Let truth and justice speak above the shameful, ecclesiastical silence.
How should a line be drawn under the Bell affair?
Church Times – Letters
From the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills
Sir, — When responding to atrocity cases, for which it was set up, the International Criminal Court — like other courts, for that matter — focuses primarily on the perpetrator, seeking to call out, name, and punish criminal acts, that they never happen again. Of course, they still do. The survivor’s testimony is a means to that end, treated as tools of witness — and no more.
But when it comes to building resilience in a community, in the aftermath of atrocity, the criminal court is only the first step in any work of reconciliation. For a community to thrive, it needs to listen to the stories and the needs of survivors of any abuse, crime, or atrocity. It is not just about retribution, but about flourishing: flourishing for the survivors and for the whole community as witness.
What the Church’s National Safeguarding Steering Group has done in rejecting the recommendations of the independent reviewers (News, 12 April) is to choose a path of self-protection rather than recognise the needs of survivors and give priority to them, and to the health of the Church and society.
There is a well-documented pattern of continued structural secrecy. This is a failing common to large organisations in a position of power and influence, and is defined in the book Crime and Human Rights: Criminology of atrocity and genocide by Joachim J. Savelsberg (Sage Publishing, 2010):
“Here we benefit from the work of a scholar, who has greatly contributed to our understanding of the ‘dark side of organisations,’ the many instances of regular rule breaking behaviour that is characteristic of life even in legitimate organizations.
“Sociologist Diane Vaughan stresses that members of organizations are always exposed to structural pressures resulting from competition and gaps between goals and legitimate means. They are likely to resort to the violation of laws, rules and regulations in order to meet organizational goals.
“Such rule violations become more likely as necessary structural features of organizations such as hierarchy or specialized subunits, create ‘structural secrecy,’ meaning they provide settings intra-organizationally where risk of detection and sanctioning are minimized. In addition, organizational processes such as the ‘normalization of deviance’ (ie, acceptance of deviant behaviour as normal) provide normative support for illegality, a pattern that has been documented” (page 78).
The best means of checking ourselves and our Church is through a system of accountability, as recommended by the reviewer, with the collaboration of survivors. All of us would be better served and safeguarded, including senior leadership, by listening to these survivors’ recommendations. It is a specialist area, which takes in much more than those assumed to be one-to-one cases at a parish level.
If our rhetoric is one of “All are welcome and all are loved,” we need to live up to the love we offer — a love that demands vulnerability and a willingness to listen to the voices of those in pain. When someone is hungry for bread, we should not then hand them a stone.