Failure to end 'culture of silencing' would further betray survivors: Archbishop of Canterbury

Abuse survivors have been kept away from the love of Christ by the Church, says Archbishop Justin Welby

Justin Welby says embedding a proper culture of safeguarding in every part of the Church still had a very long way to go when he became Archbishop in 2013.

August 16 2016The Archbishop of Canterbury says failure by the Church to address its “culture of silencing” of abuse survivors would amount to a form of abuse for a second time, “as bad if not worse than the first betrayal”.

Archbishop Justin Welby, in a foreword to a special issue of the UK's Crucible journal of Christian ethics dedicated to safeguarding, wrote that an article by Josephine Stein, “Surviving the Crucible of Ecclesiastical Abuse”, made it “apparent that the culture around how survivors of abuse are heard has in effect been to tell them to be quiet, and to keep them away from the love of Christ”.

“This has happened for a variety of reasons which might start with the inability to believe what is being said about those who abuse,” Archbishop Welby wrote. “Then there are various legal approaches that have in the past encouraged distance, and even advice that suggested abuse that happened a long time ago was not possible to address. Then there is the sheer bitter frustration that comes from survivors themselves who have had to endure the pain of disclosure and then been ignored. If they are difficult to encounter in that bitterness, then that is absolutely no excuse for not facing what they have to say.

“To address that whole culture of silencing in the Church is vital. It is vital because failure to do so is a form of abuse for the second time, as bad if not worse than the first betrayal. So the Stein article goes on to show how damage is done to individuals including causing the loss of faith.”

He cited instances in the Gospel where people were prevented from reaching Jesus – Mark chapter 10, verse 13, where the disciples “spoke sternly” to those bringing little children to Jesus and in the same chapter, those calling on Bartimaeus, the blind man calling on Jesus for mercy, to be quiet.

“We have to go back to first principles, which is to let Jesus be heard through us,” the Archbishop wrote. “That means being compassionate and attentive to those who have been abused and sinned against. It means being far, far more attentive to their pastoral care and the establishment of ways in which they can feel safe to tell their story and be listened to.

“Yes we have to be rigorous, and responsible in ensuring the Church is a place safe for all, but that is only half the story if we fail to take seriously and to listen to those who have been abused by those who minister in the Church or through Church organisations.”

Archbishop Welby acknowledged that he had mistakenly believed when he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 that, while safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults would remain an important area to tackle, “the major changes needed in outlook had already been achieved”.

“However it very quickly became apparent that this would have to be an area of major concern. Not only were some of the measures already taken only a beginning, the proper response to survivors and the embedding of a proper culture of safeguarding in every part of the Church still had a very long way to go.”

He reiterated his profound sorrow and deep apology to survivors for the failures of the Church.

“I pray that they will be able to help us to change the culture, and that people will take to heart what they read in these pages. We cannot go on telling people to be quiet, or go on keeping them from Jesus.”

In Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will resume its public hearing into the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle on 29 August with further testimony expected from Perth’s Archbishop Roger Herft, who was Bishop of Newcastle from 1993-2005. The Commission will begin a separate hearing into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle two days later.

In the UK, the Church is being investigated by a statutory Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales.

Former New Zealand High Court Justice Dame Lowell Goddard stood down unexpectedly as chair of the inquiry this month and has been succeeded by a member of the Inquiry’s panel, leading child protection expert Professor Alexis Jay.





  • For more information on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, go to


  • Read September's TMA for coverage of the Royal Commission's hearing into the Newcastle diocese.