In 2017 the Independent Safeguarding Advisory Panel for the Diocese of Chichester recommended that the Diocese commission research regarding the history of sexual abuse in its churches. This recommendation was in recognition of the large number of proven cases of abuse that had come to light in recent years. In making this recommendation, the Panel was mindful that more was known about what had happened than why it had happened, and in particular why such a relatively large concentration of cases had occurred within this Diocese.
The Diocese approached Professor David Shemmings from the University of Kent to lead the research. Professor Shemmings, a leading expert in the use of interviews and qualitative methods in social research, and his wife Yvonne, who works with him in numerous training and research contexts, conducted a series of interview with Diocesan staff, police colleagues who had worked investigations into abuse in the Diocese, and victims of abuse.
The Diocese is very grateful to Professor Shemmings and Yvonne for their work, and to all those who contributed to this research. In particular, the Diocese wishes to thank those victims of abuse who agreed to be interviewed, reliving very painful experiences in order that those responsible for preventing abuse in church now can learn lessons from the past.
Many readers of this report may be unfamiliar with ‘qualitative’ studies as opposed to ‘quantitative’. In reading this material, readers should understand that the authors have been exploring the experience of those whom they have interviewed rather than examining facts in all their detail. This is a distinct discipline that differs from that used to compile reports that set out factual evidence. The experiences of those interviewed are important because they describe the real effect of events upon their minds.
The report makes for difficult reading, particularly as it shines light on elements of the culture of the Diocese and its churches that contributed to abuse of the vulnerable. The voices in this report add to the findings of the recently-published Chichester case study from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the review conducted by Dame Moira Gibb into the case of Bishop Peter Ball, and other similar reviews that have highlighted not only the guilt of individual abusers, but also the responsibility of the wider church regarding its culture, leadership, and values. No matter how difficult it is to hear the voices in this report, particularly those of victims whose experience challenges the Diocese to its core, it is vital that we approach these perspectives with an open mind and a humble attitude, recognising the depth of hurt that has been caused and the moral imperative that is placed on us as a result, to do all we can now to ensure that children and adults are safe in our churches.
The report adds to the wealth of research in this field, but as it identifies, there is much more to learn. The suggestions contained in both this report and others offer food for thought, for the wider church and not only for this diocese, and indeed for other organisations. Careful consideration will be needed on the best areas to focus on. Meanwhile, we commend this report to you and trust that the moral challenge it contains will continue to drive the Diocese towards further improvements to our safeguarding culture and practice.