A shambles is no safeguard

by
16 March 2018

THERE might be a few people remaining in the Church of England who lament the rise of managerialism. No one, however, is carrying a flag for unprofessionalism. We make no apology for covering the hearings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IISCA) in such detail, painful reading though it makes. What is clear, even through the guarded, self-protective accounts of many of those called to give evidence, is that safeguarding in the Chichester diocese was, for a long time, a shambles. The criticism summarised by Fiona Scolding QC at the hearings, that the diocese displayed “a culture of amateurism”, seems mild in the light of earlier verdicts of dysfunctionality. Poor record-keeping, senior clergy at loggerheads, safeguarding officers ignored, seemingly limitless indulgence for clerical abusers, suspicion of those who reported abuse, accusations of sexism — the list of management failings is long.

If the clergy are unwilling or unable to function as effective managers, it is reasonable to appoint suitably trained lay people to these posts. But it is worse than useless to create managerial posts if the right degree of authority is not attached. The short history of safeguarding officers in Chichester illustrates this point. Janet Hind was regarded as an adviser, whose recommendations, therefore, could be ignored. One of her successors, Shirley Hosgood, was given more authority, but was obstructed. Roger Meekings, who produced a report in 2009 about some of the diocese’s safeguarding failings, told the inquiry: “Faced with a female safeguarding officer who was working to a degree of authority . . . provided a challenge to male authority in some ways.” This was denied by the former Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings.

By choosing Chichester as the Church’s IISCA guinea-pig, we presume that the authorities hoped to show the Church’s active concern over abuse allegations. The diocese has, after all, been investigated in the past decade by Mr Meekings, Baroness Butler-Sloss, Bishop John Gladwin, and, to a degree, Dame Moira Gibb and Lord Carlile. Yes, mistakes had been made, but they were being tackled. Unfortunately, the magnitude and frequency of the mistakes, and the unwillingness of those appearing before the inquiry to own up to responsibility for them, is creating the overriding impression, especially when taken with the survivors’ accounts, of continued defensiveness. Chichester diocese, a by-word for poor control of its clergy, is in danger of being portrayed as typical of the Church of England. It isn’t, but perhaps the Church is guilty by association for allowing such a situation to continue for so long.

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