Miserable offenders — but don’t forget the victims
From the Revd Dr David Wheeler
Sir, — The IICSA report on the Church of England’s handling of the allegations around Peter Ball finds that Peter Ball was treated preferentially and a lack of compassion was shown for his victims. My belief is that this bias comes from the heart of our theology and applies to far more than sexual abuse. My own experience is with families bereaved by homicide; in this area, pastoral work with victims is not confused with that for their offenders, allowing clearer inferences to be drawn.
One key part of our theology is that we are all sinners and need God’s forgiveness; we have an offender-based understanding of our relationship with God. While that is obviously true, the centrality that we give to that understanding does, in my experience, harm those whose lives are dominated by sins of which they are victims.
That theological understanding is evident in many ways, e.g. in how a confession is near the beginning of most of our worship; and our work with prisoners, but comparative neglect of those whom they have harmed.
How can we expect people, when they have suffered sexual abuse, or someone close to them has been murdered, routinely to confess to their own sins? Almost always there is a feeling that if only they had acted differently, then the offence — which dominates their lives — would not have happened. The confession, as it is used now, is likely to simply reinforce the idea that, if only they had acted differently, then. . . Our message needs to be that you have not sinned (in that dominating event).
We have nearly 400 prison chaplains; do we have a single priest even trained in working with victims? (I have been on two training days run by Support after Murder and Manslaughter, who have provided training in that area to government departments.) Neither have we any system ensuring long-term support for those affected. I know of one case in which a senior cleric ordered a parish priest to visit such a family. In the words of the family, “It had taken 19 years for our religious leaders to acknowledge the possible consequences of a traumatic experience on a family unit. To my mind, it was a bit late in the day.”
Although Prisons Week acknowledges the harm done to victims of crime, it always comes after our work with prisoners. To put it bluntly, we pray for murderers, and for abusers, before we pray for those whom they have harmed. If I was a victim, I do not think I would want the Church’s prayers like that. The title says it all: it is centred on offenders, not their victims. (And, yes, I know that offenders have usually been offended against, but that hardly helps their victims.)
These are all symptoms, I believe, that flow from our seeing ourselves as offenders before God. How many of us hear that message in the absolution, “confirm you in all goodness”? Perhaps central to this (in my opinion) mistaken bias is that people came to Jesus for healing, not to have their wrongdoings pardoned. We hear of many people coming to him for healing; is there a single one who comes to confess his or her failings, apart from Peter? We all need healing (and confession can be a part of that), but for those whose lives are dominated by sins committed against them, it is wrongful to have the requirement to confess your own sins as essential. For victims to come to God, they do not need to confess their own sinfulness.
Secular society also neglected victims of crime in the past; that started changing some 50 years ago with the creation of Victim Support, Police Family and Probation Service Victim Liaison Officers, changes to court procedures, etc. I would suggest that we need to look deeply at our theological understandings so that we can bring God’s love to victims of serious crimes. We need to develop a “victim-centred” theology before we can truly appreciate how we should develop our pastoral care of those who are the victims of others’ serious sinfulness.
Obviously, these are very deep waters, and in this letter I can only sketch out lines of thought.
22 Glamis Avenue
Bournemouth BH10 6DP
Hope for co-operation after Church in Wales vote
From Mr John Brydon
Sir, — I was dismayed to read the report last week of the Welsh Governing Body and the motion proposed by the Archdeacon of Llandaff calling on the Bishops to refuse to ordain any candidate who objected to the ministry of women priests and bishops. The fact that this was proposed by a priest and one who has duties of oversight made it all the more distasteful. In my naïvety, I had assumed that the world had moved on in recent years, but clearly for some, including two of the Church’s six bishops, it has not.
The fact that the vast majority of the Governing Body rejected the motion, which was effectively discriminatory, gives some hope that the majority of Christians can, irrespective of race, creed, or colour, work together.
8 Daniels Road
Norwich NR4 6QZ
Is there something no one told Mrs Matthews?
Berkeley Parish Church Magazine (August 1937): “Licensed Lay Readers — Mrs. T. J. Matthews. Mr. A. J. W. Watts.”From Miss Jane W. Fisher
Sir, — It is widely thought that there were no women licensed lay readers before 1969 (Features, 3 May). In Berkeley parish, however, we had had Mrs T. G. Matthews for many years.
The earliest parish magazine that I have is for August 1937, and she is listed on the front cover together with the clergy, another (male) lay reader and other office-holders. My late mother and uncle remembered her being active long before that when they were children. She is listed every month up to and including June 1957.
My uncle, the late Canon Russell R. Acheson, in, I think, the 1960s, did try to find out from the diocese when she was licensed. He was told, however, that the diocese no longer held any records of lay readers for that earlier period. He was too busy at the time to carry out any further research. He wondered again in 1994, but, as far as I know, did not pursue it.
JANE W. FISHER
16 Hillcrest, Berkeley
Gloucestershire GL13 9DG
Let there be a sacred jukebox in every cathedral
From Mr Paul Goddard
Sir, — After a recent visit to St Albans Cathedral, I realised how much better the visitor experience would be if such a wonderful building could be filled with the sound of hymns or suitable choral music.
My proposal, which I have already submitted to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office, is for the introduction of jukeboxes to be installed in churches and cathedrals that are regularly visited by the general public.
Very often, there is either a charge to enter these establishments, or they are seeking a financial contribution towards the costs of looking after such magnificent buildings.
A jukebox, linked in to the sound system already in place, and charging, say, £2 or £3 per selection, would be an ideal way of both generating funds and greatly improving the ambience and atmosphere.
There would obviously need to be an area set aside for prayer and quiet contemplation; but just imagine walking into a church or cathedral and hearing “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” filling the place with atmosphere and glorious sound.
2 Fairholme Road
Surrey SM1 2EE
From the Revd Mike Plunkett
Sir, — I was deeply disappointed when I perused the letter and booklet from our Archbishops for the Ascension-to-Pentecost season. I had expected to open something gripping and fresh. The layout of the book was totally expectable, and the substance was stolid: mostly material that we already knew, or new material that was only new in the sense that we hadn’t seen it before.
My other concern was a sentence in the covering letter, which continued a theological weakness of the Thy Kingdom Come movement. When family friends, our community, and our networks are seen to be where we spread the good news, then we can only be speaking of good news for us on judgement day.
On earth, the good news is for the poor: good news for the rest of humanity, that part that is not basking in the lifestyle that despoils creation and continues inequality.
The increasing insecurities that we now face are beginning to move ever more quickly; so perhaps next year’s Pentecost challenge will be more appropriate.
1 The Ridge, Bishops Castle
Shropshire SY9 5AB
C of E losing its lustre
From the Revd W. S. Monkhouse
Sir, — I agree with every word of Ines Hands (Comment, 3 May). It was the liturgy, the sense of continuity with the past, that brought the teenage me to the Church of England from Cumbrian village Methodism, and I know that I am by no means alone in that journey.
Now, at the age of almost 69, contemplating retirement, I look around for churches where I might feel at home — churches not embarrassed to provide liturgy, dignity, and joy, without patronising me with doggerel hymns, play-school prayers, and infantile sermons. No easy task.
I’m sorry that Ines Hands finds it necessary to write under a pseudonym. Why? What does this signify about the C of E thought police?
W. S. MONKHOUSE
The Vicarage, Rangemore Street
Burton upon Trent DE14 2ED