Synod of Bishops, PSC address issue of sexual abuse
Recent meetings of the Synod of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee have addressed the issue of sexual abuse and harassment in the Church.
The following is an excerpt from the Pastoral Letter from the bishops, issued at the weekend:
2) We received a very serious report on the Safe Church Commission. It was emphasised to us that it is urgent and important for every Diocese to:
• Set up a team to deal effectively with allegations of abuse in the church. These teams will receive training for this important ministry, and guidelines for action will be prepared.
• Respond to the questionnaire that was sent to Bishops earlier this year.
• Require police clearance certificates for all people being ordained or licensed, and those working with young people and children.
There are also plans to amend Act XV, on the Pastoral Standards, at Provincial Synod next year, in the light of new developments.
An email address has been set up for those who wish to report abuse that has taken place: safechurches[a]anglicanchurchsa.org.za . This may be done anonymously. This is also a call for us to soak the church and all God’s people with prayer.
The following resolution was approved by PSC:
MOTION ARISING FROM SAFE CHURCH COMMISSION REPORT
1. Noting the work and efforts on the part of the ACC Safe Church Commission as well as its acceptance and introduction into ACSA
2. Recognises the need for the preventative measures of the Safe Church Commission to be implemented while the necessary Canonical amendments to Canon 4 are being prepared for Synod 2019:
That with immediate effect, all ordinations, elections or consecrations of ordained ministers will include the requirement for a police clearance certificate to be obtained from a verified agency.
Should an adverse finding be made in terms of such police clearance, then the Diocesan Bishop or Archbishop as the case may be, should in their discretion determine how to deal with the finding.
In the case of lay ministers, especially those involved in youth and Sunday School teaching, this will be progressively implemented from 1 January 2019.
Arising out of the Bishops’ and PSC deliberations, Archbishop Thabo released the following public statement today (October 3):
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted new measures to deal with sexual abuse and harassment.
In future anyone wanting to be ordained to serve as a clergyperson will have to provide a police clearance certificate. The church has also set up an email address to make it easier to report allegations of abuse.
This was announced by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town today. He said in a statement:
“At meetings held last week, our church’s Synod of Bishops and our Provincial Standing Committee – which includes clergy and lay people from every diocese in Southern Africa – had their first opportunity to discuss the reports of clergy abusing children which received widespread publicity earlier this year.
“We were made acutely aware of the pain of those who have been hurt by the church. Although the number of cases reported so far is limited, we resolved to take up the issue with the utmost seriousness.
“Experienced lawyers and clergy serving on our Canon Law Council reported that our Pastoral Standards, which are incorporated into church law, set out a sound basis on which to handle complaints of abuse. But the council has said we need to make it easier for complainants to access procedures for laying complaints, and to provide better support for them along the way.
“The council also reported that complaints, especially historical complaints, are not being handled quickly enough. It recommended that we set up a central register of complaints, including details of what action has been taken. Although complaints of abuse can made directly to the Diocese in which it has taken place, we have now also set up a dedicated email address for those who wish to report them through that channel: safechurches[at]anglicanchurchsa.org.za . This may be done anonymously.
“The council will propose changes to church legislation at the next meeting of the three-yearly Provincial Synod, our top legislative body, next year. In the meantime, the Provincial Standing Committee has resolved that, with immediate effect, all ordinations, elections or consecrations of ordained ministers will include the requirement for a police clearance certificate to be obtained from a verified agency.
“From January 2019, we will progressively enforce the same rule for lay ministers, especially those involved in youth ministry and Sunday School teaching.
“In addition, the Canon Law Council emphasised to the Synod of Bishops that it is urgent and very important that every diocese set up a team to deal effectively with allegations of abuse. We are arranging training for the bishops at the next meeting of our Synod of Bishops, and have asked each diocese to ensure that its teams also receive training in how best to respond to complaints.
“Most of the half-dozen cases which have emerged this year concern events which occurred more than 20 years ago, which – except in cases of rape – prevents victims from pursuing their cases through criminal courts in South Africa. I therefore reiterate my earlier support for quick action by Parliament to change the law to allow such prosecutions to take place. Victims of sexual abuse need to be able to pursue charges both in criminal courts and in church tribunals.”