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Scandal, abuse, and a less hierarchical future

15 March 2013


From Andrea Hunton

Sir, - Much will be said about the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien (News, 1 March) and his acknowledgement that his conduct had "fallen beneath the standards expected of a priest and bishop" (News, 8 March). Much will be said by those opposed to the Roman Catholic Church, and to Christian faith, ethics, and practice. But, if one thing should be learnt from this, and the cases of abuse in the RC and other Churches, it is that hierarchal ways of operating must end.

It is when we invest too much, including power and authority, in a select few, including politicians, media owners, journalists, bankers, celebrities, workplace managers, and tribal leaders, without proper transparency and accountability, that so much can go wrong.

At this time, in the Parish and People movement and the Local Ministry Network of the Church of England, prophetic voices are calling for new ways of shared and collaborative leadership and ministry in which lay people are equal partners with those who are ordained.

As the new Archbishop of Canterbury is installed (not, I hope, enthroned), and as a new Pope is elected, both need to take on board, with all the clergy and people, that in the words of St Paul, the apostle, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," and that the way of Jesus, reflected in foot-washing on Maundy Thursday, was to be non-hierarchical. Self-emptying and taking the form of a servant is the Christian message - not assuming power and authority and then misusing it; nor should we collude in allowing one person, whether pope, bishop, ordained minister, or secular or business leader, to take all to himself or herself without proper, appropriate, and respectful mechanisms of question and challenge. How many dioceses have responsive and thorough-going complaints procedures, and actively support and encourage whistle-blowers?

A new form of responsibility and accountability is ready to swell up, if only ordinary people will demand and enact it.

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