Methodist Church apologises for abuse spanning decades

By Alex Strangwayes-Booth
BBC News

Image source, Science Photo Library

The UK's Methodist Church has made a public apology after an investigation uncovered reports of nearly 2,000 alleged abusers - including 914 allegations involving sexual abuse.

An independent inquiry looked at the Church's response to complaints and allegations dating back to 1950.

General secretary, the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, said abuse was "a deep source of grief and shame to the Church".

A law firm representing some of the victims welcomed the apology.

'Worthless and devalued'

The Church commissioned the review - which took three years to complete - because it said it wanted to be open about the past and to have stronger safeguarding procedures in the future.

In total, it identified 1,885 cases - with reported abuse including alleged sexual, physical, emotional and domestic abuse, as well as cases of neglect.

The report recorded a "case" as an individual perpetrator or alleged perpetrator - but said there were "multiple" responses relating to some individuals.

Allegations of sexual abuse formed the largest number of cases.

Ministers or lay employees were involved in 26% of the alleged cases of abuse, the investigation found.

That figure increased to 33% when Church members, such as worship leaders and local preachers, were also included.

Media caption,
"Frank" describes the abuse that happened to him (words spoken by an actor)

One of the cases concerned the grooming of teenage girls on Facebook, while another involved a minister allegedly making sexual advances to children. Another involved a Methodist youth officer who had indecent images of children on his computer.

One of the abuse survivors who responded to the survey said: "I have learnt that it is impossible to recover from sexual abuse when no-one recognises the seriousness of it. My Church did not want a scandal, my parents did not want a scandal.

"I was left to feel worthless and devalued, while the man was left to get on with his life and for all I know repeat the crime with someone else. I was emotionally and physically devastated."

Another welcomed the review, saying: "I want to prevent the Church and other people from handling things wrong in the future. I don't want other girls to suffer like I have."

Review chairman Jane Stacey, former deputy chief executive of the children's charity Barnardo's, called for a culture change in the Church.

Image caption,
The report notes that a high number does not necessarily indicate more abuse occurred, saying "in at least one district with high figures it was because of diligent and thorough record-keeping and reporting"

Ministers of religion were in an "almost unique position of trust" at "very vulnerable times" in people's lives, she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, calling for "more robust accountability structures".

She added: "Some of the individual case reviewers who looked at the material that was submitted to the review found themselves questioning, and really being quite upset, at the volume coming through.

"I think society at large needs to understand there is a lot more abuse but also areas of concern than people ever thought - and the Church is no exception."

Ms Stacey said 503 cases were being followed up by the safeguarding team within the Methodist Church. Of those, 61 have had contact with the police, and there are six ongoing police investigations.

Rev Atkins, who is also secretary of the Methodist Conference, said: "On behalf of the Methodist Church in Britain I want to express an unreserved apology for the failure of its current and earlier processes fully to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by some ministers.

"The abuse that has been inflicted by some Methodists on children, young people and adults is and will remain a deep source of grief and shame to the Church."

'Most vulnerable'

A law firm representing a group of individuals taking action against the Methodist Church welcomed the apology.

The claimants allege they were abused by a church missionary in Africa during the 1980s.

Nichola Marshall, head of international abuse at law firm Leigh Day, said: "It has taken my clients over 30 years to have the courage to come forward with their allegations of abuse against the Methodist Church.

"It must never again be the case that the reputation of institutions take precedence over the welfare of society's most vulnerable."

David Greenwood, chairman of the Stop Church Child Abuse campaign, said: "The cases examined are only the ones documented in the past. Many will not have been recorded. We will never know how many cases have not been handled properly."

The Church is expected to also make a public apology at its annual conference in June.

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