SENIOR clergy in the Blackburn Diocese have written a joint letter to Christian faith leaders urging them to ensure ‘local churches are places where children and vulnerable adults are entirely safe’ from sexual abuse.

The letter, signed by Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn; Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley; Peter Howell-Jones, the Dean of Blackburn; and Mark Ireland, the Archdeacon of Blackburn; also states that members of the diocese should take a collective responsibility for abuse which has taken place within the wider church because ignoring it becomes a form of re-abuse.

The letter, sent to all clergy, readers and safeguarding officers in the Diocese of Blackburn, came following the release of the recent publication of the reports by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on the Diocese of Chichester and the Peter Ball case.

That report found that The Church of England’s response to child sex abuse allegations was marked by secrecy and criticised former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey for supporting the disgraced former Bishop Peter Ball. Ball was jailed in 2015 for 32 months for offences against 18 teenagers and men between the 1970s and the 1990s.

Calling on all church leaders within the diocese to read the report and learn the lessons from it, the letter reads: “The church is one body, so whilst we may not ourselves have been directly involved in the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, we are fellow members of the body with those who have and so we are all called to repentance.

“The church should be the conscience of the nation and yet as the report shows, again and again we have placed the reputation of the institution above the needs of the vulnerable. In addition, when the contemporary church fails to respond properly to allegations from the past, this becomes a form of re-abuse, adding a fresh layer of hurt and harm to those whose lives are already damaged. Trite, formulaic apologies will not do. There has been grave sin within the church, and unless corporately we name, confess and deal with that sin, our mission to the nation is fatally undermined.

“Moreover the report indirectly challenges us to give even greater priority to ensuring that our local churches are places where children and vulnerable adults are entirely safe and where the voices of those who have difficult things to say or disclosures to make are heard and acted on.”

The Blackburn Diocese has been forced to apologise in recent times over historical sex abuse. The Rt Rev Julian Henderson issued an unreserved apology after former Chorley vicar and hospital chaplain Neil Gray was jailed for four years for abusing two boys.

In 2017, The Rt Rev Julian Henderson echoed the apology offered by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Chester to the survivors of the late Rt Rev Hubert Victor Whitsey, a former curate in Chorley and vicar in Downham, after he was investigated by police over a string of alleged sexual offences against children and adults.

The letter, which is The Rt Revd Dr Jill Duff, the Bishop of Lancaster; and the The Ven Michael Everitt, the Archdeacon of Lancaster, continued: “It is absolutely critical that we ensure that safeguarding procedures in our parishes are robust and that training is up to date. Also vital is that, if you have any safeguarding concerns, you come forward and report these.”