Response to Jay Report

First published on: 26th February 2024

Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the Bishop of Rochester, has shared a response to the Future of Church Safeguarding Report published by Professor Alexis Jay, which was discussed at General Synod on Saturday 24 February.

The report has recommended that two independent charities be set up – one to deliver operational safeguarding within the Church and the other to provide scrutiny of it. 

General Synod approved an engagement phase with the Jay report across the Church including with victims and survivors, through a Response Group.

Read Bishop Jonathan's response in full below:


The Future of Safeguarding in the Church of England

Dear sisters and brothers,

As you may be aware, the General Synod received and debated this weekend two reports relating to safeguarding in the Church of England. One, written by Sarah Wilkinson KC, concerned events to do with the setting up and eventual dissolution of the Independent Safeguarding Board (Wilkinson Report, December 2023).

The other was produced by Professor Alexis Jay CBE and related to proposals for the setting up of an independent safeguarding organisation for the Church of England (Future of Church Safeguarding report, February 2024).

The issues raised by the Jay report in particular, have implications for the future of safeguarding across the Church of England and in this Diocese, and after consulting with my colleagues, especially in our Diocesan Safeguarding Team, I have decided that it is appropriate and necessary to make some comments on these matters.

Before I deal in a little more detail with the issues raised by these important reports, I would like to acknowledge first and foremost the failures of the Church of England in relation to safeguarding, and especially the impact of these failures on victims and survivors.

Our responsibility to them has to be our primary focus as we address these issues, alongside our duty to ensure that the Church, together with all its associated communities and organisations, is as safe and nurturing a place as it can possibly be, for the sake of children, vulnerable adults and indeed all people.

I also need to acknowledge for the sake of transparency that I was the Church of England’s Lead Bishop for Safeguarding for three years, up to the end of March 2023, though not at the time when the decision was made to dismiss two of the members of the Board and effectively to dissolve the ISB. I gave evidence to the Wilkinson inquiry about my role as Lead Bishop up to the end of my term of office, but apart from that I have not made any public comments about these issues, in order to allow my successor the freedom to fulfil her role.

The first thing to say, following from my comments above, is that our first responsibility is to consider the needs and views of victims and survivors. The failures of the Church of England, both local and national, in regard to safeguarding have caused irreparable damage to people’s lives, and that tragic reality has to play a key role in shaping our response to the recommendations of the Jay report.

Professor Jay makes it clear that in her view the Church’s failures mean that the only way to restore confidence in the Church’s safeguarding work is to establish a fully independent charitable body which would employ and manage the Church’s safeguarding professionals at both national and diocesan levels. She has further recommended that there should be a second independent charitable body to oversee and scrutinise the work of the first.

We need to hear and recognise the force of what Professor Jay has said, not least given her vast experience in safeguarding, including seven years as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

At the same time, we should also note that Professor Jay made abundantly clear, both in her report and in her video presentation to the General Synod, that none of what she was saying should be taken as a criticism of the work of the dedicated safeguarding professionals who work for the Church at diocesan and national levels, or of the dedicated volunteers who support the work of safeguarding in our parishes, churches and other organisations, including especially our Parish Safeguarding Officers.

I would like to reiterate this point and to state publicly my sincere thanks to and my support for those who work in safeguarding on our behalf. I am very well aware of the professionalism, hard work and dedication of our Diocesan Safeguarding Team, and I am hugely grateful for it. I am also profoundly grateful for the work of Parish Safeguarding Officers and of my clergy and lay colleagues who are so committed to ensuring that our churches and other organisations are safe and nurturing places for all and that the very best practice in safeguarding is followed at all times.

Please let there be no doubt about that. I appreciate enormously all the work that these people do and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their work.

What Professor Jay did highlight was the complicated structures of the Church of England, the large variation in the level of resources dedicated to safeguarding in different places, together with different understandings about the operational independence of safeguarding professionals and also therefore of the role of bishops and other church officials in this regard. She also highlighted a lack of clarity in some places about what constituted a safeguarding matter and therefore how these should be dealt with.

Again, based on my experience of working with the Diocesan Safeguarding Team here in Rochester, I believe that these are issues that were addressed a long time ago in this Diocese, and that we have clear procedures in place and a robust understanding of the operational independence of the Diocesan Safeguarding Officers.

We are extremely well served by them, and I am constantly grateful for their professionalism and guidance.

Having said that, I do recognise the force of Professor Jay’s criticisms and also therefore the force of her recommendations for the setting up of an independent safeguarding structure for the Church of England. The combination of our past failures together with the evidence of an ongoing lack of consistency about both resourcing and safeguarding practice across 42 Dioceses (and 42 Cathedrals) may indeed mean that this is the only realistic way forward.

I am also conscious, however, that a large number of safeguarding professionals across the country have raised concerns about potentially removing Diocesan Safeguarding Officers from within the Diocesan organisation and employing them instead as part of an independent charitable organisation.

Concerns have been raised about the way in which this might reduce the sense of shared responsibility for safeguarding because somehow it is now somebody else’s responsibility. There are naturally also concerns about people’s jobs being transferred to a new employer and the implications of that. We need to hear and take seriously all of these concerns as we work through the recommendations and implications of the Jay report.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, after a long and at times fractious debate, General Synod agreed to the proposal to set up a group to consider carefully the two reports and to bring back to Synod as soon as possible proposals for how to respond to and implement their recommendations.

I believe this is the right way forward, though I also understand the sense of anger and frustration that many feel – especially among victims and survivors – that this looks like the Church of England yet again delaying and trying to control what is happening.

Notwithstanding what I said earlier about not commenting on national safeguarding matters, I will be seeking to play a full role in working through these issues at a local and a national level.

My primary concern will be to ask: what will enable the Church of England to ensure that it has consistently excellent safeguarding practice at all levels and in all places? Given our history of appalling failures and the reality that we still do not have that kind of consistency across the Church of England, I do believe that the recommendations of the Jay report will need to play a
key role in shaping the structures and practice of safeguarding.

At the same time, we also need to listen to the experience and concerns of our safeguarding colleagues, who were rightly praised by Professor Jay, and above all we need to listen to and heed the voices of victims and survivors to help us fulfil our commitment to make every part of our Church a safe and nurturing place for all.

Please would you keep in your hearts and prayers all those involved in and affected by these very important issues. Please remember also the other hugely significant matters being discussed during the current General Synod, including racial justice, dignity at work, Living in Love and Faith, the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households, and Transatlantic Chattel Slavery, praying for the life and witness of our Church to our nation and world.

With prayers and best wishes

+Jonathan, Bishop of Rochester

26 February, 2024

Useful links

Archbishops' response following publication of the Jay report

Safeguarding independence: next steps discussed by General Synod

If you have been affected by abuse, however long ago, or if you are concerned that someone else is experiencing or has experienced abuse in a church setting, we want to help. Please visit our dedicated Safeguarding pages

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