A bishop has said the Church of England "failed big time" over child protection as the General Synod formally apologised for clerical sex abuse.
The Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, said for "far too long" the Church of England, notably those in senior positions, had either disbelieved the stories of victims, believed them but tried to hide the truth away or hoped that by removing an offender the problem would go away.
"We can make all the excuses that we like about society being different in previous decades - or our understanding of abuse being so much better," he said. "We can note that our policies were different then and we followed those policies. But these take nothing away from the fact that we failed to listen properly, we did not acknowledge the wrong done, and we protected the institution at the expense of the person abused."
He added: "We failed big time, we can do nothing other than confess our sin, repent and commit ourselves to being different in the years ahead."
His remarks followed a 30-second silence observed by the General Synod after the Rt Rev Butler read a statement from the Stop Church Child Abuse Group (SCCA), a coalition of survivor support groups, to the General Synod, In the statement the SCCA called for an independent public inquiry into the extent of child abuse within the Church of England. The debate comes after the final report was published earlier this year into child abuse scandals in the Chichester Diocese.
The Rt Rev Butler said the report exposed "serious failures" in the Chichester Diocese but also "much wider institutional failings" which affect every diocese in the Church of England.
In a strongly worded statement calling for the public inquiry, the SCCA said: "Once such an inquiry has reported, once individual cases have been acknowledged, and once the Church has begun to learn how to respond appropriately, maybe then the apologies, general as well as to individuals and their families, will carry some meaning. If the Church through this Synod is willing to walk with us on this costly journey then there may be a purpose and there may be hope for survivors and for the Church in this resolution and this apology being debated today."
The General Synod also gave its backing for a programme of changes designed to tighten up child protection procedures in the Church of England and prevent further scandals. The proposals include removing the 12-month limit for bringing complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure for complaints alleging sexual abuse.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby said: "We cannot in 20 years be finding ourselves having this same debate and saying 'well we didn't quite understand then'. There has to be complete change of culture and behaviour. In addition, there is a profound theological point.
"We are not doing all this - we are not seeking to say how devastatingly, appallingly, atrociously sorry we are for the great failures there have been, for our own sakes, for our own flourishing, for the protection of the Church. We are doing this because we are called to live in the justice of God and we will each answer to him for our failures in this area."