a DARVO and claim to be a victim, and otherwise abuse their role within the church.
Playing into this is the amorphous “pastoral response” option for Title IV reference panels. Not only is this often misunderstood as referencing pastoral care (although this may be part of a more significant response), this provision is often used to sandbag complaints without any effort made to care for those involved. Dioceses that abuse the pastoral response provision include:
- New York
- Virginia (historically the case, although this appears to be changing)
Even in areas where the requirement of a pastoral response is taken seriously, few dioceses follow best practices of identifying resources in advance to comprise a pastoral response team as envisioned by the canons. Such a team might include:
- Mental health professionals
- Experts in domestic violence
- Housing resources
- Financial resources
Even large dioceses have failed to adopt the model policies
Another critical issue in the American church is that many dioceses still have not adopted the model policies, as they were required to do more than six years ago.
This is true in many dioceses, including Virginia, and efforts to encourage dioceses to adopt the policies typically are brushed aside, as people assume that current policies are compliant.
Moreover, the failure of the national church to implement the audit requirements of the model policies exacerbates the situation. By taking this approach, the national church removes a powerful incentive for dioceses to become compliant.
Of course, this also leaves members wondering why the dioceses send so much money to the national church when people in the pews see nothing in return. In other words, these failures to act suggest a feckless, disorganized, and costly national church that’s too busy holding meetings and generating mountains of paper to do the hard work of leadership.
Lack of victim input
We also note that while victims rightly excoriate the CoE for its wretched response to victims of abuse, it’s still doing better than the American church.
Primary among these issues is the lack of victim input into American safeguarding efforts. Not only are there dozens of current and former Episcopalians in every diocese willing to share their negative experiences with the denomination, but our experience is that many can identify safeguarding challenges that are all but invisible to judicatories and other insiders.
Thus, both dioceses and the national church lose access to a valuable resource by failing to invite regular feedback from former members or those hurt by the church.
Focus on enforcement versus culture
In all of this, the American church has one flaw that is proving fatal to its safeguarding efforts. That flaw is that implementation and enforcement are almost entirely limited to Title IV.
A healthier approach would be a systems-based one in which dioceses actively promote healthy church environments at both the parish and diocesan levels.
Specifically, a healthy church culture welcomes feedback and criticism and honors whistleblowers.
On the other hand, toxic dioceses and churches punish whistleblowers, try to force them out of the church and treat victims as problems versus opportunities.
Such churches typically resort to, “Well, we’ve always done it that way, and there’s never been an issue,” without evaluating whether a particular approach actually works.
That begs the question: How many dioceses intentionally develop a plan to establish a healthy culture? One in which all persons are welcome, where it’s okay to have difficult conversations, and where people don’t cling desperately to the past?
Anglican Watch only knows of one diocese that has done this, and it wound up the project a long time ago versus treating it as an ongoing effort.
Moreover, done correctly, such an effort would actually reduce Title IV cases.
As things stand, Title IV is the profoundly flawed pressure valve in a more extensive, often dysfunctional system. With no means to address issues before they become significant problems and a lack of awareness of intra-parish issues on the part of the episcopacy, otherwise innocuous problems often fester for decades before they are resolved–if ever.
Lack of focus on quality/capacity
We also note that the CoE policies discuss the capacity to deliver quality safeguarding systems.
This approach stands in marked contrast to the American church, where dioceses make no effort to develop capacity or quality.
Indeed, with funding zeroed out in many dioceses and safeguarding confined to the thin online offerings of the national church, safeguarding is often treated as an afterthought.
As such, we also see considerable gaps in the ability of American dioceses to safeguard. These gaps include an inability to address domestic violence with clergy families, a lack of resources to address problems outside of clergy behavioral issues, and a profound difficulty in addressing impaired clergy.
In addition to reviewing the new CoE safeguarding policies for context, understanding, and lessons learned, Anglican Watch recommends the following steps to improve safeguarding within the Episcopal Church:
- adopting and implementing the GC 79 model policies by all dioceses.
- Implementing the audit provisions of the GC79 model policies by all dioceses.
- Funding by all dioceses for the compliance provisions of the GC79 model policies, including production of the requisite signage and implementation of the Train the Trainers program.
- Creating an advisory committee in every diocese, to include persons no longer affiliated with the church, to identify, recommend, and draft safe church policies within every diocese.
- Adopting written anti-bullying policies in every diocese.
- Developing national programs within the safe church initiative, including efforts to identify and establish healthy church communities.
- Developing healthy church training for the House of Bishops, integrated into safe church offerings.
- Developing written guidelines from the national church and diocesan offices establishing healthy church standards. Such standards include transparency, accountability, compassion, accountability and inclusion.
- Encouraging all bishops to explicitly state that healthy churches are a goal in every diocese. This goal includes spiritual health, financial health, emotional health, and healthy family systems.