Monthly Archives: March 2021

MARCH 31 2021 – FROM THE ARCHIVES [MARCH 30 2016] – GEORGE BELL GROUP ESTABLISHED TO RESTORE REPUTATION OF DISGRACED BISHOP – WEST SUSSEX GAZETTE

JUSTICE FOR BISHOP GEORGE BELL

GROUP SET UP TO BACK DISGRACED BISHOP – WEST SUSSEX GAZETTE – MARCH 30 2021

A group has been established to seek to restore the reputation of Bishop George Bell.

The George Bell Group – which comprises lawyers, politicians and senior church members – wants to challenge ‘George Bell’s condemnation as a paedophile’ and has contacted the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In response, the Diocese of Chichester has reiterated its stance after it issued a statement saying that it had apologised and made a financial settlement last year to a victim of child sex abuse.

The George Bell Group said : ‘A surprised world learnt on October 22, 2015 that this much-admired wartime Bishop of Chichester had in 2015 apparently been found guilty, by Church authorities, of child sex abuse. As a result, his reputation has been irreparably damaged and schools and institutions dedicated to his memory have been renamed'”

The Right Revd George Bell was Chichester Bishop from 1929 until his death in 1958. His supporters have praised his humanitarian work during the Second World War. A spokesperson for the Diocese (who? – Ed) said that the current Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner had already stressed ‘that we are all diminished by what has taken place concerning the case of Bishop George Bell.’ “We have nothing to add to what was said last October when news of the settlement with the survivor was made public.”

At that time, the Church said in a statement that it had paid civil damages following what it described as a ‘thorough pre-litigation process during which further investigations into the claim took place, including the commissioning of independent expert reports. None of those reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.’

In February, Dr Warner commented : “Words of apology written in a letter can never be enough to express the Church’s shame, or our recognition of damage done. However, the apology that I made on behalf of the Diocese of Chichester is genuine, and a sincere expression that lessons are being learnt about how we respond to accusations of abuse.”

MARCH 27 2021 – “UNACCOUNTABLE CABALS OF POWERFUL BULLIES, MANIPULATORS, ENFORCERS, SILENCERS AND ABUSERS GIVE THEMSELVES PERMISSION IN THE CHURCH TO DO WHAT THEY LIKE WITH IMMUNITY AND IMPUNITY. THEY ARE IN CONTROL – AND OUT OF CONTROL. WE LET IT HAPPEN. WE DO NOTHING – OR NOT ENOUGH. CAN ANYONE STAND UP TO THEM NOW, OR IS THE COST TOO GREAT WITH TOO MUCH TO LOSE?” – RICHARD W. SYMONDS – THE BELL SOCIETY

MARCH 27 2021 – FROM THE ARCHIVES [OCTOBER 4 2008] – THE BISHOP GEORGE BELL LECTURE – DELIVERED BY DR ROWAN WILLIAMS – FORMER ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY [NOW LORD WILLIAMS OF OYSTERMOUTH]

Dr Rowan Williams

Photo source: BBC Wales

BISHOP GEORGE BELL LECTURE – DELIVERED BY DR ROWAN WILLIAMS – 104TH ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY – UNIVERSITY OF CHICHESTER – OCTOBER 4 2008 | The Bell Society (wordpress.com)

http://aoc2013.brix.fatbeehive.com/articles.php/1348/university-of-chichester-bishop-george-bell-lecture?fbclid=IwAR18HJDthdenQmKlivG2_va_MJJmhZylugNIcouEHKT320Pz-5DRp8gpgsM

University of Chichester, Bishop George Bell lecture

Saturday 4th October 2008

A lecture by the Archbishop of Canterbury given at the University of Chichester, 4 October 2008, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Bishop George Bell, Bishop of Chichester 1929—58.

The Archbishop answered questions at the end of the lecture – click here to go directly to the question & answer section, or read it at the end of the lecture.

A Church of the nation or a Church for the nation?  Bishop George Bell and the Church of England

In the first of a series of commemorative lectures earlier this year, Dr Andrew Chandler spoke with great insight about Bell as a man whose greatest commitments seem to have been doomed to failure. His steady belief in negotiation and arbitration in international conflict, his consistent refusal to allow that modern technological warfare might dispense with traditional moral boundaries – we could add too his passionate optimism about the possible convergence of the Christian faith with the artist’s imagination, and his lifelong devotion to ecumenism: all this surely represents a set of aspirations that now look to many people sadly unrealistic, overtaken by the onset not only of a Cold War but of a sort of ice age in corporate social vision or imagination.

My aim will not be to argue against this judgement, though Dr Anthony Harvey’s excellent tracing (in a later lecture this year) of the growth of some sort of organised moral and institutional awareness of the claims of international law might well be set in the balance against a superficial verdict of failure overall. It is rather to ask some questions about the motivation of such commitments as rooted in a particular sense of what the Church in general, and the Church of England in particular, might be. Bell was a politically active and experienced man, but not a pure politician; so we shouldn’t assume for a moment that practical failure would have made very much difference to what he thought worth working for. I want to suggest that his beliefs about the Church of England, as revealed in his actual priorities, offer an account of what might still be a reasonable ground for identifying the moral priorities of any Christian community, ice age or no ice age; and that therefore the celebration of Bell’s memory is by no means a wistful exercise.

I shall be focusing on two areas of Bell’s varied and tireless labours – his sponsorship of the arts in a Christian context and his interventions in public debate about the conduct of war. And what I hope to draw out is Bell’s acceptance of Christian witness as shaped by a twofold responsibility – responsibility to the culture in which the Christian community is located and responsibility for it. On the one hand, Christians are ‘answerable’ to the ambient culture in the sense that they are there not to dictate but to serve; the Church is not a body that arbitrarily sets the agenda for society at large, but seeks to discern what needs it must meet. It therefore has to develop a degree of attention to the culture in which it lives, if only so that it doesn’t find itself (as has often been said) answering questions that no-one is asking. On the other hand, with the Jewish prophetic tradition much in mind and the New Testament imagery of the believing community as salt, leaven and light, Christians are answerable to God for the integrity and justice of their society; they may not be setting an agenda but they are discerning what is destructive and warning against it – and the refusal to utter such a warning leaves the believer exposed to judgement.

The balance is a difficult one, and very few individuals or particular Churches get it right for long. Answerability to the culture can produce a lack of confidence within the Church in its own distinctive gifts, and at worst an uncritical reproduction of the culture’s attitudes with a faint pious gloss. Answerability for the culture can generate obsessional confrontation, something like paranoia about cultural and moral decline and a weddedness to the luxuries of a permanent minority position which allows criticism without practical engagement. What is impressive about Bell is not only his ability to hold the tension, with an apparent lack of self-consciousness that is remarkable, but also the way in which the two concerns appear in his biography as intricately interwoven. A supreme ‘insider’, in both ecclesiastical and social terms, Bell uses the rather ambivalent authority of his position both to serve and to re-shape his environment.

Bell and the Imagination of Society

Kenneth Pickering, in his delightful book, Drama in the Cathedral,[i] has chronicled the history of the plays performed in Canterbury Cathedral in the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century; and Bell’s role in prompting this history is fully acknowledged. It was he who, as Dean of Canterbury, invited John Masefield to write The Coming of Christ for performance in the Cathedral nave in 1928 and who commissioned music from Holst and designs from Ricketts for this historic event. Pickering stresses [ii] Bell’s refusal to censor Masefield’s text, despite the strong political meat contained in some of the shepherds’ speeches, where the experiences of the Great War and the General Strike are given pretty explicit voice: ‘Bell was prepared to face the consequences of the anti-war sentiments expressed in the play.’ [iii] And if we recall the coolness or even hostility towards the entire project from some in the Cathedral establishment in Canterbury and the lukewarmness of the Archbishop, it is clear that Bell’s distinctive but undramatic moral courage was already in evidence. For most modern readers, Masefield is an unadventurous poet, and quite a lot of the text of this particular drama does now sounds the flat and artificial note of the mere pageant; but it is important that the moments where something much more passionate and challenging is allowed to come through are among the parts that Bell most wanted to preserve.

In other words, Bell’s welcoming attitude to the arts of his day was not simply a matter of encouraging decorative uplift: Masefield, Holst and Ricketts were none of them at the time uncontroversial figures, or indeed conventionally religious ones (Charles Ricketts was a robust unbeliever, much amused by the invitation to design a nativity play in a cathedral.) If the history of the Canterbury plays now seems less exciting in terms of engagement with the more complex areas of modern literary development than seemed to be the case at the time, we should make due allowance for the advantages of hindsight. Bell’s personal taste was largely (not exclusively) conservative, but in comparison with most of his ecclesiastical contemporaries he was notably adventurous, and, above all, he was determined to allow artists themselves to set the standards of excellence and acceptability. In this alone, his stature is evident. The later evolution of the Canterbury plays, the involvement of Martin Browne, the recruitment of T S Eliot to the project and the formation in 1930 of the Religious Drama Society with Bell as President, all this is quite well-known. Although Bell left Canterbury in 1929, his personal imprint on this notable rediscovery of the possibilities of religious drama continued undiluted. Eliot could even dream of every cathedral having its own drama company, [iv] not as an aspect of ‘religious revival’ but as a way of the Church meeting people’s appetite for serious theatre. And Bell himself, as his approach to Masefield’s text suggests, looked to drama to address the major public issues of the day; in 1932, he enthusiastically supported a play on disarmament as setting an agenda for the Geneva Conference of that year.

In fact, the more one looks at Bell’s involvement with the religious drama revival, the more the connections with the rest of his concerns become clear. Being ‘answerable’ to the culture meant, in this context, something like ‘giving permission’ – as we’d now say – to the artist to raise issues, to give room for voices that might otherwise be suppressed. Answerability is not about giving a generic blessing to the culture and its corporate imagination, not even about trying to identify in it some encouraging echoes of Christian aspirations; it is helping the properly critical voice of art to find an audience. It is, we could say, serving the seriousness of society, not accepting its own account of what entertains or reassures it. Masefield’s Coming of Christ is, of course, a mediaeval pastiche, lapsing constantly into sententious poeticism; yet it was doing something quite fresh, and that freshness could not have been there without Bell. It was using the cathedral as a platform for public seriousness, not bound to but still grounded in the confession of faith.

The language of ‘seriousness’ may recall Philip Larkin’s famous ‘Churchgoing’ poem; but I think there is a difference between Larkin’s seriousness, essentially a mood of rather sombre individual reflection strongly connected with the remembrance of death, and the seriousness of an art that invites its culture to self-examination and a degree of shared productive discomfort. Bell clearly believed that if the Church was going to be responsive to the arts, it had to let them be what they would. In another of this year’s commemorative lectures, Christopher Frayling expertly dissected some of Bell’s assumptions about aesthetics and identified the residual presence of Ruskin and other Victorians (Bell was in so many ways very much a belated Victorian) in shaping what we are bound to see as an overoptimistic sense of convergence between creativity and faith. Indeed; yet his practice is, in this as in other areas, perhaps more complex and nuanced than his actual words. The world of the visual arts has been much disenchanted since Bell’s heyday, and Professor Frayling lays out authoritatively why re-enchantment is a long job, if it is possible at all. We have no common iconographical vocabulary, no symbols we all recognise even if we are doing new or subversive things with them. To imagine a simple convergence of visual art and theological understanding is fantasy. Yet, if my reading of Bell’s engagement with drama is right, there is a little more to be said: even in an artistic atmosphere dominated by individualism or abstract formalism, where the whole notion of a ‘commission’ from an institution like the Church is suspect, is it still true that art can work for public seriousness? And if so, is it still possible for the Church to assist in letting such voices be heard or images be seen?

I hope that by now it will be clear that what I’ve called answerability to the culture was not, for Bell, any kind of easy compliance: it was an attentive and sometimes risky strategy of seeking to give a hearing to those voices in the corporate imagination that were pushing the boundaries of what made obvious sense, that were moving beyond a simple consensus, whether of taste or of ethical sensitivity. It would have been relatively simple in 1928 for a religious drama to elide the painful realities of war and economic privation; Bell refused that simplicity and enabled at least some of the later Canterbury plays to address some of these same realities, and the related ethical knots of propaganda, complicity and raison d’état, the political rationalisation of violence, that surface in the most famous of all the Canterbury dramas – Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, in whose commissioning Bell had played a part. More generally, though, what is implied here about the Church overall is of great significance. Bell had written in 1930, in his Brief Sketch of the Church of England, [v] that a national church was one in which ‘everybody has an interest of some kind’; [vi] and on its own, this could have been the recipe for a bland and narrowly pastoral account of the Church’s service to the society around. Bell’s practice suggests, in contrast, that a national church is one which can help to orchestrate a fuller argument in and about society than might otherwise happen, partly by offering a platform for certain otherwise inaudible or unwelcome voices. Precisely in its careful attention to what is actually being said and imagined in the creative arts, it becomes more than a pious mirror for one or another kind of dominant discourse. It helps to sustain within the nation’s culture a critical distance from the practices of power.

Bell and the Morality of Society

Hence the interweaving of Bell’s involvement with art and culture and his advocacy for those without voice in the international as well as the national context. It was an advocacy conducted unashamedly within the geography of the English establishment; Bell was out to persuade national decision-makers to decide differently, and he acted accordingly, in the Lords, in the correspondence columns of the mainstream press and by navigating that complex delta of mingling private relationships and affinities that composed the governing class of the interwar years. He was not a grandstanding prophet, unconcerned with how national decisions are made; his extraordinary network of personal contacts across Europe, largely born out of his ecumenical labours, meant that too many situations in the Europe of the thirties were of direct personal concern for him ever to be content with generalities. He wanted to save particular lives, not only to secure better outcomes for large numbers.

And this meant creating routes into the establishment for those with no obvious leverage or access. It is eternally to his credit that he – unlike rather too many of his colleagues in the Church of England – recognised almost instantly the nature of the threat posed by the Third Reich to Christian and civilised tradition, and the scope of the much more crude and direct threat to the Jewish people. (Among the English bishops of the day, only the proverbially brave and independent Henson of Durham fully shared this clarity.) When the mixture of covert anti-Semitism and a presupposition in favour of order and the combat with Bolshevism had blinded even relatively liberal and compassionate public commentators and politicians in Britain, he seems to have had no doubts of where the demands of truth lay. And this clarity was evident not only in Britain but in the wider ecumenical scene. In April 1934, Bonhoeffer, still at that point a pastor in the German church in Sydenham, wrote to Bell, quoting a letter from a friend in Germany about the crisis in the church there: ‘in the present moment there depends everything, absolutely everything on the attitude of the Bishop of Chichester’.[vii] An extravagant testimony, but one that shows how completely Bell was relied upon as the voice of the European Christian conscience, through his position in the Council for Life and Work; as the most important force in animating solidarity for a persecuted Christian minority in Germany, convinced (not without reason) that Christians elsewhere had only the dimmest notion of what was at stake for them.

It was the start of a long and costly involvement for Bell in the protection of all the victims of the Third Reich – increasingly in his pressure for the British Government to act on behalf of Jewish refugees, in his practical support for famine relief in Europe in the early years of the war, and, in a different register, in his consistent opposition to the pattern bombing of German cities – recognising that German civilians too were victims of the Reich, hostages of the Reich, and that the indiscriminate slaughter of such people was to adopt some of the enemy’s own callousness towards their own people. But both before and during the Second World War, there is a consistency also in what Bell wanted for the nation to which he belonged. In pressing for a responsible and moral stance towards refugees and in condemning methods in warfare that compromised the claim to be fighting ‘justly’, he was reminding his fellow-countrymen that the nation is not an entity whose interests can be thought about in isolation from an ethic extending across national boundaries. What is good for the United Kingdom cannot be defined in abstraction from what is good for those who look to the United Kingdom for generosity and integrity. We cannot call ourselves good if we betray what others expect from us in the light of that claim. A moral society is one that is strong enough to expose itself to the judgement of others, to hold itself accountable to more than its own immediate interests. Significantly, it was a point that Bell was still making in the 1950s, when the presenting issue was economic justice for the poorer nations and continents.

So we could say that responsibility ‘for’ the nation was something to do with the belief that the nation needed itself to be reminded of its own responsibility, its answerability to what is expected of it in a global moral context. Like many another tormented patriot in the modern age, Bell attacked an immoral consensus in his own society not out of a lack of commitment to the nation and its interests but out of a depth of commitment to the ‘imagined nation’ evoked in the most serious (to use the word again) elements in that nation’s traditional self-descriptions. The question Bell puts is essentially one which all public moralists must sooner or later, in one form of words or another, articulate: ‘Do we as a society actually want what we say we want?’

A national church in which everybody has an interest: standing alone, that is a potentially complacent account of what Bell believed about the Established Church; but in the context of his actions, it’s a definition that provokes deeper questions. Bell acted as though the Church were in some sense the guardian of the ‘interests’ of the nation insofar as the nation was a morally coherent society. It is not so much that society at large looks after the interest of the Church, but that society recognises that in the absence of the Church its own interests are gravely compromised. That recognition requires the nation to believe that its interests are not served by automatic self-defensiveness; that its flourishing may be in its exemplifying better some of the elements that its national mythology prizes – legal equity, the welcome of strangers, the willingness to take risks for a wider good (as, for example, in the abolition of the slave trade). The analogy with the prophet in ancient Israel here acquires some force: here is a voice that recalls the community to its basic self-images and self-understandings – assuming that the national community does indeed have a ‘myth’ about itself rather than just a commitment to its collective self-interest.

So Bell’s twofold witness comes to be essentially about challenging the society in which he works as to whether it has any shared sense of its worth, of what it is that its social forms and practices communicate about its vision of human flourishing. For Bell, as, again, for any public moralist, what matters about this or that society is whether it has anything to say about what’s good, interesting, life-giving for human beings in general, not just for this society or nation in isolation. This is never to reduce the particularities of a nation to moral generalities, variations on a cultural Esperanto whose local expressions are of no substantive concern. And it is precisely at this point that the specifics of a local culture come into play – the history and heritage of creativity in a particular language and ethos. Part of the Church’s responsibility to and for the nation at large is discharged by its readiness to nurture and support voices of questioning within the culture, voices that themselves challenge a society about what it considers to be of worth and meaning. Certainly, we are in a situation where even the residual optimism of Bell about the possible convergence of artist and churchman (and yes, I do mean churchman in this context) is not available. Yet this doesn’t mean that the Church today is spared the task of approaching the art of its day ready to listen and discern, and to try and see where it speaks to and at the level of seriousness that will pose the necessary questions for society. Bell’s engagement with the arts, whatever its limitations in retrospect, was emphatically of a piece with his later challenges to the moral self-image of Britain in a darkening Europe and a destructive war.

Bell and the Church in Society

For Bell himself, this was all undoubtedly bound up with his understanding of what an established church should be doing. Yet at the same time as his perspectives on these matters were maturing so impressively, the Established Church was going through a crisis of unprecedented severity. The year before Bell became a bishop, Parliament had for the second time rejected the Revised Prayer Book. Bell himself is one of the most punctilious chroniclers of the crisis in his biography of Archbishop Davidson; and his critical friend and intermittent ally, Hensley Henson, had, as a result of the Prayer Book debacle, abandoned his commitment to establishment. Were Bell’s own convictions shaken? It seems not; in 1930 he joined a Commission on Church and State (along with William Temple) set up by the bishops, which was more or less designed to sidetrack any talk of disestablishment.[viii] But to understand exactly what was involved at this moment, we need to grasp that what the Prayer Book crisis did for some was not to precipitate them into the arms of the disestablishers but to reinforce a sense that establishment needed to be sharply distinguished from subjection to state authority. As Matthew Grimley notes in his excellent monograph, a deep division had opened up between those like Bell and Temple who valued establishment as a vehicle for the kind of critical moral debate we have been reflecting on, and those in both the Modernist and the Conservative Evangelical camps at the time who looked to the authority of the state to protect them from both superstition and ecclesiastical hierarchy.[ix]

The salient point is that, as Grimley puts it,[x] ‘Most Evangelicals and modernists denied that the Church had an inherent right, as an association or as a divine society, to settle its own doctrine.’ This was completely antithetical to what Bell believed. If the Evangelical/Modernist position were to be accepted, there would never really be grounds for the Church, as a body of people committed to a specific revelation, to question what the state determines about ‘the orientation of the religious life of the nation’ (the phrase comes from the Evangelical paper, the Record, in 1927). And this was, of course, to be the issue at the heart of the German Church Struggle; Bell could not have spoken or acted as he did in regard to Germany if he had not been clear about the principles and limits of establishment in England. The Modernists and Evangelicals of 1927/8 cannot, of course, be blamed for not foreseeing where the German situation would end up within a few years, and some made due amends; likewise, we should have to acknowledge that some of the most embarrassing examples of collusion with the Nazi-influenced German Christian programme came from British churchmen with a quite different background (Hoskyns and Headlam, for example). But the central issue of 1927/8 must have done something to shape Bell’s thinking, not least as it was the painful nemesis of his patron and lodestar, Archbishop Randall Davidson.[xi]

For an established church to do its work on Bell’s presuppositions, it has to be more than just an established church; it has to have a theology that guarantees a wider horizon than the national. This, of course, has a great deal to do with the perspective Bell acquired through the ecumenical movement, but it is not simply an appeal to an international instead of a national Christian consensus. Bell evidently believed that the Church has to be able to give an account of why it is there at all, as a community that is not simply identical with the political community, however deeply it sees the destiny and health of that community as linked with its own life. The Church has to be able to propound and defend a view of what is due to human beings as such that is independent of a merely local or national loyalty or even of an international ideological loyalty. In short, the Church exercises its responsibility to and for the nation and its culture precisely by being itself responsible to more than the nation and its culture. In other words, Bell’s twofold concern with the arts and the political morality of government illustrates not the virtues of a Church embedded in its cultural environment in the most obvious way, but the essential importance of both transnational and theologically grounded interests in its life. The Church is ‘serious’ because it is in some degree strange to its environment as well as committed to understand and serve that environment. And an openness to the life of the imagination is simply one way in which that strangeness can be refreshed and strengthened: the culture of a nation is not a matter of repetition and self-reinforcement but of that ‘continuity of conflict’ that Alasdair Macintyre has identified as central to the vitality of any tradition. The Church has no business being less strange and challenging than the best of the artistic life of its society.

A Church whose roots lie in the event of the Incarnation cannot be other than strange to its society. It embodies the conviction that the uncontainable creative energy that undergirds all reality is uniquely and uninterruptedly at work in a human life at a particular juncture in history, so that this human life communicates possibilities that human history left to itself could never generate. Among those possibilities, crucially, is the vision of an interdependent and universal human fellowship, living by mutual gift rather than mutual rivalry. And in any imaginable human situation, this will produce tensions with the specific loyalties and priorities that are assumed by fellow-citizens or kinsfolk. At a time when it is easy to be weighed down with anxiety about the degree to which we are satisfactorily adjusted to our cultural context, it does no harm to have a reminder that the ‘legitimacy’ of the Church is not based on the permission of a social authority: it answers to something other than the dominant structures of the day.

Yet, it is the same incarnational theology that reminds us that God has spoken in a particular dialect and a particular body, and not in generalities or abstract principles. The Church speaks the languages of its environment, and one of its most distinctive features – to pick up a point developed elsewhere[xii] – is that it assumes its Scriptures can and must be translated, over and over again. It is heavily invested in the deeper discovery of what is given to it in revelation through the encounter with new and diverse contexts. It may be strange, but it cannot be simply alien and incomprehensible; it is always seeking to understand itself in the endlessly varied exchanges of cultural life within and between societies.

What I have been arguing is simply that Bell instinctively understood this essential duality in the character of the Church (and in the character of a Christ described in the orthodox formulations as complete in both his unfathomable divinity and his familiar humanity). And if there is a vital role to be played these days by what is fashionably called ‘narrative theology’ (granted all the reservations and criticisms that may be made, criticisms brilliantly developed in Francesca Murphy’s recent book on the subject), we could reasonably say that telling Bell’s story is one way of elucidating what might have seemed abstract doctrinal statements about the nature of Christ and his Church. Stories that present the Church as struggling to hold the tension between the two responsibilities I sketched at the beginning of this lecture are an essential tool for maintaining the Church in a proper and critical self-awareness. Neglecting theology may be an attractive course for the practically-minded, but some at least of the narratives of the twentieth century present rather sharply the practically disastrous results of this, when the absence of a clear self-understanding on the part of the Church leads to an abrogation of responsibility. Laying out the narrative becomes part of the theological education we need – which is, once again, why remembering Bell is not an exercise in nostalgia.

He does not give us a simple answer to the conundrum of how to understand and work with the residue of establishment in England today; but in gently pushing us towards a recognition of the critical possibilities in this historical situation, he also reminds us that what there is of moral and spiritual substance in our legacy is not primarily about any power to direct and control the social process or about a guaranteed security for the privileges of a particular ecclesial organisation. It is something to do with the opportunities of engaging with some very tough and complex questions about how a society scrutinises itself in the light of what lies beyond its political fashions and immediate interests. And it will do that most honestly, of course, if it is itself ready to confront its own reality, its weaknesses and its gifts, with clarity.

Establishment can be the nurse of an over-ambitious sense of what ‘the Church’ means in society. In a very characteristic passage, the late Donald MacKinnon sets Bell’s descriptions of Archbishop Davidson at work alongside the contemporary struggles, the passionate quarrels and plottings of those who were forging a revolutionary future in Russia – Lenin and his friends and enemies. The conjunction is almost, but not quite, comical – not quite when you consider the scale and cost of what emerged from the latter. ‘No one,’ writes MacKinnon, ‘can read Bell’s great life of that most considerable of twentieth-century primates [Davidson], without being made aware that here was a man of great wisdom and unquestionable goodness, who saw his role in part at least as that of being the very effective instrument of an informed Christian presence at the heart and centre of British life in the very heyday of Britain’s imperial power’.[xiii] Yet where were the forces that in fact were moulding the greatest social changes of the world in the first decades of the last century? Not in the well-mannered corridors of power familiar to Davidson. Establishment, MacKinnon goes on, is defended because it ‘assures that a Christian voice is heard in the places where great decisions are made. But what places are these?’[xiv]

Bell’s dual sensitivity to art and politics constituted one factor which kept him from settling down with a merely conventional answer to that devastating question; one factor which made him in some ways a greater man than Davidson. If my reading of certain aspects of Bell’s life here has been at all accurate, he retained a rare capacity to see the Church’s responsibility as related to those whose voices did not find an easy hearing in the ‘heart and centre of British life’ as normally conceived, and to understand that the calling of an established church had something to do with this. An established church can only do what it is meant to if it is a great deal more than an established church; if it is coherently aware both of the larger global context in which its national society lives, and, above all, of the ultimate context of the Church’s existence in the initiative of the strange and transcendent God. Peter Ackroyd, in his biography of Eliot, describes a weekend in December 1930 at the Palace in Chichester where Eliot read ‘Ash Wednesday’ to a mixed group of guests, receiving a somewhat baffled reception. Ackroyd comments that Eliot’s ‘was not the kind of religion at home in bishops’ palaces’.[xv] You can see his point; but it is actually a slightly off-key observation about this particular bishop’s palace. Bell, rather like Temple, can give the impression of someone whose Anglican and Christian identity was fundamentally untroubled, despite the apocalyptic character of the events through which he lived; but, if my reading is correct, then, whatever Bell’s private state of feeling, he (more than Temple?) knew that cultural or political cosiness was a temptation to be strenuously resisted as the most insidious temptation for an ‘insider’ in the British establishment; and he knew that if the insider failed to use his patronage and leverage for the voices that the establishment as not eager to hear, then there was a serious moral issue about that established status. For that knowledge alone, Bell deserves to be heard and rediscovered by Anglicans and, no doubt, by other British Christians, generation by generation.

© Rowan Williams 2008

MARCH 26 2021 – FROM THE ARCHIVES [FEBRUARY 8 2016] MICHAEL WHITE ON THE BISHOP BELL INJUSTICE AND ‘LYNCH MOBS’ – THE GUARDIAN

Child abuse claims: why due process and a fair hearing matter

Michael White

Michael White

It is such processes that distinguish us from lynch mobs, be they in dusty Mississippi towns, dustier Iraqi ones – or on Twitter

Bishop George Bell
Bishop George Bell, who was described by Charles Moore as ‘nearest thing to a saint since Richard of Chichester’. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Mon 8 Feb 2016 14.32 GMT

It looks as if the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, is edging towards an apology to Field Marshall Lord Bramall, 92, over unfounded allegations of child sex abuse and that some kind of further apology is coming to the family of the late Leon Brittan. It’s too late to do him much good, as it is to former prime minister Edward Heath, also caught up by some wildly improbable allegations.

Monday’s report by senior Dorset police officer James Vaughan into the Met’s handling of the Brittan allegations shows how complicated such historical claims can be.

Vaughan’s report says detectives were “fully justified” in pursuing a “fairly compelling account” of rape in 1967 but only made to police in 2012, though procedural mistakes were made.

Newspapers that made hay with separate lurid claims of sexual abuse and worse, made by someone known as “Nick” and others, later switched sides, as their reporting of Vaughan confirms.

His report did not say Brittan would have been cleared, only that an acquittal was more likely than a conviction.

It’s worth noting in passing that Vaughan concluded that a key police officer in the Brittan case misunderstood the law on consent and it would have been reasonable to arrest the former cabinet minister, which nearly happened but didn’t. As so often, loose ends need tidying up.

But is (arguably) the most distinguished of all those accused, George Bell, bishop of Chichester (1929-58) – a saint by some reckonings – being quietly traduced by the Church of England to cover its own back?

I’ve made some inquiries but don’t claim to know the definitive answer. Others are furious in his defence. One of them, ex-Telegraph editor and formidable Thatcher biographer Charles Moore thinks Bell has been stitched up by the police and his church. This case is again bubbling up this week thanks to a scoop in the Brighton Argus – of which more later.

In reality, Moore wrote last month (paywall), Bell was Chichester’s “nearest thing to a saint since Richard of Chichester” – miracle-worker and patron saint of Sussex, who died in 1253. The issue has been scorching the pages of the church press – and here – since October, when Martin Warner, the current bishop, revealed that a pre-litigation sum of £15,000 compensation had been paid, and an apology made, to an unnamed victim of child abuse in the sepia tinted postwar years when society was more innocent than now.

Why should only rightwing pundits (Peter Hitchens is also on the case) and churchgoers be concerned? In January, the redoubtable cleric Giles Fraser weighed in in the Guardian. Fraser is agnostic about Bell’s guilt but says due process and the rights of a much-admired bishop to be defended have left the church asking to have too much taken on trust.

Due process and a fair hearing should matter to secular progressives as much as they do to both sides in the Julian Assange case and other legal controversies. But Bell should appeal to the left because he was a brave and early opponent of the Nazis (when the Daily Mail was still playing footsie), a friend and ally of the great and murdered Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of Gandhi and TS Eliot, a champion of refugees.

Perhaps most compelling of all, during the second world war Bell was a courageous critic of Allied bombing of German civilian targets. I’m not sure I’d have agreed with him but it took guts. It may also have cost him the archbishopric of Canterbury.

Was this the man who also did cruel and wicked things to a small girl in his care under the pretext of reading her a bedtime story a few years later? The question is hard to answer at 65 years’ distance. Human nature has a dark side, as Bell, who saw Hitlerism close up, knew better than most.

Here’s last week’s Brighton Argus’s scoop, an interview with the alleged victim, “Carol”, her life intact but marked by what she says happened.

Like Dorset copper Vaughan’s reading of the account of “Jane”, Brittan’s alleged rape victim, I found her story chilling and – on the face of it – persuasive. So was Argus reporter Joel Adams on Radio 4.

Others I have spoken to dismiss it. In his Telegraph column on Monday Charles Moore protests that those who knew and loved Bell, some still alive, have not been given a chance to defend him, that no lawyer was appointed to sift the evidential record of the time.

Warner is using Carol as “a human shield” to protect his own procedural failings, he argues.

On Sunday, Hitchens also returned to the fray, citing an admission by Paul Butler, the bishop of Durham, the No 3 man in C of E’s hierarchy and charged with supervising these cases. Butler said in the Lords (column 1,516, pdf) that Bell was “an astounding man” and that, after careful consideration, the church was not saying he actually did what he is alleged to have done.

“There has been no declaration that we are convinced that this took place. It’s about the balance of probabilities,” Butler told peers.

That’s quite a stroke and not how the “Bell guilty, admits church” headlines told it last October. Here’s Warner’s latest statement. My own inquiries shed light in both directions. Friends who know church politics and gossip very well tell me the diocese of Chichester has had an unsavoury reputation for sexual misconduct for decades, as demonstrated by the Peter Ball case. He was finally jailed last year at 83 despite friends in high places.

The issue was compounded by a geographical split in which posher West Sussex – around Chichester and its handsome 12th-century cathedral – is a centre of high church Anglo-Catholicism, whereas East Sussex was until recently the territory of south-coast evangelical Anglicans, some of whom are anti-women, anti-gay. It is not quite Shia and Sunni, but C of E’s culture wars have been nasty, and still are.

Given the shaming of the Catholic church worldwide and Anglicanism closer to home, given the uproar over paedophilia and establishment cover-ups (some bits real, others the fruit of malign or damaged imagination), it’s easy to see why Lambeth Palace seems to have prudently sacrificed the reputation of a long dead bishop under the leadership of Justin Welby.

It’s also disappointing. Those close to Rowan Williams, the last archbishop, are categorical that they have no record that a complaint against Bell reached Lambeth on his watch circa 2010. The buck passes. Meanwhile, local buildings and institutions named in honour of Bell are being renamed, no Cecil Rhodes reprieve for him.

Yet for justice to be done and seen to be done, process matters. Bell may or may not be guilty. But quasi saints do not come along very often and the comments of those who have affected his reputation need to be examined.

Process matters, the right to a proper police investigation and legal defence matters for the guilty as much as the innocent. It is that responsibility which distinguishes us from lynch mobs, be they in dusty Mississippi towns, dustier Iraqi ones – or on Twitter.

MARCH 25 2021 – FROM THE ARCHIVES [FEBRUARY 25 2018] – ‘THE OXFORD STUDENT’ – “THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND SHOULD STAND UP FOR BISHOP BELL” + “IT’S A SIN”

The Church Of England Should Stand Up For Bishop Bell

Comment Jack O’Grady

A short biography of George Bell, who had been Bishop of Chichester for 27 years when he died in 1958, begins by acknowledging a recurring pattern regarding the reputation of notable people. It points out that after such people die, their reputations are often reshaped and defamed by harsh criticism not voiced during their lifetimes – but that the Bishop had managed to be an exception to this rule.

This claim, published in 1971, would no longer be written today. Whilst the memory of George Bell has been cherished over the past 60 years due to his significant support of the Protestant opposition to Hitler, his work in bringing over many non-Aryan refugees from Germany and his emphatic opposition to the bombing of civilians during the Second World War, Bell’s reputation is now at risk of being utterly decimated. A complaint made to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 accused Bell of having committed grotesque acts of child abuse in the 1940s and 50s. In response, the Church apologised and paid the accuser £16,800 in compensation. Various memorials, such as one proclaiming him a ‘champion of the oppressed’ in Chichester Cathedral, faced removal. An Eastbourne school, formerly known as the Bishop Bell Church of England School, has changed its name altogether.

Most would agree that this sort of action would be justified in the face of conclusive evidence against Bell. But it has since transpired that the church acted far too hastily. Following their acceptance of the abuse claims, a robust movement was sparked to defend Bell’s reputation, involving major journalists such as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. The Church then initiated an independent inquiry, led by Lord Carlile (one of the country’s top legal experts), which concluded that they had “rushed to judgement” and that the damage to Bell’s reputation was “just wrong”. Lord Carlile even went so far as to say that had he been prosecuting a case against Bell in court, Bell would have won. Nevertheless, this report was withheld by the Church for two months. After its eventual release, Justin Welby insisted that a “significant cloud” still hangs over Bell’s name in spite of Lord Carlile’s conclusions.

We should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations

This strange outcome highlights an element of mystery that has surrounded the Bell case. The initial claim against Bell was anonymous and the church revealed no details about the accusation when making their apology. As mentioned, it took two months for the Church to release the Carlile report after having received it. Once it was released, Justin Welby did not follow the logical implications of the report, but refused to retract his statements because of a vague belief in a “cloud”. On the 31st January, the enigmatic plot thickened when the Church announced that a further anonymous and unspecified accusation had been made and was being investigated. Some felt the timing of this was suspicious, given that a motion to debate the restoration of Bell’s reputation was due to be voted on at the Church’s General Synod the following week. Lord Carlile, who knew nothing of this accusation during his investigation, described the announcement as ‘unwise, unnecessary and foolish’. At the very least, we can all recognise the strange and stark asymmetry between the previous withholding of the completed Carlile investigation report and the eagerness of the recent announcement of an incomplete investigation. Things got worse when it emerged that the Church of England had refused to allow Mrs Barbara Whitley, Bell’s 93-year-old niece, to have the lawyer of her choice represent her side in the proceedings – instead choosing on her behalf someone who is neither a lawyer nor known to Mrs Whitley.

At this point, while many will sympathise with the active supporters of George Bell, which now includes leading groups of historians, theologians and church leaders who have written public letters asking for Welby to retract his statement, others feel a sense of unease. After all, it is of course possible that the accusations are true. Justin Welby, in a recent interview with the Church Times, said that the alleged victims should be “treated equally importantly” as the reputation of George Bell. Some would say this does not go far enough: surely we must be more concerned for the alleged victims, who are still living, over the reputation of someone who died 60 years ago?

The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse

Perhaps a better way of framing this would be to say that we should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations. The trouble is that most people have an instinctive tendency to find the latter much easier than the former. When the Church of England apologised and paid the first alleged victim in 2015, The Guardian ran the story with the headline “Church of England Bishop George Bell abused young child”. At that stage, nothing was known about the identity of the accuser nor the accusations, and yet headlines announced the claims as fact. Once the Carlile report was made public, it would have been no less factual to run the headline ‘George Bell declared innocent of abuse claims’, yet nobody did so. In fact, most would consider this overstepping the mark.

The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse (including both long-standing and recent accusations). Other high-profile cases of clergy committing child abuse, such as that of former bishop Peter Ball, have highlighted the shocking failures of senior clerics to listen to victims and pass allegations on to the police. Taking into consideration the sharp spike in awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse in society more broadly, following Weinstein, Larry Nassar and the #MeToo movement, it is not hard to imagine why the Archbishop of Canterbury would not want to stick his head above the parapet and defend the innocence of an archetypal establishment figure: a dead, white, male clergyman.

Courage, after all, comes at a cost. George Bell discovered this himself when his opposition to the bombing of innocent civilians during the Second World War put him on the wrong side of Winston Churchill, probably the main reason why he was never appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In the absence of substantial evidence in support of the accusations against him, Bell’s reputation deserves to be defended. This is not only in the interest of truth, but also in the interest of maintaining a legacy of courageous leadership which is desperately needed among Bell’s clerical successors today.

OTHER COMMENTS

“Very regrettable to see this statement from the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, who lambasts Bishop Bell’s defenders and accuses them of adding to the suffering of the accuser and her family. This is little more than an attempt by Bishop Warner to use the accuser and her family as human shields in this affair. Sad and wrong. Bell’s defenders are motivated only by a desire for due process and a fair hearing. Bishop Warner should respect that”

~ Justice for Bishop George Bell – March 27 2016

It’s A Sin: The Myth of Homogeneity

Posted on March 27, 2021 by Jayne Ozanne

by Father Richard Peers, Sub Dean of Christ Church, Oxford

Extract from: Final Report – Independent Lessons Learned Review for Emmanuel Church Wimbledon (March 2021)

“Theme 17: Homogeneity

The Review illustrated that one of the biggest difficulties in identifying and disclosing the behaviours was the myth of homogeneity. The Review evidenced that a person who possesses positive characteristics and is widely highly-regarded could nonetheless display entirely inappropriate, abusive and harmful behaviours which render them ‘unfit for their office’.

Furthermore, those who wish to disclose abuse or harmful behaviours can be caused to question their experience and reality where the predominant narrative outlines the positive traits of an individual. When this is combined with a narrative of protecting the gospel above all else then this becomes a powerful barrier to disclosing abuse or harmful behaviour.”

It was in 1987 that the Pet Shop Boys released their single It’s A Sin which provided the title, and elements of the soundtrack, for the recent Russell T Davies mini-series on gay life in the 80’s. Whether it was 1987 or a little bit later my strongest memory of dancing to this iconic song was on a Sunday night (gay night) at The Academy in Boscombe, just outside of Bournemouth. It was an exhilarating time for me. I had met and was with that night, the love of my life, a housemate was performing on stage with a live snake (don’t ask). Like the housemates in the recent TV series it seemed that there was nothing that could poison our sheer delight at life. 

Three decades later watching It’s A Sin touched many unexpected raw nerves for me and I am not embarrassed to say I wept watching it. 

During lockdown I have done a fair bit of online teaching in the form of seminars for various groups including ordinands at Ripon College Cuddesdon and Cranmer Hall in Durham on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, better known as Confession. I have heard a fair number of confessions in the last 20 years or so. One of the key tasks of a confessor, it seems to me, is to help the penitent identify what is and what is not sin. Many people come to the sacrament filled with shame, self-loathing or in need of healing. 

We live in a society in which the language of Christianity is tired and worn; it is hard for people to understand. Sin is a key concept that is much misunderstood. Yet the older I get the more important I think sin is. The more I believe in its reality. We all know that when anyone says “Human beings are divided into …” some trite simplism is going to be uttered. If only it was so easy.

The older I get the more aware of my own sin I become. I am a deeply flawed human being. If that sounds like I am beating myself up. I’m not. 

The older I get the more aware I am that we are all sinners. We are all capable of deeply flawed behaviour. My favourite image for sin (not sure who invented this, perhaps it was me) is a bicycle on which the front wheel is slightly askew. We human beings just can’t cycle straight. We need to constantly adjust for the reality of our askew-ness (sin). That’s mostly what the Christian life is about.

At the top of this piece there is an extract from the investigation into abuse at Emmanuel Church Wimbledon by Jonathan Fletcher. For me it is the most important passage in a very important report. The review highlights how a combination of fear and putting people on pedestals made it impossible for victims to report abuse. It also calls for a wider understanding of vulnerability in situations where individuals wield considerable charismatic and institutional power. These are all important lessons to learn. But it is this myth of homogeneity that is, I think, the most important lesson and the most difficult for us to hold on to.

The American pastor and writer Brian McClaren talks and writes about :

“Confirmation Bias: the human brain welcomes information that confirms what it already thinks and resists information that disturbs or contradicts what it already thinks.”

and

Complexity Bias: the human brain prefers a simple lie to a complex truth.”

It is easy to believe that there are good guys and bad guys. The truth is almost always more complex.

A friend of mine was one of the young men who formed part of the residential community associated with the serial abuser Bishop Peter Ball. It was a transformative and wonderful time for him, all blessing. Another friend spent much of her life as part of l’Arche communities. She is the leader she is now because of that experience. She has spent the last year grieving the revelations about Jean Vanier.

What can we learn from this? Nothing simple.

I can’t write a line, or come up with a phrase that explains this.  All I can do is offer the Christian faith. St Paul is often mocked for the complexity of his writing; his endless and sometimes seemingly incomprehensible sentences. But he was on to something. Perhaps no one has understood sin better. We human beings are all sinners. There are certain characteristics that we associate with something we call ‘holiness’. I am deeply sceptical of them.  

When we pray the penitential material in our worship and in Scripture it is not a reason to beat ourselves up. It is a reminder that every human being is a sinner. I am with St Augustine, and the Pet Shop Boys: It’s A Sin. I find the constant repetition of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” to be tremendously liberating. This is who I am. This is who everybody is. As I say to people when they begin the journey of Spiritual Direction with me: there are no gurus.

As we move into Holy Week there are simple questions we can ask. Why do we need Jesus? What do we need saving from? And the simple answer is: ourselves. As Walt Whitman put it “I contain multitudes”, and some of them are not very nice.

1 Response to It’s A Sin: The Myth of Homogeneity

  1. Richard Moy says: March 27, 2021 at 8:40 am “The older I get the more aware of my own sin I become. I am a deeply flawed human being. If that sounds like I am beating myself up. I’m not. The older I get the more aware I am that we are all sinners. We are all capable of deeply flawed behaviour. My favourite image for sin (not sure who invented this, perhaps it was me) is a bicycle on which the front wheel is slightly askew. We human beings just can’t cycle straight. We need to constantly adjust for the reality of our askew-ness (sin). That’s mostly what the Christian life is about.” Thank you Fr Richard for sharing today… Paul seems to have taken a similar journey… ending up with a depth of understanding as being ‘the chief of sinners’. Was struck last week that Jesus promised a Holy Spirit who would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement…. if we’re not being convicted, it may not be the HS (or therefore Jesus) we are really meeting…

The Patronage Legacy of Jonathan Fletcher – Surviving Church

COMMENT – LIZZIE TAYLOR

It’s very hard to have to say this. But here goes. The con evo constituency has given itself permission to do as it pleases. No one has stood up to it. The group is now out of control because the rest of the Church has simply allowed this to happen. Con evo clergy should repent of their attitudes of arrogance, entitlement and control.

The wider Church has soft and hard levers which must now be used to bring the group to heel. For example, bishops need not license clergy unless they’ve been satisfied that the parish’s ministry is being fully conducted in good faith with the wider Church. All CofE clergy should act in accordance with, and genuinely in the spirit of, the ordination declarations and oaths of canonical obedience that they have taken, the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy and – for what should be obvious reasons – the Nolan Principles.

MARCH 24 2021 – “QUEER EYE FOR A FEARFUL CHURCH” BY REVD CANON DR EMMA PERCY

Revd Canon Dr Emma Percy: Queer Eye for a Fearful Church

During the long months of lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic I was encouraged by my sons to watch Queer Eye on Netflix. I became hooked. When I felt overwhelmed with the uncertainties of the world on an international and personal level I would stick on an episode and be moved by the sheer warmth and kindness. For those who have no idea what I am talking about; Queer Eye is a make-over programme. Individuals whose lives have got stuck for some reason are nominated by a friend or family member to welcome the Fab Five into their life for a week. The five are men with expertise in grooming, clothes, design, food and wellbeing. They are all gay. This seems to give them a freedom to offer new perspectives. The result is life changing. 

We meet individuals who are stuck for different reasons. Sometimes they are so fixated on helping others they do not know how to look after themselves. Sometimes they are stuck in a time warp unable to let go of the past and live confidently in the present. They still dress in the clothes of a college student or with the haircut they had in their twenties. Often there is fear, either in the past or the future. Fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough, fear that if they stop for a minute everything will fall apart, fear of loss and grief. 

Some of these fears arise out of genuine experiences of rejection or failure or loss. Others are projections shaped by inadequate self-esteem or patterns of upbringing that suggested any focus on the self was selfish. We see how often fear can paralyse people or leave them trying to hang on to an idea of themselves which is long out of date. We see how fear can cause them to reject help from the people who love and care for them believing that any kind of dependency is weakness. We often see an inability to recognise their own worth.

What moves me in this programme is that these fears are met with compassion and kindness. There are no glib suggestions that life’s injustices can be easily overcome. Learning to know who you are and to find a sense of confidence in your inherent worth as a person is remarkably transformational. Moreover, the Fab Five are what we might call in pastoral theology wounded healers. These men have faced their own fears. Their queerness, and for two of them their skin colour, has been lived out in a world that still has so many fears about people who are different. As they talk they share small moments of their own stories. We catch glimpses of painful rejection from families, of bullying at school, of tough times.  We also get insights into the good relationships, the positive ways they have embraced who they are. We see how harsh religious judgements have caused deep wounds with one of the five finding it hard to even step inside a church building. Yet, despite this he designs and completes a wonderful meeting space for a church.

These men clearly understand what it has meant in their own lives to be met with compassion and kindness and they are able to express kindness and delight in those they meet. They show the value of relationships, of finding your family even if your own family don’t want you. They tell people that they are worth it, not in a self-indulgent way, but in a genuine valuing of our shared humanity. They also spread joy. This is a generous programme. They give and they do so trying to understand the person in front of them. They give to enhance and help. They give so that giving may be shared and relationships built up. They rejoice so that people can learn to share joy. I know of course that it is TV and it is carefully and skilfully edited but that cannot take away from the sheer humanity and kindness on display.

So, why am I writing about this programme in an essay about the fearful church? Principally because I believe the institutional church is stuck in many ways and is reaching for unhelpful ways of trying to move forward.

The statistics of attendance are on a clear downward slant. The age profile of those who go to church is heavily stacked towards the older end. Although a percentage of younger people will experience Christian worship as part of their education it is far fewer than when I was in school back in the 1970’s. Smaller congregations also means smaller offerings and financial decline is a real concern especially after the pandemic. 

The loss of commitment to organised religion coupled with the increase of a pick and mix spirituality is deeply confusing to a Church that often does not understand the people it seeks to serve. Although the church still has a public voice it is finding that its views are less likely to be asked for or listened to. Increasingly, the internal church debates are both of little interest to the wider society and on some subjects, deeply alienating. Thus the church is facing a loss of power and influence alongside a strong sense of being misunderstood. The fears are genuine and manifold. The future is uncertain. 

As this is the church we need to add to these genuine fears of decline the fear that we are letting down God. This is a fear that we often find hard to articulate. It is also the fear that makes us blame each other. So for some wings of the church we are letting God down by giving in to societal shifts in terms of women, sexuality and marriage. If only we were clearer about our counter cultural stand God would send the spirit and all would be well.  For others, myself included, the criticism is that we have not moved with changing understandings about women, sexuality, science and so much more. If we could really spread the good news of God’s love for all people things would be different.  

We blame each other for failing as evangelists.  We do not pray enough in the right way, (of course there are different opinions of what that would look like). We neglect the sacraments or the word of God or the service of the poor or proper theology. We bicker amongst ourselves and at times we more than bicker, drawing lines between proper Christians and those who for whatever reason do not fit. We fear rejection from each other and many fear displeasure and at worst rejection from God. All of us can be guilty of nostalgia. Like some of the individuals encountered in Queer Eye, we metaphorically dress as if we were our younger selves and wonder why people, including ourselves, find us unattractive.

We struggle to face these fears.  Often attempts to make the church more modern – business-like, more growth orientated and more branded –  lack kindness towards the very people who make up the church. Clergy and committed laity are overstretched and under-appreciated. There is a constant busyness; attempting to  control the decline and re-establish a sense of who we are. One writer suggests, ‘our busyness, strangely enough may constitute its own version of laziness (JBE p 82) – a failure to actually face the realities and the serious work needed to address the underlying issues. There is a nostalgia for church as it was, a distress that all the hard work fails to make a serious difference and a longing for how it might be. This can end up exacerbating our collective lack of self-esteem and damages our internal relationships. We cannot hide from these fears or try to return to a former age, however much we may want to. 

Alongside the realities of decline we  have to face up to the proper shame for past failures. The shame of failing to stop serial abusers from preying on children and young people. The shame of racism and classicism. The fact that so many congregations made good Christian immigrants unwelcome because they were black. The still unprocessed misogyny which led to such a begrudging acceptance of women in the ministry of the church and a continuing undervaluing of the work of so many lay women. The shame is acknowledged but not properly addressed so it continues to undermine our sense of who the church should be. We try to counter the shame by officiously practicing safeguarding and talking about diversity, by pointing to changes made and saying we are sorry. 

Much of this is good and necessary. Yet, a failure to really listen to those who the church has hurt means we have simply added levels of policies without culture change. Some of these have established unkind disciplinary processes that in too many incidences do not recognise gospel principles of compassion, forgiveness and human dependency. We seek to manage risk as if human relationships do not involve vulnerability and openness. There is still a sense that reputation management for the institution is prioritised in a desperate hope that we will not be shamed again. We need to honestly confront the self-understanding of the institutional church that meant certain types of people were trusted despite many warnings about their behaviour and other types of people mistrusted for not being like us.

Where are the wounded healers that might be able to help the church face these fears? Who can be the metaphorical Fab five who can kindly speak truth and give gifts that can help us move forward with a sense of integrity into our uncertain future? I believe we need to hear from those people who have known and experienced ‘othering’ by the church, who carry the wounding of that experience. Amazingly, there are plenty who, despite the rejections, the sexism, racism and homophobia they have experienced from the Institutional church, have found a secure place in God’s love and an articulate faith of inclusion. These folk, and I include myself, stay in our damaged and at some times, damaging church because we recognise that this is our family.  

Having faced the fears of rejection and marginalisation there can be a new confidence in a richer vision of both God and humanity. Some have written what we call standpoint theologies; looking at Christianity and the institution of the church from different perspectives. We need to learn from these about the blind spots and narrow visions that are part of the Church’s past and present, so that we can acknowledge past shames and imagine possible futures. These should not be special interest, alternate, theologies but welcomed as the necessary correctives to heal the fearful church.

As a woman growing up within the church it has taken so long to find genuine confidence in my full humanity before God. I have grown through feminist language in prayer and reflection, theology that speaks to my lived experience, the visible presence of women in places of power within the organisation. These changes matter, but they have been so slow and so begrudging. How transformational it would be if a patriarchal church could truly acknowledge and repent of the ways women have been at best taken for granted and at worst oppressed and abused. How different if feminist and womanist theologies were read by all.

Imagine how enriching it would be to be part of a church that can talk confidently about sex and gender differences and how these can help us understand God and humanity more fully. How exciting it would be to be in a church that rejoiced in the gifts women bring and acknowledge how much of the day to day service of the church they have carried. Yet, the fearful church wants to cling on to patriarchal privileges, to welcome women into the club as long as they don’t question too many of the rules and rituals. It is not able to see how alienating this stance is to a world in which more and more women are embracing their full humanity. 

The long history of othering women is connected to fears about sexual desire. This of course connects to the deep fears within the church about homosexuality. The church has taught men and women to be ashamed of their sexual desires. People have been rewarded for secretiveness, for a denial of self that is deeply damaging. Fear of exposure, fear of rejection and internalised shame is a deeply damaging wound that the church has inflicted on individuals and on its own body. Queer theology has insights to offer about embracing difference, challenging stereotypical views of masculinity and femininity, questioning our current idolising of the nuclear family. 

We have seen how gay and lesbian couples have things to teach all of us about what marriage means and yet the Church of England has rejected that gift suggesting that it should not be blessed.  What would a church look like that was not afraid of human sexuality? How freeing it would be to be part of a church that celebrated all marriages. What can we learn about God and humanity from listening to the wisdom of those who despite all the efforts to shame them have found that in God’s eyes they are good and gloriously made? The fearful church is terrified of acknowledging that differences in sexuality have always been part of human diversity, clinging to the need to shame others there is a failure to see how shocking and unkind this looks to so many in and beyond the church.

The church seems to feel more comfortable in publicly expressing its failures in welcoming in people of different skin colour. In the Church of England there has been a recent acknowledgement of the disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation; the men and women from Caribbean commonwealth countries invited to come to work in the UK during the post war years.  They arrived in the ‘mother country’, many as faithful Anglicans only to find that they were not white enough to be welcome in the Church of England. 

Yet, it is possible to express sorrow for these failings without addressing the roots of the problem. It seems easier to look at a moment in the recent past than to address the long and complex history of colonialism and slavery. There are Christians across the world who have stories to tell us shaped by their perspectives on colonialism and racism. The Black lives matter movement is another wake up call to say look at the world from where we stand. There is a rich and diverse theology; Latin American, Indian, African and black theologies written by those who have grown up with racism and the legacy of colonialism, all of which can and should challenge the white normativity of so much of our church thinking. We need to listen and learn.

Understanding and repenting of the colonial past that has shaped the church and still shapes so many ways our culture works, is a hard task. On a trip to India a few years ago I was shocked to see the white Christ-child with his white mother in the crib of an Indian church that traced its roots back to the Apostle Thomas.  Yet, this is just a simple example of the colonial legacy of a white church. For those, including myself, who as white western Christians have grown up with a history and imagery of the church which privileges our story there is a need for a reimagining of God, the church and humanity.  What would it mean for the church to really accept that Jesus wasn’t white? 

There is more. We need to encourage the theological perspectives of those differently able, those who do not fit the inherent class system of the church. Though the institutional church claims to want this there is immense fear of change. Above all there is a fear that diversity will mean an erosion of power for those who have held power as of right. This fear needs to be corrected by our gospel vision of mutuality and genuine interdependence. And there needs to be a proper recognition that this change should be uncomfortable for many of us. There is genuine anger to be heard and carelessness to be acknowledged. Yet, there is also hope. If we can start to allow the stories of others to change our understanding, we may find that in really listening to these voices we expand rather than contract. 

In Philips and Taylors book On Kindness they quote Donald Winnicott, ‘a sign of health in the mind is the ability of one individual to enter imaginatively and accurately into the thoughts and feelings hopes and fears of another person; also to allow the other person to do the same to us.’ They acknowledge that this is not without tension. ‘It is kind to be able to bear conflict, in oneself and others; it is kind to oneself and other, to forego magic and sentimentality for reality. It is kind to see individuals as they are, rather than how we might want them to be; it is kind to care for people just as we find them.’(p.96) We need this kind of kindness. The generosity of those who have been hurt by the church is seen in their willingness to compassionately speak truths, to offer new perspectives, to unblock channels of fear. Can we find the grace to really listen?

The Fab Five in Queer Eye regularly commend those they meet for their willingness to be open, to try the different clothes and new foods, to let go of damaging past narratives and embrace new perspectives. I nominate the fearful church for a make-over. We need help. Can we listen to compassionate critique from the standpoints of those whose voices have too often been deliberately excluded? We need the encouragement to step out of our comfort zone and learn from different experts. In a modern world which is, albeit hesitantly, trying to talk differently about gender, sexuality, ethnicity, the colonial past and the diverse future, the church needs to find the courage and humility to listen. When it has truly learned to listen it may find that despite all the signs to the contrary it does have something useful to say. We may find that our vision of God is enlarged and our capacity to share God’s reconciling love with the world becomes more authentic. We might become kinder and understand more deeply the joy of our faith. We may then be surprised to find that after our makeover others may then find us more attractive. 

Emma Percy.

Revd Canon Dr Emma Percy is Chaplain of Trinity College Oxford and Chair of WATCH (women and the church). She is one of the first generation of women ordained priest in the Church of England in 1994. She is a feminist practical theologian and has long been an advocate for an inclusive church. She is the author of Mothering as a Metaphor for Ministry (Routledge 2014) and What Clergy do when it looks like nothing (SPCK 2014) as well as a number of book chapters and journal articles.

QUOTES FROM ‘QUEER EYE’ – ‘PREACHING OUT LOUD’

“The Church, for me, is a place of hurt, judgement and pain”

Member of the QE Team

“The Church is quick to try to fix things without owning the damage that was done”

Pastor Noah – Evangelical Lutheran Church of Atonement, Philadelphia

“Owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do”

Brene Brown

“I keep running a negative script about myself”

Pastor Noah



You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself


Galileo Galileo

THE FEARFUL CHURCH – JONATHAN FLETCHER – IWENE CAMPS

https://jeremypemberton.wordpress.com/2021/03/24/smoother-than-oil/

The title of this blog is taken from Psalm 55. The writer laments the way he has been betrayed not by his enemies and the people he might expect to let him down, but instead by ‘mine own familiar friend’, with whom he ‘took sweet counsel together and walked in the house of God as friends.” He goes on:

The words of his mouth were softer than butter, having war in his heart:
His words were smoother than oil, and yet be they very swords
Ps 55:22 

That is what Jonathan Fletcher was.

But I associate the smoothness with David Fletcher too. He too knew how to use the tools of effortless public-school pressurising. He inherited from EJH Nash and then built up the whole edifice of Iwerne and its spiritual style. He sustained and promoted a structure inside which Jonathan Fletcher and John Smyth operated their horrendous regimes. What did David Fletcher know about what his brother was doing? I was only tangentially connected with the whole thing, and yet I knew about Jonathan Fletcher. The denials of sexual motive rang totally hollow to me. I knew that people were in thrall to him. I did not know quite how bad things were. But if I knew what I knew, then I simply can’t believe that people who were a lot more closely connected with Fletcher didn’t know too, and a lot more besides.

It is too early to pretend that lessons can be learned, when all the people who upheld the culture that shielded Smyth and Fletcher are still in post. They have been asked to consider their positions, but there is no sign that any of them think they should step down. They should. I am an outsider to it all, but I have some admiration for the evangelicals who want to see a very different culture. It would be some consolation for the victims of so much abuse by Smyth and Fletcher if the senior and shadowy figures in that whole milieu stepped aside for something new to grow…..

When I was in training in Cambridge, I was attached to St Barnabas Church, whose vicar at the time was Dennis Lennon. Dennis was a Londoner, who had played in the ruins of the blitzed city in his childhood, and who definitely did not go to the right kind of school. He had been a missionary in the Philippines and was then ordained in the Church of England. He was also the most brilliant and thoughtful expository preacher. He was a man without affect, straight-forward, kindly, encouraging, and I owe him a huge amount. I well remember the service he took with his surplice on back to front, looking like he had lost his hands – when questioned afterwards, he showed the wine stain on the front – “I didn’t have time to get Sonja [his very kind Swiss wife] to wash it”. He died some years ago, and I remember him with great thankfulness very often.

Besides being a low church evangelical, Dennis was an intellectual. He read very widely, and his sermons might be peppered with quotations from some obscure Polish poet, or Dostoyevsky or sociological writings or almost anything else. And he really wrestled with the text he was preaching on.

So I was formed by this approach, and the conference that Jonathan Fletcher led seemed shallow and formulaic by comparison.

~ Jeremy Pemberton

REVD DENNIS LENNON – CHURCH TIMES OBITUARY

Obituary: THE REVD DENNIS LENNON

26 SEPTEMBER 2007

The Revd Chris Butt writes:

THE Revd Dennis Lennon, who died on 4 May, aged 75, was ordained in 1974, aged 42. Given that he served in three dioceses — for nine years in Ely, and seven in both Edinburgh and Sheffield — he had a remarkable impact on the communities in which he served.

Born in 1932, he grew up in Fulham, where he developed a taste for leadership as the gang leader of a group of boys, who would play in and around the bomb sites near his home. But the most significant event of his childhood years was the realisation of Christ’s love for him, through his involvement in a Covenanter group.

After training in precision engineering, and national service in Malaya, Dennis returned to the Far East and to Thailand, serving with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship as an evangelist, but also using his engineering skills, on one occasion to build an operating-theatre lamp with an electric torch.

He married Sonja, a Swiss nurse, also serving with OMF, in Thailand, and both their children, Claire and Patrick, were born there. Dennis had a flair for languages, and became fluent in both Thai and Malay. After seven years in Thailand, the family returned to the UK, where Dennis served as Youth Director of OMF for a further five years, before attending theological college at Oak Hill.

A curacy at the Round Church (Holy Sepulchre) in Cambridge, where he developed a ministry to the many young families, was followed by an appointment as Vicar of St Barnabas’s on the then less-than-fashionable Mill Road. The church was very run down, attended by a handful of people and threatened with closure, but within a few years it was buzzing with life.

The executive director of the Bible Society’s programme for England and Wales, Ann Holt, spoke (Back Page Interview, 31 August) about the influences of people on her, and, alongside Lesslie Newbigin, she mentioned “the sermons of Dennis Lennon. He was a brilliant wordsmith, and the first person to make me think seriously about spiritual discernment.”

Preaching was undoubtedly his greatest gift. An Evangelical at heart, he had none of the predictability of Evangelical preachers. He drew his inspiration primarily from scripture, but also fed his mind and imagination from the writings of Barth, Torrance, Farrer, and von Balthasar, among the theologians, and Herbert, Donne, Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes, and O’Siadhail among the poets.

He would later, in retirement, write a book on George Herbert’s sonnet “Prayer”, Turning the Diamond, published by SPCK. He also had a wonderful sense of kairos, God’s opportune time, and really launched the Cambridge churches’ ministry to the many international students, which is such a feature of life in many of the city’s churches today.

In 1979, he launched the Kairos Trust, supporting a full-time worker in this ministry. Nearly 30 years on, several people are supported by the trust, and it has a remarkable ministry to students from all over the world.

From Cambridge, he was invited in 1983 to go to Edinburgh, as Rector of St Thomas’s, Corstorphine, which he described at the time as a church “all dressed up, with nowhere to go” — recognition that it had enormous, but as yet unrealised, potential.

At that time, the church was recognisably an Evangelical “flagship” in the mould of many that could be found in the cities and large towns of England — eclectic in its catchment, conservative in its theology and patterns of worship, more at home with churches of like mould (mostly south of the border) than with the diocese of which it was a part.

From this large congregation (and before church-planting became fashionable), with the blessing of Bishop Richard Holloway, who was hugely supportive of Dennis’s ministry, 70 members of the congregation at St Thomas’s moved to St Paul and St George’s, a church in the heart of Edinburgh which was threatened with closure.

This church now has a congregation of 700, who are embarking on a £5-million renewal and renovation project of the building, and look back with great gratitude to Dennis’s ministry. A second church-plant in Clermiston — Emmanuel Church — took place a few years later in the adjacent suburb to Corstorphine.

The Revd Paul Burt, now Senior Chaplain of Winchester College, who was a curate at St Thomas’s when Dennis was Rector, writes: “It’s no exaggeration to say that, as a result of Dennis’s leadership, Edinburgh church life, and even Scottish church life during the second half of the 1980s, glimpsed previously unthought-of possibilities, the effects of which are still being felt today.”

After only seven years in Edinburgh, Dennis was invited to bring his passion for evangelism and the breadth of his experience to the post of Adviser for Evangelism in the diocese of Sheffield, with the added responsibility of two small Anglo-Catholic parishes in Burghwallis and Skelbrooke.

This enabled him to speak with authenticity to churches and ministers across the churchmanship spectrum. He travelled widely within the diocese, encouraging parishes to discover the pattern of evangelism and faith-sharing that worked for them. He also kept up his regular writing of daily notes for Scripture Union’s Encounter with God series, something that he had begun in Cambridge, and which brought a worldwide readership and a considerable postbag.

On one occasion, he received a postcard from a missionary nun somewhere in equatorial Africa: “Now, after forty years, I finally understand what Hebrews is about. Yours, in gratitude, a Handmaid of the Lord.”

In retirement in Uppingham, he was never inactive, and his ministry was deeply appreciated. It had a transforming impact on a number of individual lives; but he was happy to control his workload and spend time with his wife, Sonja, and his children and grandchildren. He enjoyed having time to write, publishing two books in the Encounter with God series on Job and Revelation, another entitled Weak Enough for God to Use, inspired by a saying of Hudson Taylor, and several books on prayer and spirituality: Fuelling the Fire, The Eyes of the Heart, and Turning the Diamond.

At his funeral, the Bishop of Peterborough, who had taught Dennis at Oak Hill, said that he had learnt more from his student on prayer than he himself had taught.

Dennis baptised his latest grandchild, Daniel, on the Sunday before he died: a joyful end to his ministry. After a lengthy battle with cancer, he died on his and Sonja’s 46th wedding anniversary.

“BOY ERASED”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy_Erased#:~:text=Jump%20to%20navigation%20Jump%20to%20search.%202018%20biographical,produced%20with%20Kerry%20Kohansky%20Roberts%20and%20Steve%20Golin.

MARCH 21 2021 – CHURCH OF ENGLAND CRIMINAL FORGERY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE AND/OR CHRIST CHURCH CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE ?

“If this isn’t forgery, it is certainly a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice”

‘Archbishop Cranmer’

“AVERTING A CATASTROPHE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND. IS IT TOO LATE?” – STEPHEN PARSONS – ‘SURVIVING CHURCH’

Averting a catastrophe in the Church of England. Is it too late?

Stephen’s Blog Stephen Parsons

In September 2018, the Church of England, as part of its ongoing safeguarding efforts, published a very comprehensive fact sheet on different types of abuse.  It is an attempt to encourage a reader to become used to recognising the great variety of abusive practices that can occur in the Church and elsewhere.  In 2015, English law codified the idea that domestic abuse is much more than just physical violence.  It may include a range of behaviours that come under the broad category of coercion and control.   Even without evidence of physical violence, a man or woman can now be convicted of a criminal offence for abuse.   Educating people to have a broader understanding of abuse in a religious context was also needed.  I have a personal interest in this topic.  When I wrote my book Ungodly Fear over twenty years ago, I was trying to explore this idea that the misuse of power in a church context was a widespread reality and the cause of much suffering.  Abusing power is a far bigger topic than just the sexual exploitation of a vulnerable person.

This morning, on a sister blog Archbishop Cranmer, we heard new details about the Dean Percy affair.  I do not propose to repeat the points made in that disturbing article, but to use some of Cranmer’s material to indicate that Percy has become the victim of many of the types of abuse mentioned in the 2018 document.  Apart from naming a wide range of abusive practices, the 2018 CofE document also provides suggestions of the way that the Church can respond to the victims and survivors.  Percy, because he has been labelled as a perpetrator, has not been offered much help, pastoral, financial or practical.  Help is supposed to be offered in such cases, according to the Church’s safeguarding protocols but only the tiniest amount has been forthcoming.  Somehow the level of vitriol in the College is such that a regime of extreme isolation has been imposed.  The help and support that Percy has been able to gather is that which has come from family and friends.  He has also seen the complete depletion of the family finances. 

The 2018 document first of all discusses emotional or psychological abuse.  I would see these two forms of abuse as sometimes distinct categories and, at other times, overlapping.   Over the past three years there have been many examples of psychological threats and abuse towards Percy.  Phone calls/emails late at night are part of the stock-in-trade for those who want to harass and put someone permanently on edge.  Also within a community like a college, it is not difficult to create an unfriendly environment for an individual.  Shunning and ostracism, when they are practised, are especially cruel.  This is a topic to which I often return in this blog as it is one of the most evil practices that can be enacted.  The 2018 document mentions this behaviour when it describes ‘causing or forcing isolation/withdrawal from family/friends and support networks’.  The extraordinary lengths to which the Censors and members of the Chapter has gone to prevent members of the clergy/colleagues even visiting Percy are described as practices that the Church should be fighting against.  Can unproven allegations of sexual harassment ever justify the rolling out of such viciously cruel behaviour?

Abuse can also be financial.  The 2018 document has in mind such things as the forcing of an elderly person to change a will or hand over property.  In Percy’s case, the financial abuse has been by forcing him virtually to bankrupt himself in employing lawyers to defend him in the first legal challenge by the College to oust him in 2018.  He was declared innocent of all the 27 original charges brought by the Censors.  Percy’s accusers were also shown up to have produced manipulated documents.  In short, the accusers engaged in lying to make their case.  Retired Judge Andrew Smith saw the lies and commented on them in his report.  In the latest attacks by College and National Safeguarding Team, overseen by the Bishop of Birmingham, Percy has been unable to instruct legal representation.  This is partly for financial reasons and partly for reasons of his health.

The CofE document mentions discriminatory abuse.  This is taking advantage of someone who is in a weaker position because of poverty, disability or some other handicap.  Discriminatory abuse is to be found all over the recent treatment that Percy has received.  The Sub-Dean, Richard Peers, has taken it upon himself to prevent even the fellow members of Chapter from making contact with Percy.  I understand that not even his request to receive Communion in the home has been allowed.  Such isolating of a sick man, socially, spiritually and psychologically is desperately underhand behaviour. 

Institutional abuse is described.  This is the kind of situation that might occur in a Home where one patient is treated badly because they are deemed to be difficult in some way.  When an institution, like a Home, turns against an individual, it is hard to see how anyone can resist such enormous pressure.  It is clearly going on at Christ Church. The financial bullying of Percy, backed by the enormous financial resources of the College, was another example of institutional abuse.   The Censors must be hoping that the Dean’s ability to fight back financially will eventually be defeated by the sheer fire power available to the College because of their endowments. 

Abuse by neglect and acts of omission are other examples of behaviour suffered by Percy.  The utter failure of the College or Canons to reach out to a sick man to offer help and support of any kind is an inexplicable failure of any institution, let alone one founded on Christian principles.  The 2018 document is not a particularly Christian document.  It is rather an adaptation of the Care Act of 2015 which wanted to show how we need to take a much broader understanding of abuse than society has done hitherto.  As with the Charity Commission, the values being articulated are human values.  If Christian individuals and institutions find these hard to hold on to, what can we expect of the rest of society?  Are we not able to hope that Christians take morality and goodness seriously?

The final category of abuse mentioned in the document is complex abuse.  This is a name given to a situation when an institution or an individual is using a variety of abuse methods against one person.  We have already indicated that Dean Percy is the target of a many-sided form of abuse.  Complex abuse might be considered to be an convenient shorthand for what is going on here.  But there is one great irony about the document Types of Abuse.  This was put together by experts in the Safeguarding world to help Christians identify those in need of help.  Here we are discovering that in fact it is, in this case, the Church itself committing acts of abuse against an individual.  If I am right in identifying six of the categories of abuse in this church document being set in motion by church officials, then someone needs to blow a whistle on this event.  We often speak about survivors on this blog, but here we have to describe Percy as a victim.  Six forms of abuse coming from two distinct institutions, operating with an extraordinary level of malice, is enough to put anyone into a breakdown.  No one going through such an experience is easily able to fight back.  Humanly, the force being used is barely survivable.  The only human strength that can operate here is that provided by supporters, family and friends.

Two things need to happen if the Church is to emerge from this disaster with any integrity. 

One is that all the clergy who have been guilty of dirty tricks and abuse against Percy should be named in a new Clergy Discipline Measure process.  There have been so many procedural dishonesties in this episode.  One mentioned by Archbishop Cranmer, is what I call the dirty dossier.  This is a fraudulent risk assessment document submitted with the CDM documents to the Bishop of Oxford.  The College have admitted that they were wrong to back this document but the damage has done in creating the over-the-top risk assessment which has now been put in place around the College. 

The second thing that could save the day and rescue the Church’s integrity from a mire of self- destruction, is for someone of stature to come forward.  They would then ask for all the destructive church processes to be halted for a while.  The one person that could do this is the Archbishop of York.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is likely to be entangled with the same legal firms as have been advising the Diocese of Oxford and Christ Church College, as well as the various bodies that work out of Church House.  Stephen Cottrell, hopefully, can recognise what a disaster these events are for the whole Church of England.  I believe that the paths of Dean Percy and Cottrell have crossed in the past.  If that is true, he will know that Percy is not a sex-crazed lunatic, which is how his enemies at Christ Church have been trying to portray him for their own political ends.  If the Archbishop pf York could put in place a moratorium on the church processes for three months, this might help to calm things down and stop the current madness infecting and afflicting the church in Oxford and elsewhere.   There is a crisis; we need something dramatic to happen to resolve things.  Stephen Cottrell, you are our last hope!

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Cumbria. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding how power works at every level in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues. 

3 thoughts on “Averting a catastrophe in the Church of England. Is it too late?”

  1. John Wallace Stephen, you are so right in this. Nearly 30 years ago, the children’s home where I worked was subject to allegations of abuse as a result of a new deputy Social Services Director, who wanted to make her mark. 52 of us were suspended. Fortunately, through the strength of numbers and putting pressure on councillors, we eventually got an independent enquiry which exonerated us and resulted in the Director and the deputy resigning and the rest of us being redeployed or receiving a financial settlement. Even at that time, the enquiry was reckoned to have cost the County Council around £1m. Martyn does not have the luxury of these numbers, but perhaps those of us who want to see fairness for Martyn – and believe in his integrity – should start a campaign of writing to + Birmingham (as in charge of the CDM), to +Oxford as the diocesan and to ++ Canterbury and ++ York (copying the Charity Commission into our correspondence). I believe totally in Martyn’s innocence and integrity but equally believe that any challenges to this should be based on fairness, openness and, dare I say, the spirit of Christian charity and humility. Initiating CDM processes during absence due to sickness is certainly bad practice and could well be illegal. I’m sure our legal participants to this blog will clarify this. Martyn has already suffered enough at the hands of vindictive academic and ecclesiastical manipulators. It is time for more vocal support for fairness and transparency of process.
  2. Rowland Wateridge If, and we have to say if, a fraudulent document was used in initiating the CDM procedure, the CDM should be set aside, no ifs and buts about that. You can’t have a legal disciplinary procedure based on illegal material. So, the full facts about that document including how and by whom it was produced must be established urgently. I believe steps to that end are already in hand.

“LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN CHRIST CHURCH OXFORD SAGA” – ‘THINKING ANGLICANS’

COMMENTS

Richard W. Symonds Awaiting for approval

Stephen Parsons, over at ‘Surviving Church’, asks: “Averting a catastrophe in the Church of England. Is it too late?”, and concludes it is not – but…

“This morning, on a sister blog Archbishop Cranmer [and elsewhere – Ed], we heard new details about the Dean Percy affair…
Two things need to happen if the Church is to emerge from this disaster with any integrity. 
One is that all the clergy who have been guilty of dirty tricks and abuse against Percy should be named in a new Clergy Discipline Measure process. There have been so many procedural dishonesties in this episode. One mentioned by Archbishop Cranmer, is what I call the dirty dossier. This is a fraudulent risk assessment document submitted with the CDM documents to the Bishop of Oxford. The College have admitted that they were wrong to back this document but the damage has done in creating the over-the-top risk assessment which has now been put in place around the College. 
The second thing that could save the day and rescue the Church’s integrity from a mire of self- destruction, is for someone of stature to come forward. They would then ask for all the destructive church processes to be halted for a while. The one person that could do this is the Archbishop of York. The Archbishop of Canterbury is likely to be entangled with the same legal firms as have been advising the Diocese of Oxford and Christ Church College, as well as the various bodies that work out of Church House. Stephen Cottrell, hopefully, can recognise what a disaster these events are for the whole Church of England. I believe that the paths of Dean Percy and Cottrell have crossed in the past. If that is true, he will know that Percy is not a sex-crazed lunatic, which is how his enemies at Christ Church have been trying to portray him for their own political ends. If the Archbishop pf York could put in place a moratorium on the church processes for three months, this might help to calm things down and stop the current madness infecting and afflicting the church in Oxford and elsewhere.  There is a crisis; we need something dramatic to happen to resolve things. 
Stephen Cottrell, you are our last hope!”

FURTHER INFORMATION

“THE CASE OF BISHOP GEORGE BELL” BY DAVID JASPER DD FRSE

COMMENTS

COMMENTS

You may have seen a recent letter to the Church Times...about the case of the Revd John Roberts in Woolton. Liverpool…But it was Justin Welby’s behaviour when John Roberts was ‘helping’ at the cathedral that really struck us. In that situation, Welby sided with a convicted abuser against a genuine complainant. Clearly, he has very poor judgement on occasion, as was abundantly shown later by his ‘significant cloud’ comment. Private Eye has covered the case to some extent but, so far, Welby has largely escaped as far as the national press is concerned. At the time of IICSA, the John Roberts case was going through the courts, so there are only veiled references to it in their reports. Liverpool diocese is undertaking a review of the case, so we shall see if that says anything much about Welby’s involvement.

‘M’ – 21/03/2021

It brings it all back, doesn’t it?  I don’t think my anger and disgust will ever go away and my regard for the Church of England which was low anyway has pretty well gone…

‘J’ – 20/03/2021

Thank you for sending me this article by David Jasper. Whilst its contents will be familiar to those of us concerned for Bishop Bell’s reputation, it brings the necessary material together for a wider readership. I wonder whether copies of it have gone to Welby and Warner, though in the case of the former it would probably be intercepted by his staff and kept from his sight, and Warner remains obdurate in his refusal to admit his errors and those of the group which tried to trash Bell’s reputation. After the Carlile Report, an honourable man would have apologized and at least have offered his resignation. It was suggested to me that Warner’s chief concern is protecting his safeguarding team from all blame. I do not know whether this is so, but it is a black day for the Church when matters of truth and justice take second place to defending diocesan functionaries.

I also wonder whether a copy of the Jasper article has gone to the Church Times – not that I have much faith in the paper to concern itself with the Bell case. I believe several letters have been written to the Editor on this matter, including one from me, none of which has been published.

However, the important thing is that Welby and Warner must by now be aware that Bell’s defender’s are not going to “put up and shut up”. Warner, in particular, appears oblivious to the fact that it is his own reputation, and that of the diocese and the Cathedral, which are now in the gutter.

‘B’ – 20/03/2021

Lamentable

‘G’ – 22/03/2021

What a devastating summary of the case!  I hope that the press will pick it up – not just the Church Times, but the national dailies as well

‘T’

I think what distinguishes the present situation from what has gone before is the suggestion that there has now been a breach of criminal law, not just irregularities in the Church’s own procedures, very serious as some of those have been. We can only wait to see whether this latest development changes things. It may be that only outside intervention will do so

‘R’ – 22/03/2021

Surely it would be better for him to go elsewhere.” That’s what the Governing Body wants. It’s called giving way to bullying

‘S’

Bullying is abuse. The bully is an abuser

‘R’

CHURCH TIMES – MARCH 26 2021 – SUB DEAN CANON RICHARD PEERS

Christ Church Cathedral ‘praying for Dean Percy’

THE Sub Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, Canon Richard Peers, issued a pastoral letter on Wednesday to assure the congregation that the Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, who has currently stepped back from duties while a complaint of sexual harassment is investigated (News, 19 March), is prayed for daily in the cathedral. He rebutted rumours on social media that Dean Percy, who is unwell, had been refused communion and was unsupported. He wrote: “Throughout all this, I have encouraged friends and colleagues to make contact with the Percys to offer love and support and prayer in what must be an extraordinarily difficult situation.”

Safeguarding decisions at Christ Church, Oxford

From the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford

Sir, — I write as Christ Church Cathedral’s Safeguarding Lead, and I can, therefore, confirm exactly what was, and was not, in the leaked risk assessment (News, 19 March).

The version of the risk assessment leaked to the Church Times lists a timeline, including a “Second risk assessment” as having been carried out by Kate Wood on 22 October 2020. Instead of “Second risk assessment”, it should have read “Investigation”: this is what was carried out by Kate Wood and submitted on that date. That subheading was corrected in subsequent versions of the documents.

None of this has any bearing whatsoever on the complaint itself, or indeed the assessment of risk made in the documents. The risk assessments are confidential, password-protected, and with very limited circulations, designed to protect all those involved, including both the young member of staff who made the allegation, and the Dean of Christ Church himself.

It has even been sensationally suggested that the risk assessments in some way restrict the Dean’s freedom to be visited and supported by friends and family, or even to receive communion. None of this is true; and pastoral support has been in place for Martyn throughout.

It is very disappointing how one heading from those preliminary documents is being disingenuously used to imply that the assessments are somehow invalid, to generate mistruths, and to cast doubt on the CDM process itself.

GRAHAM WARD (Canon)
Christ Church
Oxford OX1 1DP

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — I read your report last week about the wholly disproportionate irregular risk assessment concerning Dean Percy. Taking the document at face value, I was one who criticised the independent investigator Kate Wood for exceeding her area of expertise.

The affixing of her name gave that document the authority of her experience and independence, which, it transpires, it did not have. Accordingly, she did not deserve my criticism, though legitimate criticism must now be considered elsewhere.

I hope that you will allow me to apologise to Ms Wood publicly for the upset and frustration that this aspect of the scandal will have caused her, and my inadvertent part in it.

MARTIN SEWELL
Member of General Synod
8 Appleshaw Close
Gravesend
Kent DA11 7PB

MARCH 20 2021 – “THE CASE OF BISHOP GEORGE BELL” – DAVID JASPER DD FRSE – SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL INSTITUTE JOURNAL – SPRING 2021 – VOLUME 5.1

“Following the excoriation of the Church hierarchy by Professor David Jasper DD FRSE, it makes me wonder whether or not action should be taken on the basis of ‘institutional abuse’”

Richard W. Symonds – The Bell Society

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Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal – Spring 2021

Page 31

DAVID JASPER DD FRSE

“In the Christian year as celebrated in the Church of England, 3 October is dedicated to the remembrance of ‘George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, Ecumenist, Peacemaker’…”

Page 32

The Times put it quite simply: ‘Eminent bishop was a paedophile, admits Church’. The background to this extraordinary, and actually incorrect, statement was this…”

Page 33

“In his statement in October 2015, Warner…’the scrutiny of the allegations has been thorough, objective and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties’…”

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“‘…balance of probability’. Lawyers know what that means, but when institutional fear and public appetite for scandal are strong factors, there seems to be little patience for the necessary verbal niceties of the law. They are there to protect all of us. Bell was, in effect and in spite of the Bishop of Durham’s statement in the House of Lords, pronounced guilty before his innocence was securely disproved…Lord Carlile’s report was…utterly dismissive of the original diocesan investigation, describing it as ‘indefensibly wrong'”

Page 35

“Carlile concludes…’for Bishop Bell’s reputation to be catastrophically affected …was just wrong. In spite of this the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, continued to reject the clear presumption of innocence as demonstrated by Carlile, commenting instead that a ‘significant cloud’ remained over Bell’s name….Nothing that would stand scrutiny in a court of law has been found against Bell…”

Page 36

“George Bell Group…conclusion reads: ‘…Bishop Bell’s reputation is today vindicated and affirmed by authoritative opinion. What remains of the story is only a matter of contemporary church politics’. But this last matter remains with us today…As long as there is any hint that anyone is to be found guilty. or suffer the destruction of character…before their innocence or guilt have been established by the due and unprejudiced processes of law, then none of us is safe”.

Page 37

“In a statement of 1 February 2019…Lord Carlile wrote: ‘The Church should now accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and that after due process, however delayed, George Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him’. So far, it appears, the Church of England has failed to find the moral courage…to make this declaration of his innocence. It belittles us all”.

COMMENTS

You may have seen a recent letter to the Church Times...about the case of the Revd John Roberts in Woolton. Liverpool…But it was Justin Welby’s behaviour when John Roberts was ‘helping’ at the cathedral that really struck us. In that situation, Welby sided with a convicted abuser against a genuine complainant. Clearly, he has very poor judgement on occasion, as was abundantly shown later by his ‘significant cloud’ comment. Private Eye has covered the case to some extent but, so far, Welby has largely escaped as far as the national press is concerned. At the time of IICSA, the John Roberts case was going through the courts, so there are only veiled references to it in their reports. Liverpool diocese is undertaking a review of the case, so we shall see if that says anything much about Welby’s involvement.

‘M’ – 21/03/2021

It brings it all back, doesn’t it?  I don’t think my anger and disgust will ever go away and my regard for the Church of England which was low anyway has pretty well gone…

‘J’ – 20/03/2021

Thank you for sending me this article by David Jasper. Whilst its contents will be familiar to those of us concerned for Bishop Bell’s reputation, it brings the necessary material together for a wider readership. I wonder whether copies of it have gone to Welby and Warner, though in the case of the former it would probably be intercepted by his staff and kept from his sight, and Warner remains obdurate in his refusal to admit his errors and those of the group which tried to trash Bell’s reputation. After the Carlile Report, an honourable man would have apologized and at least have offered his resignation. It was suggested to me that Warner’s chief concern is protecting his safeguarding team from all blame. I do not know whether this is so, but it is a black day for the Church when matters of truth and justice take second place to defending diocesan functionaries.

I also wonder whether a copy of the Jasper article has gone to the Church Times – not that I have much faith in the paper to concern itself with the Bell case. I believe several letters have been written to the Editor on this matter, including one from me, none of which has been published.

However, the important thing is that Welby and Warner must by now be aware that Bell’s defender’s are not going to “put up and shut up”. Warner, in particular, appears oblivious to the fact that it is his own reputation, and that of the diocese and the Cathedral, which are now in the gutter.

‘B’ – 20/03/2021

MARCH 19 2021 – FROM THE ARCHIVES [MARCH 7 2016] – “FORMER ARCHBISHOP SLAMS CHURCH FOR DESTROYING REPUTATION OF GEORGE BELL” – THE ARGUS

“FORMER ARCHBISHOP SLAMS CHURCH FOR DESTROYING REPUTATION OF GEORGE BELL” – THE ARGUS – MARCH 7 2016

7th March 2016

Former Archbishop slams church for destroying reputation of George Bell

By Rachel Millard

Dr George Carey pictured in 2002 two days before his retirement as Archbishop of CanterburyPicture: John Stillwell / Press Association
Picture: John Stillwell/Press Association

Dr George Carey pictured in 2002 two days before his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury [Picture: John Stillwell / Press Association]

8 comments

A FORMER Archbishop of Canterbury has attacked the church for destroying the reputation of Bishop George Bell over a settled claim of child sex abuse.

Lord Carey said he was “appalled” at the way the church had treated the memory of the revered late wartime bishop and was looking for “ways of re-opening” the case of the former head of the Church of England in Sussex.

Suggesting Bell had been ‘crushed’ by a ‘powerful organisation’, Lord Carey said he had been denied the right to a fair trial and had questioned the church’s approach but been told to keep things ‘low-key’.

Last October the Church of England announced it had settled the claim formally lodged in April 2014 after expert reports gave them “no reason to doubt” its veracity.

The Argus subsequently revealed Bell’s victim was a five-year-old girl at the the time of the abuse in the late 1940s and 1950s, who recalled him telling her “it was our little secret, because God loved me”.

The revelations provoked huge controversy as the former Chichester bishop’s name was stripped from institutions, with supporters saying the claim remained unproven.

The current bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, praising the victim’s courage.

Now, responding to a letter from George Bell’s 92-year-old niece, Barbara Whitely, Lord Carey said the church he headed until 2002 has effectively “delivered a ‘guilty’ verdict without anything resembling a fair and open trial”.

He added in the letter date March 3: “His reputation is in tatters and as you sadly point out, all references to him in the diocese he loved and served have been removed and renamed.

“[…] I am frankly appalled by the way the church authorities have treated his memory.

“When this matter became public knowledge several months ago I questioned the Church’s approach with someone at Lambeth Palace and was advised that it was in everyone’s interest to keep the matter low key.

“I have however kept a watching brief on the matter and your letter has now prompted me to seek ways of re-opening this.”

Lord Carey’s intervention comes after it was revealed he wrote to police in 1993 over the now disgraced Bishop Peter Ball. When the case came to court last year Ball’s solicitors argued Lord Carey was assured the case was closed after Ball received a police caution at the time. But Ball was finally convicted and jailed.

In his letter to Mrs Whitley, Lord Carey added he hoped “to persuade some people in the media to take this forward”.

He added: “Newspapers are sometimes prepared to step forward when powerful organisations crush individuals.” 

8 comments

MARCH 17 2021 – “THIS IS A ROTTEN SYSTEM RUN BY PEOPLE WITH A THOROUGHLY DEFORMED VIEW OF FAIR PRACTICE…THERE ARE FEW THINGS THAT MAKE ME ANGRY, BUT STUPIDITY, BULLYING, AND INJUSTICE ARE ON THE LIST. ALL ARE PRESENT IN THE PERCY CASE IN SPADES” – MARTIN SEWELL ON CHRIST CHURCH/CHURCH OF ENGLAND SAFEGUARDING

“THIS IS A ROTTEN SYSTEM RUN BY PEOPLE WITH A THOROUGHLY DEFORMED VIEW OF FAIR PRACTICE…THERE ARE FEW THINGS THAT MAKE ME ANGRY, BUT STUPIDITY, BULLYING, AND INJUSTICE ARE ON THE LIST. ALL ARE PRESENT IN THE PERCY CASE IN SPADES” – MARTIN SEWELL ON CHRIST CHURCH/CHURCH OF ENGLAND SAFEGUARDING

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN CHRIST CHURCH OXFORD SAGA

Richard W. Symonds

“Dean Percy, therefore, faces three concurrent investigations: the CDM; a second core group set up by the National Safeguarding Team; and a second tribunal set up by the Christ Church Governing Body under statute 39, “seeking the removal of the Dean from office for good cause”. In the earlier Christ Church tribunal, to consider a complaint lodged in 2018 (News, 9 November 2018), Dean Percy was exonerated of every one of the 27 charges against him (News, 23 August 2019)” – Church Times

So, three quasi-legal kangaroo courts ‘lynching’ the unwell Dean – with injustice, cruelty and brutality – inflicted with an illusion of impregnability, immunity and impunity.

Martin Sewell

Martin Sewell – Child Protection Lawyer [Retired] and Member of General Synod – on Church Safeguarding

The malcontent dons and their lawyers “sold“ the dodgy risk assessment to the Governing Body on the basis that it was an official CofE document compiled by people with the requisite qualification and competence to do so. They prayed in aid the authority the CofE logo and Kate Wood’s name though she was plainly embarrassed to be associated with it.

I was unhappy at her being involved in an exercise outside her core expertise. The failure by the College and lawyers to correct that false impression or correct it in a timely way when requested by her to do so, speaks volumes.

Somebody created that document and saw fit to badge it as a CofE assessment, somebody saw fit to share it with the Bishop who – when challenged – still apparently asserts it is a valid assessment by unauthorised people. Perhaps he will confirm and release how many such assessments those responsible have undertaken. Did he undertake ANY due diligence – if so what?

Had the College clarified Ms Wood’s disassociation from the documents. I would have given Ms Wood an apology, insofar as I implicitly criticised her involvement in this shabby apology of a fair risk assessment. That said, she did not contact me. I am not hard to find.

She has my apology, ( albeit limited by being misled ): would that others were so quick off the mark to those with a grievance.

That said, I do wish she could have felt able to distance herself from it earlier. To do so would have undermined the status of the RA [Risk Assessment] earlier. It is a shame the document stood unchallenged for so long.

It was apparently not created on a CofE template. I understand the metadata reveals the template used is a generic one, not designed for safeguarding use, but for generic event purposes. Its format was once employed to assess the risks of a school classroom hamster!

Interesting to note the standards of scrutiny of important documents by the College Censors.

Martin Sewell 

I ought to briefly address the decision of the Bishop of Birmingham to progress the matter whilst the Dean has been assessed as unable to engage in legal proceedings by his treating Psychiatrist. His lawyer knows the proper legal practice that one cannot act for such a person and were the lawyer to purport to do so they would be doing so improperly and moreover any decision taken by the respondent, under harassment for a reply, would not be valid.

We have come to terms with the Church not complying with the Human Rights Act.

Now we need to accept that it recognises that a person may be under legal disability and unable to act – but attributes no consequence to the status and ploughs on regardless.

This is a rotten system run by people with a thoroughly deformed view of fair practice. 

Father Ron Smith 

There would seem here – to an outsider – to be a whiff of injustice being perpetrated by the Church of England; in its treatment of the situation of the Dean of Christ Church. The seeming intransigence of the University Dons who want him out is not being challenged by the Church – or at least, that is what appears to be the case from this side of the world, in Polynesia.

Neil

Neil

It is interesting that virtually all commentators seem to be taking Dean Percy’s side. Is this because of his theological views and general position on Church politics? This I could understand given that I agree entirely with his criticisms of Archbishop Welby re managerialism and the poor and misguided leadership he gives. And also I agree with those who feel a great injustice was done to the saintly Bishop George Bell. But I don’t think it was Dean Percy’s finest hour when he and his wife (or possibly vice versa) hounded out Bishop Philip North whom God had called to the see of Sheffield. Also I am not sure anybody has noticed that when Dean Percy was asking for a pay rise to match that of other College Heads in Oxford, he was actually comparing apples with oranges. In that there is a very limited field of talent and suitability for the post of Dean of Christ Church – given you need to be in Holy Orders – and this has been compounded by Welby’s system failing to support academics within the church. I don’t think Dean Percy, for all his gifts, quite matches the pedigree and stellar achievements of many if not most Oxford Heads.
The situation is very sad for everybody involved and hopefully a settlement can be reached without further legal battles. My friends who were at the House have told me they are fed up with both the Dean and the Students of Christ church (the Governing Body). 

Richard W. Symonds

Richard W. Symonds Reply to  Neil

There is no moral equivalence between the behaviour of the Christ Church Governing Body and the behaviour of Martyn Percy. To attempt to do so only adds to the obfuscation, perpetuates the injustice and cruelty, and justifies the unjustifiable and unacceptable.

Charles Read

Charles Read Reply to  Neil

What Faith said – well put. As for the Sheffield debacle I would add:

  1. Martyn and Emma Percy did what theologians do and asked hard questions – as summarised by faith. Philip North could have formulated a coherent reply by saying that he thought the C of E had no authority to ordain women without ecumenical agreement (with Rome…) but instead he gave no answer – accounts of his meeting with the women clergy of Sheffield bear this out too – they pressed him and no answer did he give (so it was not just the Percys doing this).
  2. The CNC failed to consider the effect on the diocese of appointing Philip and prepare him for the inevitable furore.
  3. Sheffield has a high percentage of female clergy – what was the CNC thinking?
  4. Martyn and Emma served in Sheffield diocese so they are not disinterested or uninformed about that diocese. I would be concerned if an inappropriate appointment were made to any of my former dioceses – you retain a concern for their wellbeing after you move elsewhere.

Martyn is in fact a top flight scholar but I wonder if there is an air of sniffiness about the fact that he writes and researches in what may broadly be termed sociology of religion? I know from another place that some academics (including theologians) think that is not proper theology.

And finally – does anyone wonder if the sniffiness is connected with Martyn’s humble origins? I am sure such attitudes do not exist in Oxford….

Martin Sewell

Martin Sewell Reply to  Neil

Neil. I can assure you that I and others take a stand on a very simple platform – Transparency, impartiality, accountability, proportionality and adherence to the basic principles of Natural Justice and the Human Rights Act.

i have inter alia defended a dead Anglo Catholic Bishop, a retired Evangelical Archbishop, the liberal Dean, survivors of varying churchmanship and none (including one from a different faith entirely). At present, those seeking my advice and pastoral support tend to be clergy getting unfair treatment. Given how critical I have been of the Conservative Evangelical community over Smyth and Fletcher, I am surprised and (though sorry for them) pleased that some from that constituency have felt able to seek my advice and pastoral support.

So, I hope you can see from this, that the advocacy of Dean Percy’s case by a number of us is rooted in the principles set out above. We advocate good practice for anyone, whether we agree or disagree with them.

There are few things that make me angry, but stupidity, bullying, and injustice are on the list. All are present in the Percy case in spades. 

Faith

Faith

Responding to Neil briefly. He needs to read the Smith Tribunal judgment.

a. The Dean did not ask for a pay rise, but rather requested transparent processes in setting pay – others first, and then his.

b. For having the temerity to challenge the dons on ‘transparency’, they saddled him with a charge of “immoral, scandalous and disgraceful conduct” – and for four months refused to even explain what lay behind the charge. Most laypeople would assume adultery or much worse – but it suited the dons (again) to not be transparent.

c. They are at it again – “serious sexual assault” and “immoral, scandalous and disgraceful conduct” are all very headline-grabbing. But the allegation turns out to be something to do with a comment about a person’s hair. This is the dons second go at tarnishing him. It is worth remembering that the Dean has no grievance procedure under Christ Church statutes – so defenceless, and taken to trial all the time.

d. I can’t see that the situation with Fr. North is comparable. Fr. Philip could have defended his theological position and explained how he proposed to work with clergy whose orders he did not recognise. He was not able to explain how he could support the priestly ministry of clergy (male) if ordained by a woman bishop and female (all) if he continued to assert that such people were not actually real priests at all. That was/is his theological position. They never were, nor ever could be priests (although males could presumably be ‘properly’ ordained by a male bishop, if they were prepared to accept that ordination by a woman bishop was inherently void?). Fr. Philip’s position would have meant that potentially 50% of the Sheffield parishes were not getting valid sacramental ministry, which as a diocesan bishop should concern him and those parishes. Most clergy and laity cannot see how that is a sustainable position for a diocesan bishop to take.

e. Heads of House in Oxford come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, some are top of their profession (legal, government, commerce, civil service etc). But the majority are, like the Dean, fellow academics who happen to have also run complex and large institutions too. The Dean has been (amongst other things) the Senior Independent Director of the Advertising Standards Authority, which he somehow managed whilst also being Principal of Cuddesdon. I think he still advises the British Board of Film Classification? He’s reasonably well-known as an academic in his field, and one festschrift behind him before you turn 60 is not too bad. Besides running Oxford’s largest College, there is also a Cathedral to manage too. But the dons conspire to make him the lowest-paid Head of House in Oxford (amongst forty colleges). Typically, he has not complained about that and doesn’t – despite the clunky PR of the dons trying to narrate him as greedy.

Read the Smith Tribunal and a. b. and e. are crystal clear.

Stephen Griffiths

Stephen Griffiths Reply to  Faith

Regarding point d), Philip North’s views may or may not be exactly as you describe. But in any case, his views are allowed and upheld by the Five Guiding Principles which General Synod voted through in 2014 and to which every ordinand has since then had to assent before ordination. I for one found Dean Percy’s heavyweight opposition to Philip North’s appointment unreasonable, given the Church of England’s settled and generous position on the matter as enshrined in the Five Guiding Principles. The fact that bishops representing the full spectrum of views can work and flourish together in the same diocese (e.g. Blackburn and Chichester) shows that Dean Percy’s concerns were unfounded. Whether the CNC and Sheffield Diocese handled the matter well is another matter. Reply

Neil

Neil Reply to  Faith

Re a.
From the FT (the Smith Tribunal doesn’t seem to be readily available)
In December 2017 Martyn Percy emailed one of the people who set his salary. As dean of the Oxford college of Christ Church, Percy was already among the best paid clerics in the Church of England — earning more than the Archbishop of Canterbury. But he was unhappy. A priest since his late twenties, the 55-year-old was not rich by the standards of college heads. At Christ Church, with its huge quadrangles and £500m endowment, he was surrounded by wealth. He felt overworked. Perhaps, he told the college’s salaries board, he should “adjust [his] availability” — and skip a fundraising tour of the US? From such exchanges has arisen one of the most embarrassing and expensive debacles in the university’s recent history.

I didn’t realise that the Dean wasn’t asking for a pay-rise, which you say is made crystal clear in the Smith Tribunal.

Re b.  ‘immoral, scandalous and disgraceful conduct’ I agree are totally over the top as charges even if he had asked for a pay rise. Unless his behaviour changed (if such a pay-rise was not granted) into a disgraceful sulk and non-cooperation. But I don’t think this was ever alleged? I’m not sure what ‘adjusting availability’ might have amounted to…

Re c. I agree that commenting on someone’s hair does not merit a charge of ‘serious sexual assault’ – but that if you touched someone’s hair then the matter does become serious. Especially if you are the boss. It isn’t clear what is alleged.

Re e. The point is that the field of potentially suitable candidates for appointment as Dean is really very small indeed, and given the need to be in Holy Orders Dean Percy might have thought it more suitable to compare his remuneration with other priests in the Church of England – or Deans of Cathedrals. It would be interesting to know how his predecessors managed on their pay, and if they were content.