By ACNS staff in Canada
With imagination, empathy and will, our churches can be places of safety and healing. This was the conclusion of the Revd Dr Marie Fortune’s keynote address on the first day of the Partnering for Prevention conference taking place 23 to 26 June on the campus of Victoria University in British Columbia, Canada.
The conference, organised by the Anglican Safe Church Consultation, has gathered 60 safeguarding officers and other Anglicans and ecumenical partners concerned with power, abuse and gender issues in the church.
Dr Fortune reflected on the long history of the powerful exploiting the vulnerable and of impunity in church settings but affirmed that the silence has been broken and there is now no going back.
There were no easy answers to the causes of abusive behaviour, she said, but a number of factors contributed to its perpetuation and to the failure of those in authority to protect vulnerable children and adults. These included the absence of a critical and robust sexual ethic grounded in concern for the well-being of our people.
She also listed the desire on the part of leadership to avoid scandal and to “protect one’s own and oneself” rather than “do justice and healing”. Sometimes unquestioning allegiance to a particular person in leadership was a factor.
While frequently our church safeguarding policies were formulated in legalistic terms, Dr Fortune encouraged participants to trust in their Christian tradition and its resources and to ground their responses in their theology. “We have biblical resources to help us”, she said. “We have ethical norms and guidance within our faith tradition.”
Dr Fortune described how any inclination to protect the institution of the church needed to be transfigured into an approach that protected its people and served justice and healing. Justice-making needed several elements to be in place, she said, from making safe space where truth could be told, through to accountability, restitution and vindication.
Participants in the conference representing eight Anglican Provinces will be attending keynote lectures and workshops on issues such as safeguarding education; policies and procedures; bullying; pastoral ethics and relationships; and the healing of parishes.
We hope that the development of relationships across Provinces during this conference will strengthen work within the Communion as a whole”, said Mr Garth Blake, convenor of the Anglican Safe Church Consultation. Sharing of resources and fresh learning will contribute significantly towards creating safe churches and communities.