Religious organizations were found to have made “egregious failures” in the areas of child protection and safeguarding.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) discovered “substantial impediments” to effectively reporting child sexual abuse claims in several of the religious organizations it examined.
Among them were “victim blaming,” religious leaders abusing their influence, and a reluctance to discuss issues of sex.
“The concept of forgiveness can be abused to coerce victims into not reporting their abuse and to rationalize religious leaders’ inability to take necessary action when complaints are made,” the research noted. Additionally, the probe uncovered inadequacies in responding to complaints of abuse, with one church minister telling the mother of a 12-year-old girl assaulted by a volunteer that the abuser was “respected” and should be regarded “innocent until proven guilty.” It was later revealed that the abuser had previously been fired from a police department following charges of illicit sexual intercourse with a minor.
According to the study, “very few” of the religious organizations examined had in place arrangements for professional counseling or therapy for victims.
While some religious organizations had “effective mechanisms” in place for responding to charges, others had “ill-defined or uncommunicated and implemented” procedures.
“What distinguishes religious organizations from other institutions is their specific mission of teaching right from wrong; as a result, the moral turpitude of any failure by religious organizations to prevent or respond to child sexual abuse is heightened,” the report stated. The IICSA evaluated 38 religious organizations with a presence in England and Wales, including the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim beliefs. Previous investigations have covered the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.
The Methodist Church expressed sadness in response to the findings that there are “many areas where religious organizations continue to disappoint their members.” “And we are really sorry for the instances in which this occurs in our churches,” it added. “We take note of the report’s reference to a general lack of support for victims of abuse within religious organizations,” it continued. “We will keep reviewing and improving our support for victims and survivors, and we apologise where this hasn’t happened.
“We feel this crucial safeguarding activity is a reflection of God’s love for all people and part of our purpose and outreach.”