The Church of England is facing two years of revelations about sexual abuse and attempts to cover it up, its ruling general synod has been told.
Responding to reports the Church is dealing with more than 3,000 reports of sexual abuse within its parishes, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Rev Peter Hancock, said: “We will hear deeply painful accounts of abuse, of poor response, and over cover-up.”
Hancock, the lead bishop for safeguarding, told the synod that “this will not be an easy couple of years”.
The most recent figures for 2016 showed that dioceses are dealing with 3,300 “concerns or allegations”, the vast majority related to “children, young people and vulnerable adults within Church communities”.
The Times says about a fifth of the claims were made about clergy and other church officials, “with the rest relating to other members of the congregation who perform unofficial roles or volunteer within the church”.
The disclosures come as the Church prepares for scrutiny by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA), which starts hearing evidence next month.
A series of sex abuse scandals connected to the Church have come to light over the past few years. Former Bishop Peter Ball was jailed for 32 months in 2015 for sex abuse against boys over three decades.
An independent inquiry last summer found the Church had failed to protect boys and then concealed evidence of Ball’s crimes while another review was highly critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, for his handling of the case of former bishop, George Bell, who was posthumously accused of sexual abuse.
Many in the Church of England fear a repeat of the scandal that has ripped through the Anglican Church in Australia.
A royal commission last year revealed more than 1,100 allegations of child sexual abuse over 35 years, with the Church admitting it tried to silence victims to protect its reputation.
While the allegations of a cover-up and endemic sexual abuse are damaging to the image of the Church of England, they could also put financial strain on its already depleted coffers.
The Daily Mail reported that the Church paid out £15,000 in compensation over unproven allegations against a former bishop, suggesting it could face a bill of almost £50m if every complaint currently being investigated was settled for a similar fee.