THE Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed his mission to root out historic child abuse in the Church of England, by trawling every clergy personnel record dating back more than 60 years.

More than 800 “blue files” are being examined in Durham diocese alone, in an exhaustive nationwide inquiry being overseen by the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler.

The Archbishop – who said he broke down in tears at harrowing accounts of abuse – vowed there would be no hiding place for any clergy “however distinguished or well-known”.

And he suggested he was braced for further scandals to emerge, saying: “There’s more that’s not been revealed.”

On the impact of abuse, he said: “It is beyond description - terrible. When you abuse a child or a vulnerable adult, you mark them for the rest of their lives.”

Speaking at a Westminster lunch, the Archbishop said: “We are auditing all blue files since 1950, including those of deceased clergy

“That’s being done diocese-by-diocese, systematically. For example, in Durham diocese I think they’ve got over 800 of them - so it takes a lot of time.

“When we find any suggestion - in a letter, or a comment by a bishop from the 60s, 50s or something like that - we follow it up and see what the circumstances were.”

The checks were then checked externally, he said, adding: “That’s so we don’t miss anything and no-one can suspect we are covering up.”

The inquiry was being led by his successor as Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who has responsibility for safeguarding and child safety issues in the Church.

The Archbishop said that, nine times out of ten, what looked to be suspicious turned out not to be so – or everyone named in the file was deceased.

But he vowed that any files requiring further action would be dealt with “transparently and openly”, saying: “The rule is survivors come first – not our own interests.

“However important the person was, however distinguished or well-known – survivors come first.”

At the weekend, it was revealed that the Archbishop had described the Church’s failure to face up to past child abuse as “inexcusable”.

The comment came in a private letter to Marilyn Hawes, whose three sons were allegedly abused by a Church of England headmaster.

She wrote to the current Bishop of Durham, after receiving what she regarded as a cursory two-paragraph reply from an official, who forwarded her letter to the Archbishop.

Describing a talk about the controversy at a theological college, the Archbishop said yesterday: “To my intense surprise, because I don't normally do this kind of thing, I broke down completely.

“It was the shredding effect of hearing what we did, what we did, to those people and the sense of total failure and betrayal.”

Churches fall within the scope of the major review into child sex abuse, within state and non-state institutions, ordered by Home Secretary Theresa May.

However, that inquiry has yet to start – more than three months after it was promised – and is mired in confusion and controversy over who will lead it.

The Archbishop also spoke about relaxing confidentiality rules, to allow clergy who hear confessions about sex abuse to alert the authorities.

A General Synod measure to initiate a study on the issue was an “incredibly radical move which challenges more than 1,800 years of church tradition”.