The Church of England has completed a review of more than 75,000 files, some dating back to the 1940s, with the publication today of its national Past Cases Review 2 (PCR2) report. The purpose of PCR2 was to identify both good practice and institutional failings in relation to how allegations of abuse have been handled, assess any identified risks and respond to these where appropriate, and to provide recommendations to the Church that will lead to improvements in its safeguarding work.

The following report relates to the review commissioned by the Diocese of York with York Minster.

If you are personally affected by this article or issues raised in it, you may find support via the following links:

The Diocese of York shares the commitment of the whole Church of England to make its places of worship and its communities safe places for everyone to flourish, and it has embraced the second Past Case Review process as an opportunity to renew and deepen that commitment by ensuring that the lessons of the past are fully learned.

The full review is a very thorough piece of work, and I am grateful to the reviewers for their care and attention. The Diocese of York's independently-chaired Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panel is already scrutinising the nine local recommendations as well as those in the national report; some are already in the process of being implemented as a result of the review process, and plans are already coming together to put the rest into effect as quickly as possible.

We work constantly to improve the way we respond to those who may have been harmed or who fear for their own safety or that of others; if anyone is prompted by this process to seek help I hope they will find it through Safe Spaces, the Diocesan Safeguarding Team, an independent support service or from the statutory services.

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell

Background and Overview of the Second Past Cases Review 2019

The Second Past Cases Review (PCR2) was a large-scale independent review of the handling by the Church of England of safeguarding cases over many years. Each diocese commissioned an independent review team, working within nationally set parameters.

The National Archbishops’ Council’s stated aim for PCR2 was to ensure that by the end of the process, ”independent review work will have been carried out in every diocese and church institution within both the letter and the spirit of the protocol and practice guidance. Any file that could contain information regarding a concern, allegation or conviction in relation to abusive behaviour by a living member of the clergy or church officer, (whether still in that position or not) will have been identified, read and analysed by independent safeguarding professionals.

"At the completion of the review process it will be possible to state that:

  • all known safeguarding cases have been appropriately managed and reported to statutory agencies or the police where appropriate
  • the needs of any known victims have been considered and that sources of support have been identified and offered where this is appropriate
  • all identified risks have been assessed and mitigated as far as is reasonably possible”.

Each team of reviewers was further invited to comment on both good practice and institutional failings in the ways that allegations of abuse have been handled. They made recommendations, to both the local diocese and the national Church, based on what they had seen that, in their view, might improve the Church’s response to allegations and its overall safeguarding working practices; thereby ensuring a safer environment for all.

The York Review was undertaken by Leaders in Safeguarding ( who examined approximately 1,600 files relating to licensed ministers, clergy and lay ministers with permission to officiate, and diocesan employees. The scope of the review also included York Minster and all files held there that met the criteria set out in the national protocols. They additionally reviewed centrally-held safeguarding records relating to cases involving church officers, together with those submitted by parishes who were all asked to provide details of all cases of which they were aware. Members of a Diocesan PCR2 Reference Panel, drawn from statutory partners, provided independent scrutiny for the process and conducted their own sampling to provide local assurance of the quality of the work being undertaken.

Across all the files, case records and parish submissions, the reviewers identified ten cases of possible concern where there was no recorded evidence of a reference to Safeguarding. A further six cases were identified for the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (DSA) to consider possible further action where either new information had come to light since the original file closure or the records appeared incomplete. All sixteen cases have been followed up by the DSA in line with national practice guidance, with the involvement of statutory authorities as necessary.

In addition, the reviewers referred a number of other files to the DSA to where additional clarity was sought from the Safeguarding team in relation to the details recorded on file, or where documented poor behaviour raised non-safeguarding questions about the conduct of clergy or volunteers. The Safeguarding Team has followed all of these up and there are no outstanding actions still pending.

Summary of Reviewer comments

We are confident that we have identified, read and analysed every file in the Diocese of York and York Minster that could contain information regarding a concern, allegation or conviction in relation to abusive behaviour by a living member of the clergy or church officer, whether still in that position or not.

We have found that current safeguarding arrangements for identifying, managing and recording concerns are delivered very effectively, and all known safeguarding cases are being appropriately managed and reported to statutory agencies including the police where appropriate. We can confirm that the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (DSA), the Assistant Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (ADSA) and the Chapter Safeguarding Adviser (CSA) at York Minster are working effectively with senior leaders to assess, mitigate and manage the safeguarding risks related to the cases we identified. We have seen that determined efforts are now underway to ensure the needs of any known victims have been considered and that sources of support have been identified and offered where this is appropriate.

We found that the DSA, ADSA and CSA have very good knowledge, experience and skills which they use effectively to ensure current safeguarding cases are managed well. The current safeguarding case files contain clear and detailed information. However, many clergy personnel files contained information relating to possible safeguarding concerns that had not been correctly identified or addressed at the time.

The cases of concern that we identified almost all relate to past cases and demonstrate how staff and clergy had failed to understand the importance of identifying and reporting safeguarding concerns. In these cases, safeguarding has not been prioritised and previous safeguarding staff did not have sufficient independence and autonomy to manage safeguarding concerns effectively because senior leaders remained involved in decision-making processes.

It should be noted that the scope for files was related to the current location of the minister rather than where they had served when allegations or concerns initially arose. This does mean that where issues need further attention, they may not relate to shortcomings in local practice. Whilst a proportion of the cases of concern that we identified occurred before the Diocese of York or national church had a safeguarding policy and procedure in place, there were also examples where historic practice on the part of [preceding] safeguarding professionals was insufficient to ensure that risks were being effectively managed.

We have observed very positive recent initiatives introduced by senior leaders to help address the safeguarding failings of past years. These have included the publication of national guidance to help staff respond to victims and survivors, national guidance on safer recruitment and, locally, the delivery of training and the Diocesan Safeguarding Week. Senior leaders and safeguarding professionals accept that there is still more to do and we recognise these initiatives as evidence of their strong determination to improve.

Adult survivors of child sexual abuse who are receiving support from the Diocese of York say they welcome and value the contact they have with the DSA but have been disappointed at the way senior leaders failed to fully appreciate their circumstances. We did note that, historically, some financial compensation arrangements appear to have been poorly managed. The insensitive use of insurers to deal directly with victims and survivors to negotiate and mitigate levels of harm caused by the abuse was reported to us. As a result of this we have made recommendations to improve the way victims and survivors are supported.

The proportion of recorded cases involving domestic abuse and domestic violence is small and we believe this is because not enough is done to ensure staff and clergy have sufficient awareness to recognise the signs and symptoms or the confidence to get involved to help stop it.

The Reviewers, in the light of specific historic cases, made recommendations for further improvements in practice in a number of areas. Some were made to the national safeguarding bodies, whilst others were identified for local attention. The areas identified included further improvements in training in the area of Spiritual Healing and Domestic Abuse; information sharing (for example, in relation to clergy employed as chaplains by third parties); the use of risk assessments when offering Permission to Officiate (PTO) on retirement; processes for encouraging and supporting clergy and church officers to address or improve their behaviour; support for vulnerable adults who choose to use the complaints processes.

They also identified opportunities to strengthen the processes for recording and managing low-level concerns about staff and clergy and also to improve vetting and records management in relation to volunteers.

A number of cases of poor handing of allegations of bullying and harassment were identified. The reviewers felt that, whilst procedures to protect vulnerable adults from bullying and harassment are contained within the safeguarding policy, this did not sufficiently cover other members of congregations, including staff and volunteers. They therefore recommended that there is a need to identify and manage this behaviour, including through further promotion of the whistleblowing policy and complaints procedures to ensure that staff and clergy have sufficient confidence to report any abusive behaviour they see or experience.

Summary of specific areas of focus for the Diocese and/or York Minster

  1. Offer high-quality support for all victims and survivors of abuse identified in cases of concern during this review.
  2. Hold to account any staff and clergy who have been identified as abusers in any cases of concern newly identified in this review.
  3. Ensure all identified safeguarding cases, including the cases of concern identified during this review, receive swift and appropriate ongoing casework attention by reviewing the workloads of the Diocesan Safeguarding Team.
  4. Ensure safeguarding becomes further embedded within the organisational culture by promoting greater awareness of the importance of recognising and reporting safeguarding concerns, including low level concerns about staff and clergy conduct, so that they become key priorities in all areas of work.
  5. Reduce the risk of harm caused through bullying and harassment by introducing a campaign of zero-tolerance with objectives to raise awareness of bullying and harassment and give staff greater confidence in using the whistleblowing and complaints procedures to identify and hold to account those responsible for this behaviour.
  6. Improve awareness of risk and better manage all safeguarding concerns by making sure the relevant Diocesan/Cathedral Safeguarding Advisor or their immediate superior is informed and consulted over all plans to hold investigations into the related conduct of staff and clergy.
  7. Do more to hold clergy accountable for their behaviour and performance by strengthening the Ministerial review process to identify and record individual development and training needs, particularly those relating to safeguarding awareness and poor conduct. Monitor the completion of any identified training or development action and its impact. In addition, develop an effective strategy to record and manage low-level safeguarding concerns about staff and clergy, which can be used to contribute to the evidence used during reviews.
  8. Reduce the risk of granting permission to officiate upon retirement to unsuitable applicants, by exercising informed caution and discretion, particularly where an applicant has historically behaved inappropriately or been linked to concerns.
  9. Further strengthen the arrangements for safer recruitment, monitoring and management of volunteers at York Minster by introducing a single central register to record personal information such as name, address, contact details, references and appropriate checks on identity, suitability and risk.

Response from the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panel (DSAP)

We are grateful to Dr Dan Grant and his team for their diligent work, and for their comments and recommendations.
In reviewing these files we have been reminded once again of the shortcomings in Safeguarding practice in this and other dioceses. Where individuals have suffered as a result of their engagement with the church, whether at the hands of the perpetrator of abuse, or in the way that their disclosures have been received or managed, we join with the Senior Leadership of the diocese in offering our apologies.

We are committed to learning from the past failings in order to make the church as safe as we can in the present and into the future. Together, with the national Independent Safeguarding Board, we are committed to holding to account all those within the diocese tasked with oversight and leadership of Safeguarding in every worshipping community.

Much effort has been put in at Parish, Minster and Diocesan levels in recent years to improve the quality of our Safeguarding Practice. This has been informed by the first systematic review of past cases carried out by the entire Church of England in 2009 as well as other internal and external reviews, up to and including PCR2 itself. We welcome the positive external validation of our current Safeguarding teams at York Minster and in the Diocese, but recognise our responsibility in ensuring that the good practice becomes embedded throughout the Diocese and also in responding to the areas of weakness that remain.

Implementation of the relevant recommendations from the local and national PCR2 reports will be at the heart of the Strategic Safeguarding Plan for 2023-25, but the Diocese has already made progress in some key areas identified by the reviewers.

Allan Harder (Chair)
on behalf of the York Diocese Safeguarding Advisory Panel

28th September 2022