Anglicans around the world must tackle abuse in churches 'head on'

April 4, 2011

Sexual, physical and emotional abuse not only devastates the victims but damages God's mission, according to the spokesman of an Anglican network working to protect the vulnerable.

As well as being chair of the Professional Standards Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia, Garth Blake is a founding member of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Consultation, an informal network of communion members working to prevent abuse in churches and their surrounding communities.

"Some Anglican provinces have seen highly publicized lapses in behavior by some clergy and church workers with tragic consequences for those who have been abused," he said. "Our growing international group is committed to the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare and safety of all people involved in churches throughout the Anglican Communion."

Established in 2009, the group has been working to promote the safety and welfare of all people involved in church across the communion. Members have been providing resources to educate about the issue of abuse and misconduct in the churches, and have equipped and supported people working to make their churches safe.

This year, between June 23-26 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, the group will be holding its second conference -- titled "Partnering for Prevention: A Conference on Abuse in our Communion and our Communities" -- for ministers, church leaders, pastoral counselors and others concerned with power, abuse and gender issues in the church.

At this event participants will be discussing a range of topics including human trafficking, bullying, pornography and mass media, and domestic violence. They will examine the impact of abuse in residential schools in Canada and the lessons to be learned. There also will be workshops on prevention education, healing, and pastoral ethics and relationships.

Blake explained that, no matter how challenging abuse might be, the Anglican Communion had a duty. "It's important both for those who have been abused, and also for the church as a whole, to tackle these things head on," he said. "Darkness needs to be exposed to the light and without speaking the truth and naming evil behavior there will be no change."

"This issue is at the heart of the gospel. If we cannot protect vulnerable children and adults it says something about our Good News. We must see protecting people as core to mission. In some places the public perception is that churches are not safe communities and not owning up to our past puts down a significant barrier to the gospel message."

Blake acknowledged that there was no "quick fix" for abuse in churches and communities. "It's got to be a mix of sound policy, education and training, as well as specific codes of conduct combined with effective pastoral care of those abused. There also needs to be accountability on the part of the abusers. All of this needs to be done in the framework of understanding evil and also God's grace."

Ultimately the group aims to develop a comprehensive strategy for responding to and preventing abuse. This will include working with provinces to encourage them to implement effective policies and procedures to protect the most vulnerable, especially women and children.

"This is about making our churches safe," said Blake. "We have a long term goal that churches of the Anglican Communion become known for best practice in this area. We approach this humbly knowing how far we have yet to go, but we want all people to see churches as safe places to be."

Keynote speakers at the June conference will include the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, the first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop of Canada, and the Rev. Marie Fortune, an ethicist and theologian with experience in working to end sexual exploitation in religious environments.

For more information about the conference or the Safe Church Consultation visit http://acscn.anglicancommunion.org/

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