Justin Welby: sexual abusers can never be trusted again

Archbishop of Canterbury tells inquiry even those who repent should not get second chance

People who sexually abuse children or vulnerable adults can never be trusted again even if they genuinely repent, the archbishop of Canterbury has told the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

“We know abusive behaviour tends to repeat. If someone has been an abuser, they can never be trusted again. You will never take a chance on them again,” Justin Welby said.

The Bible was “utterly, brutally blunt about the difference between forgiveness and the consequences of sin. Where there is something done wrong, there will be consequences,” he said.

“If you have abused and repent genuinely, you should still go to prison,” he added.

Welby was giving evidence on the last day of witness testimony in three weeks of hearings into sexual abuse in the Church of England, focusing on the diocese of Chichester in West Sussex.

Speaking on the fifth anniversary of his installation as archbishop, and amid bouts of sustained coughing due to a heavy cold, Welby said cultural change was the biggest challenge facing the church with regard to abuse.

“We have to get to the point where if anything is seen that is untoward, people say this isn’t right and I’m going to do something about it.” The church was in the process of training about 30,000 parish safeguarding officers, he said. “It’s at parish level that we will change everything.”

But he also stressed it was compulsory for bishops to undergo training, and that he had said he would not consecrate anyone as a bishop who had not been trained in safeguarding issues.

Welby said he was challenging a culture of “clericalism”, in which excessive deference was shown to senior church figures, which he described as “insanity”.

Bishops and archbishops were now subject to performance reviews, he said. Welby disclosed that he was in the midst of such a review, in which 43 colleagues had been invited to comment on his performance.

He also said psychosocial or psychometric assessments should be deployed when selecting people for ordination: “If it can be demonstrated that [such tests] will be helpful in identifying pathologies that are likely to lead to behaviours, then it is worth doing.”

Abuse of power lay at the heart of sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse, “and that’s what you want to pick up on”, he said.

The C of E was spending about £7m a year on safeguarding but needed to ensure it was spent wisely, Welby said. He acknowledged that the church’s data on abuse was not good enough.

The archbishop defended the decision to make public an allegation of abuse against George Bell, the former bishop of Chichester who died in 1958, and who had been considered a hero within the church.

“The greatest tragedy of all these cases is that people have trusted those who were titanic figures and then found they were not worthy of that trust,” he said. “Survivors must be treated as if of equal value as the person being accused of abuse.”

Bishop George Bell
Welby defended his decision to make public an allegation of abuse against Bishop George Bell, pictured. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Asked by Fiona Scolding QC, the lead counsel to the inquiry, if gender imbalance in church leadership had been a factor in abuse and cover-up, Welby said: “The facts on the ground are changing quite rapidly, but the culture is lagging.”

He said that since the C of E had permitted female bishops in 2014, just over half of appointments made had been women, but it was clear from social media “there is still a level of misogyny. There is a very large scale imbalance still.”

Asked what he had learned from the past three weeks of hearings, Welby said: “I have learned to be ashamed again of the church. You can’t read the transcripts and evidence statements without being moved.”

The church did “wonderful, extraordinary things” in the country, he said. “The most stressful job is to be a good parish priest and that a small minority have betrayed that is horrifying.”

Earlier in the hearings, which are taking place at the Pocock Street tribunal hearing centre in London, the former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey denied any recollection of abuse allegations relating to the diocese of Chichester during his tenure.

Carey, who was archbishop from 1991 to 2002, was asked to resign as an honorary assistant bishop by Welby last year after an independent report said senior figures in the C of E colluded over a 20-year period with the disgraced former bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, who was jailed for sexual abuse in 2015.

In a two-paragraph witness statement submitted to the inquiry, read out last Friday, Carey said: “I have no present recollection of being made aware of difficulties in the diocese of Chichester relating to safeguarding and responding to child sexual abuse while I was archbishop of Canterbury.”

He added it was “quite possible” that correspondence sent to Lambeth Palace had not reached him.


Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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