The United Reformed Church (URC) has started a confidential process of reviewing all ministers' files; the specialist team undertaking the work are looking for any historic incidents of inappropriate behaviour or abuse that may have been covered up or overlooked at the time they occurred.
The review process has been carefully structured and, in its first phase, specialist readers will review around 2,500 files – the records of everyone who has held ministerial office – both Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Church Related Community Workers – in the denomination since its inception in 1972.
The specialist readers have a wide brief and are looking for evidence of anyone who has behaved in a way that has harmed, or may have harmed a child or vulnerable adult. The type of abuse that may be uncovered could include sexual or physical abuse, harassment and bullying. It is hoped that this initial triage will be completed by the end of November 2015.
Any files deemed to require further specialist scrutiny will be referred to an independent safeguarding consultant who will further examine these files. An anonymised report on these initial findings will be presented to the URC’s Mission Council – its executive body – in March 2016, though urgent issues will be managed as they arise.
Phase two of the process – a six-month period of public consultation – will begin when phase one ends next spring. During these six months anyone with concerns about the past behaviour of any member of the United Reformed Church can report their concerns. "We will take each such allegation seriously, listen carefully and take such action as appropriate," said the Revd Richard Church, the URC’s Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) who is responsible for managing the review process.
He added: "We are committed to appropriately addressing any cases of historic abuse that have occurred within a United Reformed church context, or by perpetrators connected with the denomination and we will work to ensure that appropriate care and support is available to all affected by the outworking of this process. I am satisfied that the process we have put in place is transparent, comprehensive and robust."
The United Reformed Church has been in discussion with representatives of survivors groups and with other denominations in the UK that have run similar historic reviews. The URC's safeguarding procedures have recently been updated and are available here.