Tag Archives: Stephen Parsons

June 19 2019 – “The Blackburn Letter – A new beginning for the Church?” – Stephen Parsons – ‘Surviving Church’

http://survivingchurch.org/2019/06/18/the-blackburn-letter-a-new-beginning-for-the-church/

The Blackburn Letter. A new beginning for the Church?

A document which I hope will always be referred to as the Blackburn Letter appeared yesterday June 17th 2019.  It is written by the senior staff of the Blackburn Diocese and is addressed to their licensed staff, clergy and Readers, and safeguarding officers. 

In essence, it is commending study of the recent IICSA report on the Diocese of Chichester and the Peter Ball case. 

Those of us who have been cheering on the case of safeguarding for some time cannot but feel that this is progress.  The Letter may claim historic importance because it shows that in one diocese of the Church of England a group of senior church people really seem to understand all the dimensions of safeguarding in the Church.  They understand it in a way that goes far beyond the box-ticking reputational management process which is what safeguarding comes to be in many places.

Why am I personally moved by this letter?  For a start, the Blackburn senior staff want those who study the IICSA report to notice before anything else the suffering that has been caused by sexual abuse to real victims.  Many people, including myself, have always pleaded that safeguarding should start at this end – the needs of survivors.  Sexual abuse, however many years ago it took place is a ‘human catastrophe’ for those caught up in it as victims as well as causing ‘lifelong impact’.  How right that the Blackburn Letter begins with words from Psalm 51.  ‘Have mercy on us O God, for we have sinned’.  The letter makes no apology for putting the human suffering endured by survivors right at the beginning. 

The traditional preoccupation of the Church, reputation management, only gets a mention in para 5.  It is mentioned, but only as a way of explaining that it has been a factor in not dealing well with allegations from the past.   When protecting the good name of the institution has taken precedence, the suffering of survivors has been made far worse. 

Moving on from what appear to be genuine expressions of sorrow and contrition on behalf of the whole Church, the letter begins to explore what can be done in the future.  The congregations are to be places where ‘children and vulnerable adults can be entirely safe’ but also where ‘the voices of those who have difficult things to say or disclosures to make are heard and acted on.’  The second part of this wish is far harder to deliver.  Many survivors report that the reason the Church has found it so hard to deal with their needs is because the recounting of their past experience of suffering causes so much discomfort in the hearer. 

None of us find it easy to listen to stories of abuse, particularly when the abuser was a trusted figure, like a priest or a bishop.  Taking on board the idea that a member of the home team is an abuser is deeply unsettling.  It is far easier to shut down the discordant thought and that is what many people will do in practice.

A further insight in the letter, which is music to my ears, is the recognition that clericalism, deference and abuse of power lie behind the ‘cover-up’ and the silencing of the ‘voices of the vulnerable’.  Clergy and other leaders have power within the relationships they possess and there needs to be ‘deeper awareness’ of that power.  This theme of ministerial power and its potential for harm is the topic that I have chosen to reflect on in the forthcoming volume of essays Letters to a Broken Church. There is so much more to be said on this topic.

I want to make two further observations about the letter.  One is that the letter appears to have been written at a visceral level.  In short, the emotions of sorrow and repentance are allowed to rise to the surface and be dominant themes in what is communicated.  Somehow the letter, assisted by a quotation from Andrew Graystone’s essay of a week ago, manages to avoid completely the somewhat petulant tone of so many expressions of ‘regret’ and ‘apology’ that we associate with official statements. 

Are we correct in seeing in this letter the beginning of something new, a combination of deep sorrow and genuine feeling for the needs of survivors and those wronged by the Church?    

Such sentiments, if they are followed through, will begin to meet the needs of survivors.  It may be the beginning of the ‘change of culture’ that has been looked for by so many.  It is also the first sign that some senior clergy individually and corporately are beginning to ‘get it’.

My final observation is a somewhat irreverent one but it needs to be made.  Is it a coincidence that this remarkable statement of unanimity and contrition about safeguarding emerges from a diocese that is far away from London?  The Diocese of Blackburn may be articulating a somewhat prophetic position precisely because it feels itself geographically and in other ways remote from the centres of Anglican influence represented by Church House and Lambeth Palace respectively.  The prospect of an entire diocese studying the articulate comments and criticisms of the Independent Inquiry must be causing considerable discomfort among those who try hard to control the narrative and set the agenda for the Church of England.  The forthcoming debates at York General Synod may or may not get to the heart of the issue as the Blackburn Letter seems to have done.  Whatever is said at York, the effect of the process of study in the Blackburn diocese will have implications which will reverberate long into the future.  It will be increasingly hard to claim that no one understands the issues.  The consequences of this serious reflective study on safeguarding and the needs of survivors will be hard to limit only to one circumscribed geographical area represented by the Diocese of Blackburn.

Right at the heart of this blog’s concern and many other places is the desire that the suffering of abuse survivors should be understood, responded to and healed.  Up till now the Church has often insisted of responding through damage limitation and avoidance.  The Blackburn response is suggesting that these methods are no longer viable.  Perhaps the Blackburn Letter is the beginning of a new phase in the history of the Church of England.  One day it may be said that that on the 17th June 2019 the Church of England, represented by the Diocese of Blackburn, began to move from denial and avoidance of the issue of abuse victims to a stance resembling healing, humility and new beginnings.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. 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 the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

June 1 2019 – “Patronage and Power Abuse in the Church” – ‘Surviving Church’ – Stephen Parsons

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Patronage and Power Abuse in the Church

Patronage and Power Abuse in the Church

While studying the life and times of Joan of Arc for a lecture I was giving, I was reminded of one distinctive feature of Western mediaeval society.  The whole of that society was held together through a complicated system of patronage.  Power was not only possessed by those who commanded the most soldiers, it was also exercised by those who possessed the legal and traditional right to put others in positions of power.  To possess the power of patronage was to control others and to be the focus of influence right across society.  Joan of Arc was only able to make headway in her short meteoric career having persuaded individuals possessing the power of patronage to back her. 
Patronage, the right to raise up or cast down another person, is still a power that we find in our society.  The Church of England is one contemporary institution that still openly exercises the power of patronage in its affairs.  Arguably this manifestation of patronage is less salient than it was in the days of Jane Austen when Mr Collins, in Pride and Prejudice,used all his charm to flatter his patron, Lady De Bourgh for the right to occupy a particular vicarage and the substantial income that went with it.  My old parish in Gloucestershire was under the patronage of a Cambridge college and its endowed income of £800 was sufficient in Victorian times to keep a vicar in style.  Other parishes were worth a quarter of this and the vicars who occupied lesser posts scrambled to survive, like Mr Quiverful in the Trollope novels, in a permanent state of genteel poverty.  It was no fun to live in a falling down vicarage with inadequate resources to heat the building or keep out the rain.
The traditional power of patronage that was exercised by bishops and others over the parishes of England was arguably the greatest source of power that they possessed.  Keeping on the right side of this power was perhaps the only way clergy had to escape out of abject poverty into a position of relative affluence.  A black mark against your name could mark your record for ever and prevent you ever finding a post which would keep you in reasonable comfort.  Clergy were rightly in awe of those who had this power to create or destroy a career and a livelihood.
Anthony Trollope’s novels are also, in many ways, an exploration of the way that the exercise of patronage power was exercised and experienced in Victorian times.  Today things have changed for the better.  In the first place, stipends of the full-time clergy below the level of Archdeacons and Deans are largely the same.  When I was ordained fifty years ago, there were vicars in some parishes earning seven times the level of their curates and living in far superior accommodation.   Inflation has destroyed these differentials of income.  A second change today is that posts are now mostly advertised in the church press and the appointments system is far more open.  A transparent interview process takes place for most posts, even for bishops.  But, as a recent letter in the Church Times points out, the exercise of patronage is an issue that is still a live one as we ask questions about how Bishop Peter Ball was elevated to Gloucester in 1991.  It transpires that two other dioceses, Norwich and Portsmouth, had both refused to consider his candidature on the grounds of Ball’s known predilection for the company of young men.  The CT letter from the retired bishop, Colin Buchanan, hints at political interference in this appointment.  Patronage on the part of the ‘great and the good’ was thus apparently allowed to override normal checks and balances.  To become a diocesan bishop in 1991 did require impeccable references.  One of those who provided such a reference had to be his Diocesan bishop, the then Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp.  Are we to believe that Bishop Kemp had no insight or knowledge of the rumours around Peter Ball?  Kemp’s legacy of having allowed Bishop Ball’s translation to Gloucester and later obstructing the police enquiries into his conduct have left a mark against the bishop’s historical legacy which is unlikely ever to be erased.
The power of patronage in the church may be indeed weakening in the way that democratic processes reach further into the management of the church.  And yet, even as it weakens, we need to have a full awareness of how important a role patronage has played in the church in the very recent past.  In some dioceses all posts are advertised, even for senior clergy such as archdeacons and residentiary canons.   Other dioceses, such as Chichester, appear to advertise relatively few of their posts.  Most appointments seem to be done ‘in-house’.  For one clergyman at least, this near total episcopal control over livings in Chichester has been experienced as an abuse of power.
Among the many documents released by IICSA in the course of its hearings was a witness statement by one Fr. Nicholas Flint, a Chichester incumbent. His testimony strongly criticises the way he felt he had been treated by the diocese.  His complaints directly and indirectly touch on issues of patronage power.  Flint had for a long time felt drawn with others in the diocese to support Peter Ball after he was cautioned in 1992.  The eventual conviction of Ball in 2015 and the revelation of the full extent of his offending left him and other supporters in considerable confusion and dismay.  His self-description was that of being ‘collateral damage’ to the whole sad affair. Eventually he obtained an appointment to see the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, in October 2015 and he hoped to receive some pastoral care and support.  He needed some understanding for all he had suffered in trying to respond to local perpetrators and victims who were part of the wider abuse scandals in the diocese.  He was also looking for a possible move within the diocese after being in the same post from 21 years. 
The Bishop stated, in Flint’s words, that ‘he did not have anything for me in his diocese’. 
Whatever else was being communicated, this declaration by the Bishop is of interest because it indicates that the Bishop regarded himself at the sole dispenser of patronage in the diocese.  This old-fashioned approach to the filling of appointments also runs counter, according to Fr Flint, to one of the recommendations of the Archbishop’s Visitation to Chichester Diocese a few years earlier.  I have no figures on the dioceses where a bishop could make such a statement about appointments, but I would hope that these dioceses are now firmly in the minority.  Centralised control of the power of patronage may be one of the factors that had helped to create the Chichester ‘scandals’ in the first place.  It is strange as well as regrettable that the current Bishop of the diocese has no apparent insight into the possibility that a secretive structure from which outsiders are excluded is also one where malefactors can most easily hide.   The old-fashioned feudal attitudes which exemplified the ‘reign’ of Bishop Kemp have no place in the 21st century.  The current Bishop of Chichester should be making every effort to transform that culture in every possible way.  The interaction with Fr Flint in 2015 suggests that the old culture of patronage and patriarchal power was then still very much alive in the Chichester Diocese. 
This blog invites the reader to become better sensitised to the existence of a silent power in the Church.  This is present in church patronage.  When used corruptly, patronage power can quickly create situations of abuse, secrecy and rampant bullying.  In the case of the Chichester Diocese, we would claim that any continued exercise of an unlimited patronage by a bishop over a whole diocese is, in 2019, something now totally inappropriate.  The recent IICSA report on the recent history of their diocese, now in the in-tray of the Bishops and senior staff at Chichester, should surely be driving forward a new openness.  Is the Diocese of Chichester to be a place that resists, as the Bishop of Burnley puts it, ‘deep-seated cultural change’? The episode that took place account of the Bishop of Chichester’s study a mere 3 ½ years ago is an example of reactionary attitudes that have no place in a post-IICSA church.  This post-IICSA church is watching and waiting to see evidence of ‘learnt lessons’, transparency and a new penitential atmosphere involving real care by all bishops for their clergy. 

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. 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 the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

10 thoughts on “Patronage and Power Abuse in the Church”

  1. Thank you for pointing this out in the case of Chichester Diocese. Patronage by those who wish to exclude women priests is still prevailing and controlling appointments in many rural parishes. I wonder if, when our present incumbent leaves, the parish will be granted a fair and open access to candidates from ALL the Church of England, not just those who belong to ‘The Society’? St Hilda should rise up and crown them with her episcopal staff!

  2. There is unofficial patronage, too. Even a humble vicar can put someone forward for training, and what they say will be believed. I witnessed a situation where someone was put forward for basic training as a lay minister with a whole raft of things they were supposed to have done, working with young people here and there signed off by the incumbent. When in fact it was all completely fictional. And of course, reverse patronage. Someone says you are not suitable, and that’s that. Accuse a cleric, and you are a priori not believed. If you are accused by a cleric, they are.

  3. Thank you for sharing my story. In my evidence I also record my repeated concern that as recently as 2016 Martin Warner had not passed on to the Police information I gave him about a suspect.

    Since giving my evidence he has made one other attempt, fortunately bungled, to remove me from my one remaining supra parochial responsibility in the diocese.

    At my age I have another 7- 13 years in full time ministry, but the experiences have been so traumatic that I cannot now face the thought of moving on in ministry. I am blessed to be in a supportive village and to be affirmed by my parishioners and other priestly colleagues.

    1. Nick, I found your statement to IICSA painful to read. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a rough time. I’m glad your parish is supportive, at least that’s one positive.

      I’m from Chichester Diocese; Gordon Rideout was my vicar and Peter Ball my bishop. I don’t want to go into the story here but I too regard myself as collateral damage.

      And yes, what you say about patronage is absolutely true, and still goes on.

  4. I dont know the facts of the Chichester case that you refer to but I am aware of this sort of ‘patronage’ being operated in other dioceses and across a variety of levels of seniority. This aids and abets the clericalism that is rife in the Church of England much to it’s shame. As a state institution in receipt of state and public funds as well as the infamous seats in the House of Lords that it holds, it is high time that this self serving institution was brought to book and excluded from these ‘perks’ until its house, or houses, are in order in the same way that we would expect from any other national or local government body or associated quango. The fact that the state church, or ‘ministry of religion’ is allowed to be exempt from the equality act is laughable, but very scary at the same time.

    1. I’d agree about the exemptions from the equality legislation! But isn’t a government or state organisation, nor does it get government money. Only the tax breaks any charity gets. The seats in the House of Lords are because some church legislation has to go to the House. So the Bishops have to have a say. The Chief Rabbi and various other religious Heads also have seats. It’s all very odd, I grant you.

      1. I think what I mean by state/public funding is the historical financial endowments that make up the basis of the CofE’s financial wealth including things such as Queen Anne’s Bounty, the land that it owns, and schemes like the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, as well as its large receipt of lottery money.

        It is the established church of the state and is therefore intrinsically linked to state bodies and it is through this that it has 26 Lords Spiritual, this is not offered to any other faith or Christian body although as you say the current chief rabbi is a Lord Temporal.

        I think any other body that received these advantages would be expected to comply with all employment, equality, bullying, pay and other legislation that somehow the CofE manages to navigate around.

        1. Wouldn’t disagree, broadly. Saying that the clergy are self employed also means they end up working ridiculous hours. Exploitation, basically.

  5. Thank you for this. The single best article – by far – that I have encountered on the subject of preferment and its origins is by the extremely distinguished student of the medieval church, A. Hamilton Thompson (1873-1962): https://www.le.ac.uk/lahs/downloads/1941-2/1941-42%20(22)%201-32%20Hamilton%20Thompson.pdf

    Historically, the patronage of the bishops of Chichester was very slender – for example, the 1841 Clergy List indicates that they had the gift of only thirty benefices (though four of these were plural) outside the cathedral dignities in a diocese with approximately 320 (or so) parishes extant at that time. I haven’t done a calculation of the current patronage rights of the bishops – inflated naturally by the foundation of many more recent parishes and the disposal or exchange of advowsons by former lay or corporate patrons – but thirty livings was obviously a relatively slender base on which to start, though not as extreme as the bishops of Peterborough, who had the gift of only four parochial cures in their own diocese, or Llandaff (five) or Oxford (six) (within the legal structures prevailing in Wales prior to 1921 and the expansion of the Oxford diocese beyond the confines of the eponymous county).

    Also, it is worth noting the relative financial distress of the Chichester diocese, occasioned in part by the fact that it still has far too many two or three parish benefices in rural situations, where benefices in excess of ten are now routine in nearby dioceses like Canterbury and Winchester.

    It’s therefore possible that when Dr Warner says “we have nothing for you”, what he might mean is that, given the way in which benefices need to be amalgamated in order to reduce the stipendiary headcount (and thus relieve pressure on the budget), and the pressing economic need to discount certain forms of churchmanship in order to effect any such rationalisation, the preferment cupboard is bare.

    Of course, it is also possible that there is something else going on, and that having certain associations can lead people, however blamelessly and unwittingly, into a sort of purdah. I have read Mr Flint’s witness statement, which speaks for itself. There is no biography in Crockford. However, I note that he is a long-serving incumbent of Rusper, between Crawley and Horsham (which you have pictured), and where I attended a service in 2009 as part of a pilgrimage I have been undertaking. Until recently it was in plurality with Colgate, where I have also attended a service. To my knowledge Rusper might now be the only rural single parish benefice in the diocese, absent Cowden (following the recent closures of Holtye and Hammerwood) where the incumbent has been part time; until 2015 Heyshott was also on its own, but it was led by an SSM. Knowledge of this will, I suppose, create its own pressures.

    Richard W. Symonds [unpublished]

    This disturbing case of the use and abuse of Church power has other implications. For example: If Archbishop Welby [and Bishop Warner] insist there is still a “significant cloud” hanging over the deceased Bishop Bell accused of sexual abuse, even though the accusations have been proved to be unfounded, then that Archbishop and Bishop are falsely accusing the deceased Bishop and thus is an abuse of power on their part – as well as breaking the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness”.

May 3 2019 – “Panorama on C/E. Further reflections” – Stephen Parsons – ‘Surviving Church’

Panorama on C/E. Further reflections

Panorama on C/E. Further reflections

 

It is perhaps unfortunate for the Church of England and other public bodies that iPlayer was ever invented.  It allows the curious and those obsessed by detail to go back and watch small sections of a programme over and over again.  The Panorama episode on the Church of England last Monday was a case in point.  Certain things within it jarred for me and I needed to check out what had really been said as well as the demeanour of the person uttering the words.

This blog piece has to assume that the reader saw the programme (or at least read my previous blog) as space does not allow me to run through the things said.  Three people were especially prominent in the programme, in addition to the valiant survivors who appeared.  One was the investigating Lincolnshire Superintendent, Rick Hatton.  The other two were Bishop Alan Wilson and Bishop Peter Hancock.  All three came over as having individual sincerity and honesty.  Each, in different ways, conveyed emotion and this drew the viewer in to feel with them the sentiments of sorrow they were experiencing.  The emotional connection between Superintendent Hatton and the viewer in particular was unexpected, but it made for powerful television.  The other two individuals mentioned also drew us into their personal emotional world.  We felt caught up in the way they had reacted as human beings to the horrors of sexual abuse by clergy.

However, this spell of identification was partly broken in the final few moments of the programme.  One of the bishops showed himself to be unable to answer a straightforward question about the statistics of abuse.  Suddenly the good rapport that Bishop Hancock had built up with the viewer over the programme was shattered.  His evasive response to the interviewer changed the way we related to everything he had previously said in the earlier parts of the interview.  Instead of being a man of feelings and integrity, Bishop Hancock suddenly showed himself as someone who was there to perform in front of an audience.  He was there not to speak for himself but on behalf of others. 

On the Twittersphere this question has been asked by several people.  Who was Bishop Hancock representing and who was he speaking for?  The evasiveness of the final moments of the programme showed that all his earlier answers were in all likelihood rehearsed and controlled by other unseen people.  Unlike all the other people in the programme, the Bishop’s words came to be revealed as the words of a corporate entity.  We were, in other words, hearing from, not a live independent human being but rather we were witnessing a stage-managed, damage limiting show.   The story of the Wizard of Oz immediately comes to mind.

Whenever an individual has the task of standing up on stage and presenting views for someone else, particularly when they are likely to be challenged at a later date, one can feel sorry for that person.  I felt sorry for Bishop Hancock on Panorama just as I had felt for Archbishop Welby when he spouted out nonsense about the Smyth scandal to Channel 4 barely three weeks ago.

Whoever are the hidden forces who pull strings behind the scenes, one feels an atmosphere of desperation in the system when half-truths and palpably false information are fed to the public.  In this age of Twitter, Facebook and email, information travels as fast as light.  How anyone can expect to hide truth in 2019 is a mystery?  The story of spiritual/sexual abuse in the Church is far too big to be buried in a flurry of misleading statistics.

The revelation in 2010 that there were only 13 cases of serious abuse to be examined in the entire C/E was palpably false information but it had the effect of damping down criticism of the institution for a period.  Control of information was then power for those in charge of the Church and they used it effectively to delay the day of reckoning that seems now to be very close.

The truth of the full extent of the abuse scandal within the Church of England is, for the moment, hidden from most of us.  The IICSA hearings did prise open numerous cans of worms and give us a glimpse of what appear to be outrageous manipulations of information which were used to protect the institution.  I am still haunted by what was revealed at the hearing about Chichester when a detective investigating the crimes of Bishop Ball was actively obstructed in the course of his duties by the then Bishop of the Diocese.  The IICSA hearings of last year lead us to suspect that next Monday’s reports and conclusions on the Diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball are likely to be fairly dire. 

Somehow the horror of what churchmen (it does seem to be men) will do to try to protect the church from scandal and malfeasance has now limited power to shock.  It is a bit like the situation in the States where presidential lies have become so much the norm that no one expresses any shock at a new one.  But even the negative conclusions of IICSA towards the Church may be survivable if the Church finally comes to the realisation that it cannot prosper when information in this area is suppressed or manipulated. 

The interviewer on Panorama upset Bishop Hancock (and presumably his minders) when she scratched at potentially the greatest scandal of all – the statistics of abuse across the whole Church. What was being discussed was sensitive information about the full extent of abuse in the Church. Not being ready to share that information suggests that Church authorities know that it cannot yet be revealed without a great deal of spin and preparation.  The need for the application of extensive communication skills suggests that the news in this area is very bad indeed.  Some months ago, it was suggested to me by someone ‘in the know’ that the Church dealing with abuse scandals was a bit like fighting forest fires which keep erupting all over the place.

Panorama indicated to us that control of information is a tactic of power still actively employed by the central Church authorities.  The originators of this tactic do not appear to be the bishops themselves but the highly paid Church House officials at the centre of things.   Unfortunately for them, their control of the levers of power was all too easy to spot in both the recent television interviews. 

The interview of Archbishop Welby on Channel 4 was, like that of Bishop Hancock, unconvincing and somewhat contrived.  The bishops themselves both had personal integrity and human warmth but nothing could disguise the fact that they were speaking for someone other than themselves.  The Church cannot continue to go down a path of fielding individuals to act as spokesmen for the institution.

The public want, as far as possible, to encounter real human beings who can speak for the church.  The people of England relate to real people, people who, like them, are living lives of joy mixed with pain.  They will never want to identify with a group when they suspect that the information put out is being manipulated and managed before it is shared with them.  In short, let bishops be bishops, shepherds of the flock, not puppets being controlled by forces that are invisible and are not necessarily working for the good of all.

Wow. Thanks, Stephen. There’s an article in the Church Times about safeguarding where Bishop Stephen Cottrell says the Church now has “Marvellous guidelines and policies”. No comment.

May 3 2019 – “More fallout from the Panorama programme” [‘Scandal in the Church of England’] – ‘Thinking Anglicans’ – Simon Sarmiento

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More fallout from the Panorama programme

More fallout from the Panorama programme

An open letter has been published by Justin Humphreys, chief executive of the charity now known as thirtyone:eight (formerly Churches Child Protection Advisory Service):
An open letter to the leadership of the Church of England following BBC’s Panorama.

…It has been clear for some time that the past cases review conducted between 2007 and 2010 was flawed in a number of respects. For there to be any confusion or uncertainty about what happened to those cases that were identified, often referred to as the ‘Known Cases Lists’ is also inexcusable. The Panorama program did well to uncover what were clearly points of discomfort for the church hierarchy. For key representatives of the Church to either not be able to respond clearly to questions about the number of cases or be unprepared to do so, calls the management of these cases into serious question and makes one wonder who exactly is in control? The need for transparency and true accountability has never been as needed as it is today.

What is needed within the Church of England (and frankly elsewhere across the wider Church and beyond) is authentic leadership. Leadership that is prepared to lead by example in a proactive exercise of self-reflection that leads to open and honest dialogue (particularly with survivors). Leadership that is not governed, coerced or muzzled by either insurers, lawyers or any other stakeholder that may stand to lose from just exposure and open remorse and repentance. This would be the right thing to do!

We may ask, what (or who) is being served by this ongoing catalogue of failures, missed opportunities and resistance to effective change concerning past, present and future safeguarding matters? It certainly cannot be said that survivors are being well-served. It is also of great concern that the Church itself is being further damaged by a continual denial of the truth and avoidance of any tangible reparation.

If the public at large is ever again to say of the Church that it is a safe place, a haven or even a sanctuary for those who are suffering, the Church must be prepared to be laid bare and be held accountable for those things it has failed to do well. This humility would be the greatest strength of the Church in seeking to deal with this sad catalogue of shame. The time has come for those that stand in the way of what Jesus would so clearly have done to be challenged, held accountable and where needed placed elsewhere – where they have less opportunity to exert their negative influence and to stand in the way of the restoration that is desperately needed…

Do read the whole letter.

Stephen Parsons at Surviving Church has written a second blog, this one is titled: Panorama on C/E. Further reflections. Again it’s worth reading in full, but the concluding paragraph says:

…Panorama indicated to us that control of information is a tactic of power still actively employed by the central Church authorities.  The originators of this tactic do not appear to be the bishops themselves but the highly paid Church House officials at the centre of things.   Unfortunately for them, their control of the levers of power was all too easy to spot in both the recent television interviews.    The interview of Archbishop Welby on Channel 4 was, like that of Bishop Hancock, unconvincing and somewhat contrived.  The bishops themselves both had personal integrity and human warmth but nothing could not disguise the fact that they were speaking for someone other than themselves.  The Church cannot continue to go down a path of fielding individuals to act as spokesmen for the institution.  The public want, as far as possible, to encounter real human beings who can speak for the church.  The people of England relate to real people, people who, like them, are living lives of joy mixed with pain.  They will never want to identify with a group when they suspect that the information put out is being manipulated and managed before it is shared with them.  In short, let bishops be bishops, shepherds of the flock, not puppets being controlled by forces that are invisible and are not necessarily working for the good of all.

The Church Times has published a letter from Andrew Graystone which can be found here (scroll down)

Panorama programme won’t be the last scandal

Sir, — Church leaders, from the Archbishops up, acknowledge that the Church is failing in its care of victims of clergy abuse. But ask them who is responsible for sorting out the mess, and nobody knows. Is it the job of the Archbishops’ Council? or the General Synod? or the National Safeguarding Steering Group? or Lambeth Palace? or the House of Bishops? Or is it, perhaps, a matter for each individual diocese?

Everybody points to someone else. Nobody steps forward. After a decade or more of crisis, which continues to eat away at the Church’s standing in society, there has been a complete failure from those in authority to grasp the issue. One reason that some survivors of church abuse are so painfully vocal is that they are filling a vacuum of leadership on this most crucial of issues for the Church.

Monday’s Panorama, with its focus on the shameful mismanagement of abuse in Lincoln diocese, was entitled Scandal in the Church of England. It could have been made at any point in the past decade, and it could have focused on almost any diocese. Stories will continue to emerge, and the scandal of abuse past and present will continue to undermine the Church’s wider mission, until some individual or body takes responsibility and institutes decisive action.

In the mean time, it is victims of abuse, past and present, who bear the cruelty and pain of the Church’s failure.

COMMENTS

Andrew Graystone says in the Church Times: “Church leaders, from the Archbishops up, acknowledge that the Church is failing in its care of victims of clergy abuse. But ask them who is responsible for sorting out the mess, and nobody knows…”

If that is the case, intervention is required by The Supreme Governor of the Church of England Her Majesty The Queen – just as the Pope was required to intervene in the Catholic Church.

elephant-768x521

STEPHEN PARSONS

http://survivingchurch.org/2019/02/19/elephant-at-general-synod/  (Stephen Parsons – ‘Surviving Church’)

ANDREW GRAYSTONE

“You cannot preach repentance until you have repented” [Booklet “We Asked For Bread But You Gave Us Stones – One Tear (sorry, Year) On” by Andrew Graystone]

MARTIN SEWELL
“…this is not simply an issue of attitude but of competence too. This is a point which has been made powerfully by Martin Sewell, who is both a lay member of the General Synod and a retired child protection lawyer. He points out that diocesan staff are typically trained in theology and Canon law, not in safeguarding or child protection law. As a result, he says, many of those making a decision about safeguarding in the Church of England have no credible claim to expertise in this increasingly complex situation. Interestingly, Mr Sewell makes that point both in relation to the treatment of complainants of abuse, but also in regard to the mishandling, in his view, of the George Bell case. He sees the failings on both of those aspects as two sides of the same coin, a fundamental problem, in his view, being a lack of competence and specialist knowledge, particularly legal knowledge and experience gained in a practical safeguarding context”
[Source: Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse [IICSA] – Monday March 5 2018 – Page 129 – Paras. 2-19 – Richard Scorer – Counsel for the complainants, victims and survivors represented by Slater & Gordon]
MARTIN SEWELL