It followed an earlier conference focused on these issues (here).
“There is no doubt that the Church can do better,” said Garth Blake, a senior Sydney barrister and Chair of the Professional Standards Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia. “There is a need common to all of us around the world – and not just in the First World either – to get beyond ‘risk management’, and recognise the care of the vulnerable as being a core element of the Gospel we proclaim and live.
Dr Higgins stressed that in the past Christians and the Church led the way in securing the welfare of children and other groups within society: “The agenda now has to honour the primacy of the welfare of children in particular and the vulnerable in general. It has to facilitate giving a voice to victims, delivering justice wherever possible, and appropriately restraining abusers. In all this the demand is that it must act with competence and integrity alongside others who affirm the welfare imperative for the young and vulnerable.”
The Australian church has ltaken the lead and with good reason. Following child abuse scandals they set up not merely good systems (I think the systems in the UK are generally good) but also a process of reflection about the allocation and use of power in the church - seeing child abuse primarily in the context of the abuse of power (though I can't now find that report).
High time these issues were seen as core to the church and not as merely the peripheral - the managing of each episode as a legal and public relations problem. I know that's not how practitioners see things; I'm not so convinced that all archdeacons and bishops have got the same message.
Power, and I'm not sorry for the stuck record, patterns the way we relate to people, structures the church formally and through personal relationships, and is scarcely discussed in polite circles. Yet, in my opinion, the abuse of children is sympomatic of structures of power in which abuse generally is not uncommon. I accept that those who want to abuse children will always do so - I don't accept that the church should be so complacent about its background ways of doing things that makes it easy for abusers to be camouflaged.
It is surely not impossible to have a church in which bullying is intolerable. Why then is it so difficult?