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Sexual abuse thrived in Church of England due to 'excessive emphasis' on forgiving predators, abuse inquiry told

(Reuters/Ben Stansall/Pool)Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby speaks during a service of thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday at St Paul's Cathedral in London, Britain, June 10, 2016.

The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse was told that the Church of England has failed to stop sexual abuse because it had prioritized its reputation over the safety of children and because it had put an "excessive emphasis" on forgiving predators.

On the first day of three weeks of hearings, the independent inquiry was told that the young victims were made to feel responsible for the abuse they suffered when they reported it to church staff.

The hearings being held this week are part of the review on how the Anglican Church handled allegations of sexual misconduct since the 1950s, beginning with the cases at the Diocese of Chichester.

The diocese has seen a series of sex abuse scandals, including those committed by former bishop Peter Ball, who was convicted of indecent assault for abusing 18 vulnerable men and boys over 20 years.

During the hearing, lead counsel Fiona Scolding lamented that priests in some parishes have resigned in an apparent attempt to avoid facing "criminal records and vetting and barring checks."

"You will hear of parishes where individuals resign rather than face such checks, not because they have perpetrated any criminal offending, but because they consider that it is a slur on their character to even be asked such questions," Scolding told the inquiry, as reported by The Telegraph.

The specialist abuse lawyer Richard Scorer, who represents 21 victims, said that the Church cannot be trusted to put its own house in order, noting that survivors had faced years of institutional cover-up and denial.

"As the established church, [it] claims to offer moral guidance and moral leadership to the country. Yet clerical sex abuse cases and the scandals associated with them powerfully undermine that claim," Scorer said, according to The Guardian.

"It must be clear now that if you want to abuse children, there is no more effective way of terrifying and silencing your victims than to claim to have God on your side," he added.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, his predecessor Rowan Williams and several senior bishops are expected to appear before the inquiry on behalf of the Church.

In a statement read to the inquiry by Welby's counsel, Nigel Giffin QC, the archbishop said that the Church's failures are "deeply shaming" and "a cause of horror and sadness."

Griffin said that much had changed for the better, but he acknowledged that there is more work to be done to prevent abuse in the Church.

In an apparent effort to prevent sexual abuse, the Church had increased its national spending on safeguarding from £1.6 million (US$2.2 million) in 2011 to £5.1 million (US$7.08 million) last year.

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