Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Justin Welby telling off the BBC over sex abuse was the pot calling the kettle black
Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. (Photo: Getty)
Simon Kelner Tuesday October 3rd 2017
So there is the pot, as black as night, scorched by the depredations of everyday life, tarnished by hard times and rough usage. And suddenly, without warning or provocation, the pot turns round to the kettle, similarly battered and bruised, and says: “It’s not me that’s black. It’s you!”
This was the essential nature of an implausible exchange on Radio 4’s Today Programme when the Archbishop of Canterbury excoriated the BBC for their lack of integrity over dealing with sex abuse in its organisation. I am sure I heard it right. The head of the Anglican church, which has a long and horrible history of the sexual abuse of vulnerable young people, was complaining that the BBC hadn’t acted responsibly when the scale of Jimmy Savile’s offences became known.
Savile may have been protected by the blithe, blind, egregiously liberal mores of the age, but he was something of a one-off. Sex abuse was not endemic or systemic within the precincts of Broadcasting House, and the BBC’s reaction to his unmasking was swift and authoritative. The corporation launched an independent investigation by a high court judge, and accepted all its recommendations. They apologised to Savile’s victims, and have established new safeguards for children.
So what was the Archbishop on about? Why did he take on the BBC on grounds that he must have realised would be very problematic for the Church?
He knew, of course, that he would get support from the inveterate Beeb bashers among the national press, but notwithstanding that, it’s hard to credit his intervention. It is true that Archbishop Welby has been on the front foot regarding sex abuse scandals in the Church, insisting there will be no cover-up of historic allegations and saying that “the rule is survivors come first, not our own interests”.
‘I am deeply resistant to a religious leader who uses his pulpit to attack one of our most admirable institutions‘ At this point, it’s too tempting not to resort to scripture. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, according to the Gospel of St John. And an independent review of the Church of England’s handling of a particular sex abuse case in 2016 concluded that Welby’s office failed “to respond meaningfully to repeated efforts by the survivor… to bring his case to the Church leader’s attention”.
It is a shame that Welby took to the airwaves armed with a pocketful of stones, a fact not lost on a welter of Twitter respondents, including a number of victims of abuse. Both the Anglican Church and the BBC, representing two of the four estates of a democracy, are all too prone to introspection and self-absorption, and Welby’s comments were part of a bigger interview, not yet aired, to mark the 60th birthday of the Today programme. Within it, he discussed ways in which society has changed in that period. We have become kinder and more considerate, he said, but the flip side is the cult of individualism, or a “radical autonomy”, in his own words.
I found myself applauding this analysis. But I am deeply resistant to the moralising tones of a religious leader who uses his pulpit to attack one of our most admirable institutions, respected and envied throughout the world. That’s not to say the BBC is without sin either, by the way. But this was an unmerited and unjustified attack, which, taken with the Archbishop of York’s willingness to pocket the Murdoch shilling, might lead conspiracy theorists to think that the Anglican Church was pursuing an agenda against the Beeb.