Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 22 June, the Bishop of Birkenhead, Julie Conalty, who is Lead Bishop for Safeguarding in the diocese and Deputy Lead Bishop for Safeguarding nationally, said the decision by the Archbishops’ Council to disband its Independent Safeguarding Board was causing “distress and anger” among survivors and victims of church-related abuse.
Her comments follow a statement from the Archbishops’ Council which said that it had ended the contracts of two of the three members of its Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) following a “dispute”.
Bishop Julie articulated the views of some of the victims and survivors that she has been in contact with since the news broke, saying: “What I’m concerned about is what survivors and victims feel about it. They had built a good degree of trust in the ISB and so this decision causes them distress and anger and makes them fearful.”
The ISB, which was made up of a chair, a Survivor Advocate and a third member – was set up by the Archbishops’ Council in 2021 in response to an IICSA recommendation for the Church to establish independent scrutiny of its safeguarding function.
In its statement of 21 June, the Archbishops’ Council explained that it had come to the “reluctant conclusion that…working relationships between two members of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) and the Council have broken down.”
The statement expressed the Council’s “regret” at the decision and explained that: “Members of the Council and our experienced safeguarding professionals have been working constructively over recent months to put the ISB on a more sustainable footing.
“Nevertheless, it has now become clear that that this is no longer viable with its current membership and that the dispute itself risks getting in the way of that urgent priority of moving to the next phase of establishing a new independent safeguarding body.”
Later in the interview in response to a question about whether the Church can be trusted, Bishop Julie said: “I think culturally we are resistant as a Church to accountability, to criticism, so therefore, I don’t entirely trust the Church, even though I am a key part of it and a leader within it.”
She added: “All institutions are flawed because people are flawed. That isn’t an excuse, it’s a reality. Trust has to be earned, as I said earlier, we don’t have a good record with regard to safeguarding, we’ve got a huge amount of work to do and we need to get on with it, particularly around establishing independent, effective, uncomfortable scrutiny.”
Listen to the interview in full on BBC Sounds, beginning at 21:05
The Diocese of Chester has itself faced scrutiny over its handling of safeguarding in the past and has been criticized for its past failings.
Bishop Julie arrived in the Diocese of Chester in 2021. Her appointment was well received by some survivors and victims of church-related abuse who described her as someone who “tells it as it is”.
Gilo, a campaign-survivor, said of her appointment: “I think many of us are confident that Julie will help accelerate change in the Church. She takes the need for culture and structure change and the need for justice and rebuilding of lives very seriously.”