LONDON — The Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual predators for decades, preferring instead to safeguard its own reputation, and created a culture where abusers were able to hide, an independent report said Tuesday.
The report, published by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, also found examples of clergymen being ordained despite a history of child sexual offenses.
The 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.
The report found that, in many cases, the Church of England failed to take the abuse allegations seriously, and that perpetrators were “given more support than victims.”
“Over 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’s chairwoman, Alexis Jay, wrote.
The report said sometimes sexual offenses were minimized. Citing the case of Reverend Ian Hughes, who was convicted in 2014 of downloading 8,000 indecent images of children, the report said that a fellow clergyman, Bishop Peter Foster, suggested to the inquiry that Hughes had been “misled into viewing child pornography” — even though more than 800 of the images were graded at the most serious level of abuse.
The Church of England acknowledged Tuesday that progress has been too slow in supporting abuse victims and survivors, and said it was “completely committed” to improving this.
“The report makes shocking reading and while apologies will never take away the effects of abuse on victims and survivors, we today want to express our shame about the events that have made those apologies necessary,” it said in a statement. “The whole Church must learn lessons from this inquiry.”
The church announced last month that it had set up a large compensation fund for survivors of past abuse by members of the clergy.
The report came after the inquiry held several public hearings in 2018 and 2019. The inquiry last year published a linked report focusing on disgraced bishop Peter Ball, who was imprisoned in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 young men over three decades.