A "strictly confidential" document distributed to senior bishops of the Church of England in 2007 contained clear-cut instructions on the kind of apologies they can issue to their victims of sexual abuse.
The private file, according to a report by The Telegraph, revealed how the bishops were reined in by their lawyers, PR advisers and insurers. Instructions said these leaders can only give partial apologies, should it be necessary, for the Church to avoid being sued.
The words they will use to "express regret" must be pre-approved. A warning was also given for meeting with the victims. The report said bishops can only do so after seeking legal advice. This memo was issued so as not to risk "inadvertent" concession to guilt, calling it an "unintended effect of accepting legal liability."
The piece of legal advice was reportedly confirmed as a genuine document by The Telegraph. It was replaced by a new guide last year.
"Joe," a sexual abuse survivor who came out with his experiences, noted that the Church's response to such issues in the past made better sense with the revelation of the document.
According to The Guardian, Joe was 15 when he started assisting the vicar of St. Mary's Church in London. He said the vicar tried to estrange him from his foster parents. He was viciously attacked and almost raped by the vicar when he was 16.
In his interview with The Telegraph, Joe said, "The approach to survivors is often a corporate model and this document supports that – it shows a church led by lawyers and insurers, you get the impression that these people are really their masters. A diocese is deferential to their bishop and the bishop is deferential to a bunch of lawyers."
Survivors reportedly said the document showed why the abuse crisis failed. The cover-ups and denial did not address the root of the issue, which only intensified the pain the victims went through.
"The Church will say 'our hands are tied' but they are paying the people who are tying their hands," Joe said. "They should say we need to stop this nonsense but they wash their hands like Pontius Pilate," he added.