Clergy are resigning from the Church of England rather than face criminal record checks for child abuse, the inquiry into child sexual abuse has heard.
Opening three weeks of hearings into abuse in the Chuch, lead counsel Fiona Scolding said that priests in some parishes resigned their roles rather than face “criminal records and vetting and barring checks”.
“You will hear of parishes where individuals resign rather than face such checks, not because they have perpetrated any criminal offending, but because they consider that it is a slur on their character to even be asked such questions,” she told the inquiry.
The hearing also detailed a series of concerns about the Church’s past handling of abuse claims, including naivety, amateurism and an “excessive emphasis” on forgiving predators.
Ms Scolding said this focus on forgiveness “allowed individuals to go without justice and for individuals who complained of abuse feeling isolated if they did not ‘forgive’ their abuser”.
The hearings will focus on failings in the Diocese of Chichester, which has seen a series of sex abuse scandals, including the offending of former bishop Peter Ball, who was convicted of indecent assault after abusing 18 vulnerable men and boys over 20 years. His lawyer apologised on his behalf during the hearing.
Richard Scorer, of law firm Slater & Gordon, representing 21 victims and survivors of sexual abuse in the church, said that churches cover abuse up to preserve its reputation and perpetrators invoked God to intimidate victims.
“It must be clear now that if you want to abuse children, there is no more effective way of terrifying and silencing your victims than to claim to have God on your side,” he told the inquiry.
David Greenwood, who is also representing victims, said: “We will hear of bishops granting ‘Permission to Officiate’ certificates to convicted paedophiles and to those facing criminal allegations.”
He added that there was a “strong suspicion of an organised conspiracy between clergy and bishops in the Diocese of Chichester to enable children to be abused”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in a statement read to the inquiry by his counsel Nigel Giffin QC: “The failures that we have seen are deeply shaming and I personally find them a cause of horror and sadness.
“That children have been abused within the communities of the church is indeed shameful.”