Shock news: surprise twist in Church of England move to independence in safeguarding

The outline agenda for the July group of sessions of the General Synod in York contains a shock announcement about plans for the Church of England to move towards independence in safeguarding.

Regular readers will know that last June, the Archbishops’ Council called a halt to its so-called “Independent” Safeguarding Board as they didn’t like the board’s members acting independently and holding the Archbishops’ Council to account.

In response to criticism of the way the Archbishops’ Council acted, they established two reviews, and set the terms of reference.

The Wilkinson Report laid blame for the failure of the Independent Safeguarding Board firmly in the hands of the Archbishops’ Council (and its Secretary General, William Nye). It didn’t say so explicitly – its terms of reference didn’t allow for this – but the blame is there to see if you read the forensic timeline of what happened.

The Jay Report looked at how independent safeguarding could be delivered. Some members of the Archbishops’ Council complain that Professor Jay didn’t look at options other than independent delivery of safeguarding. But Professor Jay did what she was asked – by the  Archbishops’ Council.

When the Synod met in February, the Archbishops’ Council mounted a full-on assault on those members of Synod calling for the Jay report to be implemented. And they won. Instead, two review groups were established to decide what to do next. Which is odd – because Professor Jay was tasked with deciding what to do next.

In February, the Synod thanked Sarah Wilkinson and Alexis Jay for their work and requested “that the process set out in . . . GS 2336 for forming a response to, and considering any necessary implementation of, their recommendations be pursued as a matter of priority.”

Which brings us to the surprising twist in the outline agenda for the July meeting of Synod: On Monday 8 July Synod members will receive an “Update on Safeguarding Independence”.

“I am truly shocked and surprised that we are getting an update instead of firm progress on delivery”, said nobody.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in February that the Church of England should act ‘as fast as is wise’ and the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, Dr Joanne Grenfell of Stepney, described the work as ‘urgent’, so it is a complete surprise that nothing concrete is coming back to Synod in July”, nobody added.

The Archbishops’ Council keep saying it wants to restore the trust of victims and survivors. This is not how to do it.

Professor Jay has delivered a report setting out what should happen next and she included with it detailed legal advice about her recommendations. So why won’t the Archbishops’ Council just get on with it?

Oh, and by the way, in case you’re wondering, the Archbishops’ Council has spent in the region of £1.5 million on responding to its own crass and cack-handed decision to disband its Independent Safeguarding Board. And that figure will only rise as “working groups” continue to talk, talk, talk while the Church refuses to act, act, act.

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