LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A British group fighting sexual abuse has been called a symbol of hope by Pope Francis.
Antonia Sobocki, from Cumbria in North England, leads the LOUDFence movement and recently returned from Rome.
She founded the anti-abuse group after the Anglican Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcomb, wrote a character reference for a former cleric who admitted to abusing two schoolgirls. The bishop later withdrew the reference and apologized for what he called an error of judgement.
“It caused a lot of upset and this came out in the same week as the final report in the Church of England into the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse,” said Sobocki, according to ITV.
“That hit the community here, who are very warm, caring people, very hard. I think they they needed a voice, they needed a way of being able to communicate how they felt about it. They really just wanted to be able to say, not in my name, really. That’s not us. This is not the Church of England,” she said.
The organization says it LOUDfence is a visible display of support and solidarity with those affected by abuse. The ribbons tied to each fence represent the voices of those who wish to speak out in support and defense of those affected by abuse.
“We want all survivors and victims of abuse to know that we believe you, we will hear and support you and we will do all we can to prevent this happening again. People are invited to join in by tying a ribbon, pausing to reflect, offering a prayer and making a resolution in solidarity with survivors,” said Sobocki, who founded LOUDfence in 2020.
“My children would nickname it medieval Facebook. But the idea that you could tie a physical symbol to something and someone else you don’t know would be able to come along and see that symbol and that would be a source of comfort and send a message to them,” she said.
Rev. Canon Doctor Benjamin Carter said it was “absolutely crucial” to everything done by the Church to safeguard all the people in its care and vital to engage with those who have been affected by abuse.
“In whatever way, whether that’s in a church setting or in the world around them and show something of God’s love and compassion for them. Something of our deep sorrow for the times that the church has failed people in our care and to find ways that we can stand with, in solidarity with, and celebrate the courage of those who’ve been affected by peace in whatever way,” he said.
LOUDFence says it believes that survivors are experts in their own healing and as such their stories and perspectives need inform policy and practice in response to abuse, trauma and violence. The organization says it helps victims feel the empowerment of being heard, and enables things to be better for those that come after them.
“My experience of the church is golden,” Sobocki added.
“It’s beautiful, and I’ve always clung to it. So when I found out about what happened in church, that really hit me hard, you know, that felt like a terrible, terrible betrayal, caused a lot of grief for me. And I basically got to the point where I thought, if the church can do this to me, if it can love include and care for me, then I absolutely know it can do that for other people,” she said.
“Pope Francis was very kind, very supportive, and he thanked me for the project here, and he said it’s a symbol of hope. For the whole church and take it everywhere,” Sobocki said.