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Letters to the Editor

18 April 2019

C of E response to safeguarding, industrial accountability, and divorce proposals


C of E response to safeguarding recommendation

From the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills

Sir, — When responding to atrocity cases, for which it was set up, the International Criminal Court — like other courts, for that matter — focuses primarily on the perpetrator, seeking to call out, name, and punish criminal acts, that they never happen again. Of course, they still do. The survivor’s testimony is a means to that end, treated as tools of witness — and no more.

But when it comes to building resilience in a community, in the aftermath of atrocity, the criminal court is only the first step in any work of reconciliation. For a community to thrive, it needs to listen to the stories and the needs of survivors of any abuse, crime, or atrocity. It is not just about retribution, but about flourishing: flourishing for the survivors and for the whole community as witness.

What the Church’s National Safeguarding Steering Group has done in rejecting the recommendations of the independent reviewers (News, 12 April) is to choose a path of self-protection rather than recognise the needs of survivors and give priority to them, and to the health of the Church and society.

There is a well-documented pattern of continued structural secrecy. This is a failing common to large organisations in a position of power and influence, and is defined in the book Crime and Human Rights: Criminology of atrocity and genocide by Joachim J. Savelsberg (Sage Publishing, 2010):

“Here we benefit from the work of a scholar, who has greatly contributed to our understanding of the ‘dark side of organisations,’ the many instances of regular rule breaking behaviour that is characteristic of life even in legitimate organizations.

“Sociologist Diane Vaughan stresses that members of organizations are always exposed to structural pressures resulting from competition and gaps between goals and legitimate means. They are likely to resort to the violation of laws, rules and regulations in order to meet organizational goals.

“Such rule violations become more likely as necessary structural features of organizations such as hierarchy or specialized subunits, create ‘structural secrecy,’ meaning they provide settings intra-organizationally where risk of detection and sanctioning are minimized. In addition, organizational processes such as the ‘normalization of deviance’ (ie, acceptance of deviant behaviour as normal) provide normative support for illegality, a pattern that has been documented” (page 78).

The best means of checking ourselves and our Church is through a system of accountability, as recommended by the reviewer, with the collaboration of survivors. All of us would be better served and safeguarded, including senior leadership, by listening to these survivors’ recommendations. It is a specialist area, which takes in much more than those assumed to be one-to-one cases at a parish level.

If our rhetoric is one of “All are welcome and all are loved,” we need to live up to the love we offer — a love that demands vulnerability and a willingness to listen to the voices of those in pain. When someone is hungry for bread, we should not then hand them a stone.

Address supplied


Industrial accountability for environmental harm 

From Mr Martin Wright

Sir, — It is welcome news that the Church of England Pensions Board and others have responded actively to the fatal Brumadinho dam disaster in January, which killed hundreds of people in Brazil (News, 12 April). As you report, they have written, with the Swedish Council of Ethics and 96 investment groups, demanding that top company executives disclose their safety precautions. This puts pressure on them to take steps to prevent future similar disasters.

Unfortunately, there have been other tragedies whose aftermath has still not been remedied. The biggest and longest-running is in Bhopal, India, where a leak of poison gas from the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) pesticide factory in 1984 killed thousands of people and damaged the health of many thousands more. Survivors were paid minimal compensation.

A second disaster is still unfolding, because toxic chemicals left on the derelict site are causing illnesses and birth defects by poisoning the water supply. This makes many hydrants unusable, in temperatures above 40°; several wards of the city are dependent on unreliable water tankers. UCC was taken over in 2001 by Dow Chemical Company which, after complex re-structuring and a merger forming DowDuPont, denies successor liability.

Now there is an opportunity to make amends at last. After yet another restructuring, a new Dow company has been formed. Survivors are asking it to provide resources to cleanse the site (as far as still possible) and pay adequate compensation (for which a petition is currently before the Indian Supreme Court). The new CEO, Jim Fitterling, and directors and shareholders, could show that the new company respects environmental, social, and governance principles, with respect to the past as well as the future.

This will be costly, but could be encouraged by ethical investors such as the C of E Pensions Board; it is surely in the long-term interests of the company, and could end the undeserved suffering of people in Bhopal.

19 Hillside Road
London SW2 3HL


From Mr Christopher Stockwell

Sir, — We very much welcome the appointment of Dr Sentamu to chair an inquiry into oil spills in the Niger Delta (News, 5 April). This is a saga going back some 25 years. For almost as long, the ECCR has been raising this matter at Shell AGMs and in correspondence with Shell, as well as at meetings with Shell. Shell’s attitude has been that Fr Kevin O’Hara, Chair of SACA, the local representative organisation in the Delta, can be ignored, and the whole problem can be treated as economically irrelevant and presented as due to local disturbances and unrest.

The sad reality is that there has been little attempt by Shell to ensure that the local people benefit from the exploitation of the immense resources under their land. There has been corruption, in relation to which Shell and ENI now face multiple prosecutions.

In the week before last, a remarkable document was published, in which Shell disclosed its alignment (or not) with industry trade associations that frequently have lobbied contrary to the declared objectives of Shell and others who claim to support the Paris Climate Objectives (News, 12 April). That document is a tribute to Shell’s growing awareness, under pressure from the Church Commissioners and others, of its responsibility as a steward of the planet’s resources.

That responsibility to prevent global warming also extends to preventing local pollution and ensuring that revenues earned from resource exploitation are equitably divided between those whose land is over the resources and the exploiting parties.

Shell denied its corruption in Nigeria. Evidence is now regarded as sufficient for a prosecution. A new regime at Shell seems to be interested in establishing an ethical compass for the company.

Let us hope that there will be full co-operation with the Sentamu inquiry, and the people on the ground represented by SACA, and that this will lead to a new approach to local development in the Niger Delta.

Chair, The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility
Kingham Lodge
Kingham OX7 6YL


Divorce proposals and the flourishing of society 

From Anne Eyre

Sir, — The idea of “irretrievable breakdown” as the sole grounds for divorce is being advanced again, as though this were a new development (News, 12 April).

In 1964, a commission was set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey. Two years later, its report, Putting Asunder: Divorce for contemporary society, was published. The commission worked with professionals of every kind who would be involved, including lawyers, psychologists, and social workers.

Their recommendation was “that irretrievable breakdown” was the only reason for divorce. They recognised that an inquest on each relationship was financially impossible. There were extensive legal consultations to find a way of implementing their recommendation: thus, two-year separation, violence, or adultery were to become “evidence and symptoms” of this breakdown. (It so happens that my father was part of that commission and was mainly responsible for writing it up, and the report is still available and relevant.) The report was radical in its time.

At that time, the relationship between press, Church, and Government was more trusting. The Government at that time had requested that the Church do this work for society.

No research is needed to prove that, in any divorce, the turmoil, emotional and financial, can be severe. Divorce is a painful process (though sometimes necessary). Early and easier release for the dissatisfied will not end this conflict.

We live in a society in which anger and lack of restraint coupled with a sense of powerlessness are the context. From bus ride to Parliament, courtesy is considered outmoded at least, or a weakness: insistence and aggression are tools for getting one’s own way and sustaining one’s identity.

Sustained and sustaining relationships need a less fractured, more coherent, and inclusive society. When can we set up a commission to study and report on “the main principles for common flourishing in contemporary society”?

This commission would need at least three years, but there is much material already waiting for a body to gather and integrate it. Such a commission would need to study the causes for extreme poverty, knife crime, the exclusion of rising numbers of children from school, young people’s mental-health issues, the increasing isolation of the elderly, and the deep divisions in our nation. I think laws exist to cover most of these issues. These are the issues that break families.

Human nature rather than the law is the problem.

32 Exe Vale Road
Exeter EX2 6LF


Bishop Greer recalled 

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — How many of your readers will recognise their forefathers in the photo of Westcott House members 73 years ago (Features, 12 April)? The Principal was William Greer, later Bishop of Manchester.

He happily related the story of the ordinand whom he asked where he would study theology. The guileless reply was: “I was thinking of Westcott House. I hear it’s rather good now that the new man is there.’’

The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB

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