The Church of England badly needs an independent regulatory body to oversee its safeguarding and begin to address the culture of bullying and harassment afflicting many clergy. Some congregations might also be grateful for basic human resources expertise being available to parish churches. The need for an impartial regulator is obvious when one realises that a nervous, declining church, losing its way, quickly collapses into being a members-only club, in which deference to episcopal authority and loyalty to patronage are the only ways to get on.
Such a regulator could firmly bind the CoE to the principles that govern other areas of public life, with authority to call the leadership to account. Good models exist in other professions—the General Medical Council and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, to name but two. The Church must find a way to divorce itself from the political, weaponised, amateur and contorted behaviour that causes people to become ill, self-harm and even commit suicide over these allegations.
Currently, the CoE properly serves few of those with a stake in the safeguarding process. Respondents and claimants alike have been known to cite the conduct of bishops and diocesan safeguarding advisers (DSAs) as further sources of abuse and trauma. Significant numbers of DSAs seem not to know what NST policies consist of (they are, in any case, notoriously fudgy). Core groups, which try to determine the facts of an allegation and the risk that the accused may pose, are also a problem. Most members lack basic legal training or relevant expertise. In fact, they lack adequate training full stop. The minutes of a core group meeting, making life-changing or employment-ending decisions, are sometimes forgotten or entirely mislaid. Where minutes might exist, both respondents and claimants are frequently denied access. If they eventually get to see them, there is no mechanism for challenging or correcting them.
Neither respondent nor claimant has a right to representation at a CoE core group and there is no obvious mechanism for fact checking. Intense and unbounded pastoral gossip sessions ought to have proper checks and balances. There is nothing to stop the train of thought hurtling along, driven by catastrophising and a desire to manage reputational risk. These trains have no braking mechanism, as Father Alan Griffin found to his cost.
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