Monks and nuns will be formally recognised by the Church of England for the the first time since the Reformation following criticism over its response to a series of child abuse scandals.
For the first time since Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, between 1536 and 1541, the C of E has voted to create a law, known as a canon, so that it can regulate religious groups.
It follows heightened concerns about safeguarding, after some religious communities faced allegations of sexual abuse in a damning report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in May.
The report criticised the Prince of Wales for his friendship with Peter Ball, a former Bishop of Gloucester who abused his position as a senior member of the clergy to “manipulate vulnerable teenagers and young men for his own sexual gratification”.
IISCA’s report concluded that the Church’s response to claims of child sexual abuse was “marked by secrecy, prevarication and avoidance of reporting alleged crimes”.
Addressing the General Synod, Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester said:
“As Archbishop Justin has already said to Synod, the recently published IICSA report relating to the abuse perpetrated by Peter Ball under the cover of setting up religious communities is truly shocking.
“I live with a sense of shame and disgust as the proper human and Christian response to reading that report.”
He cited the IICSA recommendation that asks the C of E to introduce appropriate guidance which deals with safeguarding within the context of a religious community affiliated to the Church”.
“It must ensure that these organisations meet adequate requirements for safeguarding and child protection. The needs of victims should be prioritised when designing safeguarding policies and practices.”
Following a unanimous vote at the General Synod in York on Monday morning, the House of Bishops has more oversight in how it can regulate monks and nuns.
The regulations specify conditions relating to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, as well as financial affairs and the making of vows or promises.
Once finalised, the canon will also specify the minimum number of members required for a community to be eligible for regulation. Dr David Walker said that it will provide structure following the “growth in new religious communities”.
One nun, Sister Catherine Harvey of the Sisters of the Love of God in Oxford questioned the canon’s introduction whilst there is a decline in the numbers of those observing private religious life.
“It does seem ironic that after 150 years of religious life in England, the church has chosen a time when we are in terminal decline to regulate and recognise us by canon,” she said.
“The answer most often given is that of safeguarding. It is of course right that the shame of the church should have concrete expression in this form. The need has been highlighted by the death of our brother Peter Hall.”
Maine image copyright: Reuters
Written by: Laura FitzPatrick