Martyn Percy: Testing Trials and Egregious Errors: Some Good Friday Reflections
Published by joe on April 15, 2022
Pilate was a representative of civil power and clearly unpersuaded by the allegation that Jesus claimed to be a king. He realised that Jesus had done no wrong over which he had legitimate jurisdiction. Even after Jesus had been “accused of many things”, Pilate asked, “What evil has [Jesus] done?”. He did not receive any kind of answer. He could have regarded the issues as internal to the Jews and for them to settle. However, Pilate’s aim was not justice but expediency. He showed little interest in a fair-minded and dispassionate investigation, and saw the death of Jesus as an instrumentally good for civil order, and his own reputation with Rome. The outcome of the hearing before Pilate, with its palpable lack of evidence, was craven, and it led to the destruction of an innocent man. Such a use of power is neither just nor based on truth. It is not the way that power with God is to be used.
So, there it is: expediency, flawed justice, lack of evidence, a crowd baying to destroy an innocent man: “what need have we have of any proper process, or of further testimony?”. Does this sound at all familiar to any of you here today? Or others crying out for justice? Alexander Solzhenitsyn once opined that there always is this fallacious belief: “it would not be the same here and now…”: such evil things would now be impossible. He did not agree.
Hannah Arendt, our foremost scholar of totalitarianism, had this to say: “totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.” That is part of the reason why Donald Trump got away with so much. He once said: “I value loyalty above everything else, more than brains, more than drive and more than energy”. Trump’s exultation of personal loyalty over expertise is exactly what we see in the Church of England today.
The National Safeguarding Team is riddled with this crippling virus; they caught it off the Archbishops’ Council. Indeed, almost every Bishop’s Senior Staff Team has the virus, as do all Diocesan Synods and most of General Synod. There is no vaccine. Most church committees that have the virus do not even know they are ill, and have no way of recognising how weak they have become.
Those leading the Church of England claim that we are making progress on all safeguarding fronts. In truth, we are locked in an endless, cruel slow circularity. One that is not overseen by theological leadership, but rather an ecclesial version of Foucault’s “carceral system” – process-orientated project-managed persecution that makes an example of one; but then sets entire cohorts of Barabbas’ free. Where is the justice, reason and proportionality?
The Church of England runs an unsafe, unprofessional, untrustworthy, unreliable and unstable safeguarding system. It is partial in who it expedites, and who it excoriates. The system lacks self-awareness, emotional intelligence, integrity (i.e., has no employment law rights for clergy accused), probity or compassion. Its Core Groups are untrained, unlicensed and unregulated. There are barely written conflicts of interest policy. The accused and the abused are not allowed legal representation and instead are met with bias and gassy-gossip masquerading as ‘pastoral concern’.
The only safe thing left to do is not be part of an unsafe system. The system is incompetent, corrupt and unfit for purpose, and one that fails, soils and stigmatises everyone it comes into contact with. The system set up to deal with abuse is systematically abusive. It is harmful, and dangerous. The system is riddled with favouritism, nepotism, incompetence and scapegoating. Small institutions run by small people will strive for sectarian objectives…and produce sickly results.
I have called this out because I dare to believe we might be speaking for the many, not the few. I am also free to speak my mind, and I choose to do so. As George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four) wrote, “if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. Yes, that was Orwell. It could just as easily have been Tutu, Gandhi, Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr. Bonhoeffer wrote “Not to speak is to speak; not to act is to act”. Far too many of our church leaders will not comment or speak out. They fail to register concern or any compassion, as though their silence and inaction absolved them.
I am not asking for protests or for rebellion. I call instead for quiet revolution, reform and loyal dissent. Our refusal to put up with the poor leadership in the Church of England that has given us this culture and ecclesial politics, and expects us to live with it. We should not tolerate it one bit longer. We should instead seek a proper, deep and cleansing spiritual renewal. But first we may need some proper public exorcism within our institution before we can even get this work started.
Giving ourselves totally to Christ is not an abstraction or a pious thought. It must be concrete and communal. Freedom is responsibility. It means to live within the truth, even when it hurts. The early twentieth century Young Christian Workers movement who went by the name of ‘Jocists’ had a motto: See, Judge, Act. See meant to be awake to the realities around you. Judge was a command to discern soberly the meaning of those realities in the light of what you knew to be true, especially from the teachings of Christ. Act, that finally, after you reach a mind, you are then required to resist evil.
The cowardice and indifference amongst our church leadership is extremely disturbing to observe, and even worse to experience. I have seen far too much of it over the years. But my experience of it, personally, and first-hand, has left me wondering if any person who is unable to care and show moral courage and leadership should ever be a Bishop of anywhere to anyone. I think not. A Bishop who cannot show care for their clergy surely needs to find a different job.
Perhaps like me you are weary of lame excuses that sanction poor procedures, poor practice, and poor prelates. We are in desperate need of fearless care and moral leadership that begins at home, and weeds out the dysfunctional and damaging systems, customs and praxis that cause much suffering. We should perhaps begin with safeguarding, which is now so unsafe that it has become as wicked as any of the abuse it was supposed to be addressing. But where will we find a Bishop today with courage and conviction to take responsibility?
John Banville, writing of the abuse scandals that have engulfed the Roman Catholic Church for decades, noted that “everyone knew, but no-one said…I have heard no-one address the question of what it means, in this context, to know” (‘A Century of Looking the Other Way’, New York Times, 22 May 2009). The Church of England knows its own corruption too; yet chooses silence, indifference and amnesia. I have no right to a Good Samaritan. Nobody does. But surely that is the point of the parable? Good, humane care is what Jesus asks us to do. It is worth the risk. In God’s eyes, every person is worth that risk – Jesus embodies that. Is it really too much to ask for Bishops, governance and leadership in our churches who understand this, to now act? I dare to hope we will live to see the day when our churches are led with courage, compassion, care and wisdom. By lions, not donkeys; shepherds, not wolves; Good People, not Daleks (with flat batteries and circuitry issues). I fear we cannot wait much longer, but wait in hope, we must.
“My criticism of Chichester Cathedral’s hierarchy is as nothing compared to Martyn Percy’s criticism of the Church of England hierarchy. Both hierarchies have nowhere to hide” – Richard W. Symonds – The Bell Society
Opinion – on Saturday, 16 April 2022 at 11.09 am by Peter Owen
Archbishop Cranmer Maundy Thursday: there needs to be some foot-washing in Oxford
Thank you to Archbishop Cranmer for highlighting the continuing shame of the Christ Church Oxford scandal.
The shameful treatment of Martyn Percy at the end of his time at Christ Church – must be called out.
Has the Bishop of Oxford authority to stop a person preaching in St Mary’s, Oxford and if he does surely he must say why.
What is the position of the sub dean of the Cathedral in all this? This must be called out too. It is said he ordered locks to be changed (and what expense?) to keep the Dean out of the Cathedral. Really – how Christian is that. Surely he could have organised a conciliatory farewell to the Dean. Apparently charges against the sub dean have been made of a more serious nature (in the church’s procedures) than those made against the dean. However it seems they are being swept under the carpet.
How can the Bishop of Oxford be called out to explain his conduct? Has he no accountability for his actions – or lack of action?
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to Dave
The Bishop of Oxford, the Sub Dean, and whoever is ‘advising’ them, need to be called out for perpetuating a miscarriage of justice – and perverting the course of justice by obstructing it.
“That he is here with me now gives me a constant reminder of what I might have lost – and how the innocent can be wrongly accused in the so-called name of justice” – Ann Jones – ‘No Smoke, No Fire’ – The Autobiography of Dave Jones – Page 189 [Know The Score Books 2009]
“No doubt there will be people who are going to think there is no smoke without fire. I can do nothing about that except to say such an attitude would be wrong” – Judge David Clarke – ‘No Smoke, No Fire’ – The Autobiography of Dave Jones – Back Flyleaf