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Church of Ireland General Synod: Primates try to improve safeguarding credentials

18 May 2018

Gregg Ryan reports from the Church of Ireland General Synod in Armagh

Peter Cheney

The Anglican and Roman Catholic Primates, Dr Richard Clarke and Dr Eamon Martin

The Anglican and Roman Catholic Primates, Dr Richard Clarke and Dr Eamon Martin

A PILOT project that would make the two Armagh cathedrals (Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic) places of safety for those affected by domestic violence was announced by the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, in his Primatial address.

Dr Clarke, and his RC counterpart, Dr Eamon Martin, with their staffs, had undertaken the necessary inspection and instruction to complete a pilot scheme, which, it was hoped, other parishes might take up, he said.

“By that, I mean that we are to be a place not only where people may be safe, but also where they may find safety . . . for those who needed to be assured of finding help, when faced with the horrors of violence in the domestic setting,” he said.

“We know that, for many people on this island, the idea of the Church claiming to be a place of safety seems risible and contemptible. We must ensure that such contempt can never be justifiable in the future.”

Dr Clarke spoke of the high standards that were rightly demanded by the State. “From this General Synod onwards, there will also be a code underpinned in church law, again fully compliant with civil law, not simply of good practice, but of essential practice in our ministry among adults at risk of harm, and those in need of care and protection.”

Acknowledging that the measure would impose heavy demands on parishes throughout the Island, he said: “This is not an option: it is an imperative. . . It is also a fundamental Christian duty to ensure that no carelessness or apathy on our part endangers anyone; all must be able to know for certain that they are not only loved, but safe within our church communities. Short cuts are not to be tolerated.”

Speaking more widely, Dr Clarke quoted a phrase from the late Zygmunt Bauman, a humanist writer, who described the present era as “liquid modernity”. The Primate called for agility as a church community.

“Whether economically, culturally, politically, or socially, we have lost any sense of solidity, of certainty, of permanence. This is undoubtedly a major factor in the rise of a toxic and aggressive populism that is threatening everything in the world around us that we have long taken for granted. People grasp for old certainties even when these are unattainable and even pernicious.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing in Germany at the outset of the Second World War, had spoken in similar terms, Dr Clarke said.

For Christian disciples living in liquid modernity, it was essential to think critically. “The political philosopher Hannah Arendt, best remembered for her phrase ‘the banality of evil’, also warned us that human stupidity is often not a lack of intelligence, but, rather, an unwillingness to think critically.

“And, in this sense, stupidity is also a primary source of evil in the world. If we are to think critically and analytically, then we must be able to act with agility in a world where the certainties around us have dissolved into liquid; and herein lies the challenge.”

Critical thinking took time, however, and it was not easy to combine “being elastic in our thinking with being analytically rigorous”.

But the world “out there” remained a world loved by God. It was, therefore, “a world in which we must play our part with courage, integrity, and wisdom”.

Bills to protect vulnerable adults added to C of I constitution. BILLS to amend constitutional safeguarding policies in the Church of Ireland to take account of adults at risk of harm, in need of protection, and vulnerable, were passed at the General Synod.

Proposed by Canon Gillian Wharton (Dublin & Glendalough), and seconded by Geoffrey Perrin (Dublin & Glendalough), the Bills provide for the insertion and implementation of clauses pertaining to adults, and the provision of funding for the Church’s child-protection policy safeguarding trust.

The Bills also include provision for the funding of officers and the work of the safeguarding board, including the work of officers, and parish vetting.

The pilot scheme would now be extended across the diocese, and, it was hoped, across the broader Church.


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