The Charity Commission has been asked to intervene in the Church of England’s investigations of senior figures embroiled in abuse complaints.
A letter to the commission has complained of the “impaired transparency and intermittent accountability” of the church’s main safeguarding body. Dozens of signatories include survivors, clergy, lawyers, academics and a serving bishop.
They say church leaders have failed to devise a “safe, consistent and fair system of redress to all parties engaged in safeguarding complaints”.
The letter adds: “The continuing flow of cases of injustice leads us to seek early intervention from the Charity Commission. We do this with reluctance, having tried and failed to secure redress through multiple complaints across the structure.”
It highlights the “secretive world” of core groups. These are groups set up by the national safeguarding team, the C of E’s main body that deals with abuse, to investigate complaints and allegations.
According to the letter, core groups “act in ways reminiscent of the Star Chamber, synonymous with the selective use of arbitrary and unaccountable power, concentrating effective control of process in the hands of very few”.
It adds: “There is a regime in which partiality, privilege and reputational management have taken precedence over due process and proper standards appropriate to an adversarial quasi-judicial process.”
The letter contrasts the treatment of George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, with that of Stephen Cottrell, the newly installed archbishop of York. The C of E made public the removal of Carey’s licence to undertake religious duties while it investigates how he dealt with abuse allegations, while the church’s investigation into Cottrell’s handling of a domestic abuse allegation 10 years ago was kept confidential until it was concluded.
Other senior figures – including Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury – have also been accused of failures in the way they handled abuse allegations. Christopher Lowson, the bishop of Lincoln, has been suspended for more than a year after being accused of failing to respond appropriately to safeguarding allegations.
The letter claims there is no proper appeals process or policy on conflicts of interest, and “a reluctance to acknowledge error”.
In a statement in response to the letter, Jonathan Gibbs, the bishop of Huddersfield and the lead bishop on safeguarding, denied the process for senior clergy was different to anyone else, saying: “No one gets any special treatment.”
About 30 current national cases involved senior figures failing to act on allegations of abuse, and “a significant number relate to concerns raised about the past conduct of now retired clergy”, he added.
Guidance to the national safeguarding team was being revised, he added. The C of E is also in the process of changing its disciplinary processes for clergy.
The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse is due to publish the findings of its investigation into the C of E next year.