The ‘Harvey Weinsteins’ of the Church; and a bias towards apologising
From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne
Sir, — I grieve over the searing experience that must have led the anonymous cleric, “Helen”, to blog that the Church was full of Harvey Weinsteins (News, 17 November). But from my deep knowledge of clergy in the diocese of York, gained over six decades, and from nearly one decade in Llandaff, I would put my name to my experience that the majority of clergy faithfully desire to bring Christ’s healing light into the direst and darkest situations that they never baulk from entering.
Having serviced the Discipline List in the Northern Province for six years, I fully realise that, as in every profession, there are a tiny minority who fall short and wreak terrible damage rather than enable flourishing, and who deserve the harshest censure. I have some sympathy for Jayne Ozanne’s plea to outsource safeguarding to a third party, and, indeed, have worked alongside such in York and Wales.
While I welcome the heady objectivity they bring, the Church is an organisation whose tremendous complexity takes years to master. Any investigation not up to speed with that complexity can actually waste time pursuing false trails, and miss devious people who are skilled at manipulating complexity to their advantage. At the end of the day, even third-party scrutiny needs to be informed by a trusted inside source.
Unfortunately, errant clerics, though in a minority, tend to gnaw at the mind and hog the headlines, and faithful clergy, à la Ecclesiasticus 44.9, “perish as though they never existed”. Last week, I addressed a Mothers’ Union meeting, where an elderly lady took particular pains to thank me for my late father’s ministry to her bereaved mother 50 years back. Apparently he had repeatedly called when everyone else had given her a wide berth, simply listening, seasoned with the occasional counsel, such as “Keep yourself busy, and, if you are tempted to take to the demon drink, buy a big bottle of Lucozade!”
8 Bielby Close, Scarborough
North Yorkshire YO12 6UU
From Dr Ruth Hildebrand Grayson
Sir, — I was appalled to read the Revd Tom Brazier’s assertion that we “do no further harm” to anyone if we happen to ruin the reputation of a deceased person against whom allegations of abuse have been made by apologising to the complainant (Letters, 10 November).
I am the daughter of one of the late Bishop Bell’s closest friends. I have been privileged to work over the past two years with many people who are seeking justice for George Bell: as relatives, friends, biographer, clergy, lawyers, journalists, and other supporters. We have been deeply dismayed by the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in this case; and I am sure none of us would endorse the statement that “no further harm” has been done to the reputation and legacy of one of the country’s greatest bishops. I would suggest that Mr Brazier visit Chichester and find out for himself just how much harm has been done.
While we await the publication of the Carlile report on the procedures followed in this instance, the House of Bishops has produced two policy statements in 2017 which are relevant to it. One notes that when investigating a complaint against an accused church officer, “a legal presumption of innocence will be maintained during the statutory and Church enquiry processes”.
As the Revd Clifford Hall pointed out (Letters, 3 November), this did not happen in the case of the late Bishop Bell, who was presumed guilty on the basis of a single unchallenged accusation without the production of even a shred of hard evidence against him; and it may indicate that correct procedures — as required by the law of the land — were not followed here.
The other policy was published on 13 October, immediately after the Church’s receipt of Lord Carlile’s report. It states that those receiving safeguarding allegations against a church officer must “ensure that [the complainants] feel heard and taken seriously”.
This is not the same as saying that only their account of the matter should be considered. Indeed, it may well mean that it is not appropriate to apologise to a complainant without a complete and impartial investigation of both sides of the case, even when the accused is dead. The defendant may no longer be able to speak for himself, but other sources — including family members and other witnesses — are often available.
Many of us are concerned that there appears to be some delay in publishing Lord Carlile’s findings in the George Bell case. I trust that the church authorities will see fit to release the report in its entirety very soon.
Otherwise, rumours about the rights and wrongs of the case will continue to circulate that can only further damage the Church’s reputation over its handling of this matter. To support a potential miscarriage of justice in this or any other case on the grounds that the accused is already “entrusted to the Father” beggars belief.
R. H. GRAYSON
25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ
Syrian government’s restoration of normal life
From the Revd Brian McHenry
Sir, — In your article on World Vision’s appeal for funds to assist the Syrian refugees who are sheltering in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon (News, 10 November), you report that 600,000 displaced Syrians have returned home.
There is a good reason for their return. Peace has returned to many parts of Syria.
In September, I was in Damascus, Homs, and the Christian villages north of Damascus. Everyone I met supported President Assad and the army in their struggle against the people they called “terrorists” and not freedom fighters. Life has returned largely to normal in Damascus. The old city was as busy as ever. People were delighted that Western Europeans had come to see for themselves what is happening.
Most Christians and Syrians from all communities support the President and the secular constitution, which has always protected the plurality and diversity of the religious and ethnic make-up of Syrian society.
This was a very different narrative from the one that our media report. If there was once a moderate opposition to the Syrian government, that soon disappeared.
“The truth will set you free.” I ask your readers to be more critical consumers of our media, in particular in respect of reports about the Middle East. Please pray for peace in that region.
14 Richmond Gardens
Kent CT2 8ES
Theological training and authorised lay ministry
From the Principal of Trinity College, Bristol
Sir, — I am writing to correct a few possible misrepresentations of the state of theological education on funding for theological-education institutions (TEIs; News, 10 November) and in the Revd Dr Philip Lockley’s article (Comment, same issue). While I agree that funds can be tight at theological colleges, and that it is often a challenge to make what we have stretch far enough, there is also much to be celebrated.
This September, Trinity College, Bristol, welcomed 50 vibrant and committed new ordinands, many of them younger, and more than half of them women. And, while I rejoice that Dr Lockley found space and time “around the edges” in his formal training to explore mutual flourishing, it is worth noting that many TEIs, whatever their heritage, dedicate time and attention in their formal programmes to helping students learn to live well with difference.
Trinity students will soon engage in a week’s programme of lectures, seminars, and informal sessions on the crucial subject of living with diversity. This will sit alongside the less formal aspects of community living to encourage just the kind of engagement with mutual flourishing that Dr Lockley rightly values. I am sure that many TEIs do similar.
Bristol BS9 1JP
From Dr Patrick E. McWilliams
Sir, — I could not agree more with Dr Lockley’s assessment of the value of training in community with those of varying perspectives. I would like to add that, for those of us who were raised in a tradition other than Anglicanism, it is especially valuable to learn alongside those whose cradle religion is C of E. The insights into the functional mind of the Church as expressed by its most natural adherents provide many useful lessons for the outsider, tempted as we may be to overzealousness in regard to our own view of “Anglicanism”, or to lack of appreciation for the complexities of the situation on the ground.
As Dr Lockley suggests, if the regional courses can manage to capture this ethos of mutual understanding — rubbing away at the sharp edges — the whole Church stands greatly to benefit.
It seems appropriate, however, to offer one cautionary thought. The good of striving for mutual flourishing should not become an excuse for a timid bureaucracy to promote indistinctness: theological particularity and a sense of uniqueness among the Churches has made the Anglican tradition tremendously life-giving over the centuries. It would be a shame to see that eroded simply for the sake of a superficially easier life together.
PATRICK E. McWILLIAMS
St John’s College
Durham DH1 3RJ
From the Revd Doug Chaplin
Sir, — Ted Harrison’s short article on lay ministry (Vocations, 10 November) unfortunately appears to give the impression that a one-year scheme of authorised lay ministry (ALM) has replaced Reader ministry in Worcester diocese.
As both the Director of Reader Training and the course leader for the ALM training, I would like to point out that this is not the case. We continue to train candidates for licensed lay ministry, in an active partnership with the Queen’s Foundation.
Our LLMs, or Readers (we use both terms interchangeably), are valued and active in many different ways, not least as lay theologians. As such, they are themselves involved in the delivery of training for our ALM trainees. We see these ministries as complementary, and we value both highly.
Mission Development Officer and Director of Reader Training
The Old Palace, Deansway
Worcester WR1 2JE
Stunt attacks vulnerable
From Mr Alexander Wallace
Sir, — Martin Luther’s affixing of his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg was aimed at exposing and encouraging the reform of a corrupt hierarchy, which had grown used to exploiting the poor and the vulnerable. The group behind the recent stunt aping this (News, 10 November) has instead attacked the vulnerable, marginalised, and stigmatised: LGBT+ Christians who love Christ and long for a Church that recognises their faithful witness.
Sadly, it seems, the fringe behind these demonstrations can hide behind the protection of holy orders, anonymous Twitter accounts, or the Church’s reluctance to take a clear stand. LGBT+ Christians have had to fight for every instance of recognition and affirmation from the Church, and, it seems, are still subject to persecution for doing so.
7 Beech Grove, Higham
Rochester, Kent ME3 7BB
Hope for the war dead
From the Revd Andrew Furlong
Sir, — I listened to Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 on Remembrance Sunday. I was surprised that the preacher, the Rt Revd Lord Eames, never referred to the hope of Christian families that they will be reunited with their fallen loved ones.
Nor did the Rt Revd Kenneth Clarke do so in his words of introduction. A better balance could have been achieved between remembering and resurrection hope.
ANDREW W. U. FURLONG
Formerly Dean of Clonmacnoise
12 Tubbermore Road,
Dalkey, Dublin A96 W9D0