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Letters to the Editor

23 March 2018


Case study or scapegoat? Chichester diocese under IICSA’s spotlight

From the Revd Neal Terry

Sir, — I am grateful for Canon Pickstone’s contribution to your Lent series (Faith, 16 March) as it helps me to explain my dis-ease with the suggestion that the Church should move to creating an independent body to deal with safeguarding cases (News, 9 March).

That the IICSA process is enacted during Lent and will entail a Passion experience for the Church should indicate that we cannot abrogate responsibility, or refuse the embellishments of shame and salvation, by passing on our collective responsibility in respect of safeguarding. The purpose of child protection and subsequent safeguarding legislation and policy is to ensure that institutions and organisations undertake responsibilities in this respect with rigour and honesty.

These responsibilities will remain incumbent on the Church; case-management will of necessity sit somewhere within the organisation (particularly in the early stages of referral); and there are already statutory authorities to whom cases can, and should, be referred. If there was ever evidence of the collective and structural nature of sin, the Church is witnessing its own culpability, in that we have not done those things that we ought to have done. Passing responsibility to another, instead of making necessary changes within, permits the whole Church to avoid rather than deal with those things that it needs to, and creates a scapegoat for its culpability.

An external body could not reflect a resurrected Christ, fully bearing the wounds of the body, which, integrated and transforming the “smelly, hairy, vulnerable flesh”, as Canon Pickstone puts it, are the marks of resurrection.

4 Sandpiper Place, Longbenton
Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE12 8PE


From Mr Richard Ashby

Sir, — The complacency evinced, particularly in the last two sentences of your leader comment last week, just goes to show why the IICSA investigation and its conclusions will be so important for the Church. The IICSA investigation into the Chichester diocese is a case study with much wider implications.

True, Chichester has, over the years, had far too many high-profile and distressing cases, whose mishandling, as well as the culture that allowed this to happen, is rightly being exposed to public view. But to imply that other dioceses are not like Chichester is wholly wrong and wholly ignorant.

These past weeks have shown that, in many places elsewhere and to the highest levels, indifference, ignorance, and buck-passing are ingrained in the culture of the Church. What horrors lurk in other dioceses’ blue files? Where else have records been burned? How many bishops, diocesan officers, and clergy are saying to themselves “There, but for the grace of God . . .”?

Chair, Chichester Cathedral Community Committee
11 Jubilee Mews
Emsworth PO10 8EA


From Mr Stephen Plaice

Sir, — Your leader comment (16 March) suggests that the diocese of Chichester may have been chosen as a guinea-pig for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, but treats it more as a scapegoat. To infer from your comments that the mismanagement of historical child abuse in Sussex has been chronic and that the rest of the Church of England was guilty only by association would be wrong.

In February, the lead bishop on safeguarding, Peter Hancock, was quoted in The Guardian, admitting that the Church of England was currently facing thousands of allegations of abuse. It is ridiculous to pretend that the failure to report or prevent abuse is other than systemic.

As a member of the laity in Sussex, I have been impressed by the unshirking manner in which the present Bishop, Dr Martin Warner, has rooted out historical and contemporary child abuse in the diocese (nearly all of which preceded his translation) and laid it before the public. Surely, Chichester should be encouraged in its recent transparency, not vilified.

83 Stanford Road, Brighton
East Sussex BN1 5PR


Sir, — I would like to make some comments on your recent report about Bishop Benn and the safeguarding blunders. At the time much of this happened, I had permission to officiate in Chichester diocese and had met, in passing, some of those abusers mentioned in the report. I was unaware, as I sincerely hope that most in the ranks were, of the sexual abuse that was taking place, but I observed the total lack of efficiency in the diocese as an entirety. It was, quite simply, an operational disaster.

Many of the letters that I wrote to Bishop Benn over my years in the diocese did not receive even the courtesy of an acknowledgement, let alone a reply. I spoke to a close colleague of Bishop Benn about this, and the reply to my remark, that I “never seemed to get an answer to a letter or email”, was greeted with the reply: “Yes, I know. We all laugh about it.” I cannot believe that I was the only one that found his tenure a problem in this respect, and I wonder whether some wrote to him about other problems linked to the far more important revelations of abuse and had a similar experience.

I know, from my own experience, what the attitude of some ministers in the diocese regarding what they regarded as priestly authority is. When I made a complaint to the diocesan hierarchy about the bullying that I had been subjected to, one minister was quite shocked on hearing of my action, and I was told, quite firmly, that “One cannot complain about a brother priest!”

At an event that I attended, I overheard one abuser and his confessor, and I heard the confessor laugh and say to the abusing minister, “Yes, I know all about you.” It is only in hindsight that one realises what may well have been implied by that remark. The mindset of some ministers in certain areas of the diocese appears, in retrospect, as though confession and forgiveness was taken as licence to sin.

I really do thank God that the situation in the Chichester diocese has been totally changed with the new regime, but we must all pray for them in what must be the ghastly and painful task of searching out the facts of the previous administrations’ failure.



Archbishop’s comments on property-value tax

From the Revd Paul Nicolson and six others

Sir, — It was good to read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s view that the idea of a wealth tax on the underlying value of property needs re-examining (Comment, 9 March). His fears — that the problems of its implementation would be huge, and of the possible damage to personal freedom — also need re-examining.

On 15 September 2014, a colloquium on land value tax (LVT), hosted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Network for Social Change, and the Coalition for Economic Justice, was held at the Westminster headquarters of the RICS.

The press release tells us that the meeting “was presented with economic analysis suggesting that a single annual tax based on land values would be capable of producing potential revenue flows of £82 billion: sufficient to replace all existing property taxes. Following rigorous debate, the meeting . . . concluded that the technical issues often quoted as providing reasons not to switch to assessing land rather than property, namely valuation methodology and data, are capable of solution within the UK context. The event examined both the evidence base from Australia, the USA and Denmark, where land taxes are already established, and the technical challenges offered by its introduction within the UK, either as a partial or full replacement for existing property taxes.”

Personal freedom has been abused in the field of UK taxation. It has led to the hoarding of billions of pounds of unearned, unused, and untaxed wealth in the increasing value of UK land, inevitably in short supply, and the parking of trillions of pounds of private wealth in overseas tax-free accounts. UK land cannot be exported; and its owners can help contribute to the well-being of the community, a principle advocated by the Archbishop.

c/o Taxpayers against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF


Inquiry needed into the St Mary le Strand affair

From Peter and Felicity Marno

Sir, — The situation regarding the future of St Mary le Strand, in London (News, 9 March), is an unconstitutional mess. The decision-makers in the London diocesan hierarchy are demonstrating contempt for due process, and disloyalty to church workers who, over many years, have given so much to the benefit of St Mary le Strand. They are riding roughshod over the congregation of the church.

We look to the Church for honest, moral, and transparent leadership, but are seeing the worst possible behaviour by those in authority. Church leaders are supposed to be devoting their energies to keeping churches open, not closing them, or handing them over to American commercial interests.

We support the call for an open and independent inquiry into the decision-making about this church’s future, and, indeed, into what the future should be. This is particularly relevant now, as there is a plan to pedestrianise one side of the church, and a large block of 600 new flats is soon to open in the parish.

102 Grove Park
London SE5 8LE


Fiancée’s baptism at St James’s Palace

From Mr Simon Deverell-Bees

Sir, — The news (16 March) that Prince Harry’s fiancée, Meghan Markle, has been baptised is a matter for rejoicing. Adult conversion carries much credibility. Moreover, that the sacrament was administered in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, in a private ceremony raises again the question where initiation into Christ’s Church should take place.

Recent theological thinking has emphasised that the baptismal candidate should be admitted to the Body of Christ where the faithful meet for public worship. We have all experienced difficult Sunday-morning services when friends of the baptismal party are invited and are obviously not enjoying the experience.

In my own parish church, I have memories of obliged invitees’ placing their hands over their noses as the fragrant aromas of incense drift over them. All things considered, the friends and relations of the baptised have certainly swelled the congregation.

As an alternative, could the royal-to-be’s baptism have been administered during the Easter vigil? This has ancient precedent, and is not a churchy fad.

69 Newhurst Park
Hilperton BA14 7QU

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