Sexist Church culture may be linked to failure to tackle child abuse – Williams

UK News | Published:

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams gave evidence to the inquiry (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A sexist and misogynist culture in the Anglican Church may have contributed to failings in tackling child sex abuse, the former Archbishop of Canterbury told an inquiry.

Lord Rowan Williams, who held the post from 2002 to 2012, said the Church still has a “mindset”, but not a “dominant ethos”, of being a “close-knit male body of clergy protective of their dignity and authority”.

He made the comments while giving evidence in London on Wednesday afternoon to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Fiona Scolding QC, the lead lawyer for the Anglican strand of the inquiry, is examining how the Church of England handled allegations of sexual misconduct stretching back to the 1950s, first focusing on the Diocese of Chichester.

She questioned Lord Williams after reading a statement from retired judge Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss who described how she found there was a “culture of denial” about child abuse among police and clergy in Sussex and said the diocese had an “anti-woman culture”.

When asked if he felt safeguarding was affected by sexist and misogynist attitudes, Lord Williams said: “I think that’s possible.”

He added: “This may not connect immediately with abusive behaviour towards children but I would see it as part of a wider mindset in which the authority of ordained ministry was beyond criticism.”


Lord Williams said the Church had been “naive” in the past and had taken an “unconscionably long time” to focus on the needs of victims.

The inquiry that heard up until 2004 the Church still had no guidance in place at all on how to deal with historic abuse cases.

Lord Williams told how he was too “sanguine” about the success of an inquiry in 2007 and had been “over optimistic” after branding it the “most comprehensive” review of personnel files ever undertaken. He said it had in fact failed.

Retired clergy and cases where no action was taken were not included in the review. Only 390 personnel files were reviewed. Less than half had a police check, only two had DBS checks and 76 had no checks at all, the inquiry heard.


Addressing what Ms Scolding described as the “thorny issue” of attitudes to homosexuality, he said there was “overcompensation” not to judge someone’s sexual activities and thought this may have contributed in the case of Peter Ball – who was jailed in 2015 for offences against boys dating back to the 1970s.

Lord Williams admitted “underrating the seriousness of the situation” in 2003 and said he should have spotted the warning signs but did not have concrete new allegations and did not want to appear “heavy handed”.

But he also said he would have “real qualms” if “obligations” to breach the sanctity of the confessional were imposed.

He denied the abuse scandal was “swept under the carpet” by Lambeth Palace.

The message said: “The real danger here is that these stories are used to suggest the Church is as bad as Rome both in abuse and cover up. The aim must be to distance the current Archbishop from it as much as possible.”

Lord Williams said he was “shocked” to learn of the email and had not sanctioned it.

Other responses from the palace’s chief of staff, Chris Smith, were branded “wholly inadequate” by Ms Scolding when he answered “deep and continuing” concerns over safeguarding made by the heads of children’s services in East and West Sussex in 2012.

Earlier in the hearing, current Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner told the panel the “conservative” diocese was described to him by Church staff as a “basket-case” when he took over that same year.

He said he was “shocked” by the hostility he experienced by Ball’s supporters, who claimed he had been mistreated by the church, and described a culture of “thoughtless pride and arrogance”.

The inquiry continues on Thursday.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.


Top Stories


More from the Express & Star

UK & International News