Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Leaders call for sea change on abuse

In their joint charge to General Synod Te Hīnota Whānui, Archbishop Don Tamihere and Archbishop Philip Richardson shared the need for a seismic shift in the culture of this Church’s response to disclosures of abuse in the Anglican Church.

Julanne Clarke-Morris | Photo: Olivia Hartfield  |  26 Oct 2022  |

Archbishop Don Tamihere and Archbishop Philip Richardson have called for far-reaching changes to the culture and practices of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia in how it prevents abuse and responds to disclosures of abuse.

As part of their Synod charge yesterday, the Archbishops, along with Bishop Ross Bay and Archbishops’ Commissary for Redress Hera Clarke shared their journey with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care over the last four years. That Inquiry has presented findings on abuse and institutional responses to abuse in state and faith-based institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand between 1950-1999.

Bishop Ross Bay affirmed that siloed approaches to risk management, taking an unduly trusting attitude to colleagues and defaulting to a “Pākehā legal framework” for responding to survivors, had failed survivors and failed the Church.

Leaders’ reliance on legal transactional responses and on protecting the institution against the cost of redress, had not only failed to prioritise the needs of survivors – or in some cases to actively silence them – but had cost the Church another failure: failure to live up to its own Gospel values of caring for the most vulnerable. 

“Any form of abuse suffered by survivors within Anglican institutions was, and is, abhorrent and inexcusable.” said the Archbishops in their statement to the Royal Commission.

While the Royal Commission did not uncover evidence of systemic abuse across the Anglican Church, the Archbishops stated clearly that even one occurence of abuse is unacceptable.  

“The Anglican Church is deeply apologetic to all survivors who have suffered through the failures and deliberate actions of those who were meant to protect and care for them.”

The Archbishops acknowledged the need for the Church to recognise its own failures to respond in a timely and appropriate manner. 

“We are particularly ashamed by the evidence before the Royal Commission that members of our Church covered up instances of abuse. We reiterate the sentiment in our past statement: to have ignored or covered up abuse is deplorable.”

A number of factors arose that the Archbishops believe are now whole Church issues that compel our attention.

In particular, they identified structures that have led to the Church to allow unreasonable risk to vulnerable people.

1. Risk management cannot be left to individual leaders siloed in episcopal units, there must be institutional monitoring and external accountability over safeguarding decisions

2. Complaints cannot be handled by those who know the alleged offender well

3. Male leaders have often ignored women’s voices raised in concern

4. This Church has failed to proactively elevate women leaders into the episcopate in numbers that reflect the gender make-up of our Church and bring women’s voices into the highest level of decision-making in dioceses and hui amorangi

5. The Church needs to intentionally engage with ways that mātauranga Māori can help inform and shape a holistic and appropriate response to survivors

The Archbishops spoke of specific gains since the Royal Commission began, including the establishment of the Ministry Standards Commission, their development of strong relationships of trust with survivors’ groups who have contributed improvements our Ministry Standards canon, and the privilege of being able to hear directly from survivors and in some cases to offer meaningful redress through ongoing relationships. 

However, the Archbishops made clear that forming the new independent Ministry Standards Commission to support the Church in cases of abuse, does not solve the fundamental problem of preventing abuse in the first place, and locking in holistic pathways for redress and healing.

As the Royal Commission comes to a close in mid 2023, our Church has called on the expertise of Hera Clarke, who is a Māori Anglican social services leader and former member of the Crown Response Unit for historical claims, who has coordinated redress for hundreds of survivors of abuse in state care.

“The Archbishops have asked me to look at ways of standing this work up for the Church, and to see what a redress process for survivors of abuse in the Anglican Church will look like.” said Hera Clarke today. 

“They want the Church redress process to be survivor-led and trauma-informed with a pastoral focus instead of a transactional approach.” 

Hera believes that a well-designed approach to redress has the potential for genuine reconciliation and to act as a sign of hope for survivors who wish to reengage with the church.

Hera Clarke will now act on behalf of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, to help develop a church-wide Anglican strategy for holistic redress, and to lead this Church’s contributions to the planned independent redress body that will be set up for Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole. 

Going forward, the Archbishops’ statement to the Royal Commission identified the need for this Church to take action on a number of issues to improve our safeguarding across the motu, saying that we need to:

– Create a database of information about our leaders with a centralised entity for information management, to place greater scrutiny on training, selection, monitoring and capability.

– Raise the bar on the standards we apply in discernment processes for new ministers, including regular compliance with safety training

– Create a culture that places safeguarding and listening to disclosures of abuse at the highest priority so that this Church creates a “united wall” against abuse.

– Create a list of suitable counsellors who can provide pastoral care for people who make a disclosure of abuse and for respondents

– Create a holistic redress response that takes into account our Gospel values and mātauranga Māori

“A redress system that takes mātauranga seriously, and incorporates all the taonga that a person is entitled to, including whakapono and wairuatanga, is necessary if that redress is to be holistic and effective.” said Archbishop Don at the final hearing of the faith-based section of the Royal Commission of Inquiry last Thursday 20 October. 

“Survivors have told us that they don't want to merely survive. They want to be healed, and to know what it is to live and flourish.”