Letters to the Editor

by
24 May 2019

Continuing Jean Vanier’s work, IICSA report on Ball, and clearing Bishop Bell

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Continuing Jean Vanier’s work 

From Kate Sainsbury

Sir, — Paying tribute to the life of Jean Vanier, may I add to your account (News and Gazette, 10 May), so as to continue Jean’s ministry to people with disabilities beyond death?

You report that Jean brought home two men, Raphael and Philippe, to start the household that grew into l’Arche. In fact, Jean brought home at that time a third man, Dany, whose needs proved too great to manage, and who was returned in the morning to the institute.

Dany is an important figure, reminding us that, even within the awesome community organisation that is l’Arche, there are historic limits to levels of impairment accommodated. Meeting the needs of those even more impaired is an urgent challenge that we have yet to explore, as people of faith and as citizens. People suffer in direct proportion to our disregard of this problem.

Research findings by Dr Anne Macdonald in her report Coming Home, in 2018, commissioned by the Scottish Government, show that there are about 70 individuals with complex and profound learning disabilities delayed in hospital because of lack of community places. English figures can be calculated from these.

This is a matter that requires to be tackled by parents and carers like me, governments, local authorities, health and social-care partnerships, care providers, and the United Nations together, along with faith communities. Jean Vanier’s life and work translating the gospel into the experience of care shows that this is church business.

I believe that there is a way forward for the most marginalised, based on Jean’s inheritance: communities of two or three residents, with complex and profound need, chosen for compatibility, staffed by trained, well-motivated staff, housed in spacious grounds, supported by families and volunteers, and serving as training hubs, teaching people how to care, as well as Jean’s spiritual lessons in the art of caring.

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Last year, I wrote to Jean, asking for permission to call an operating charity for my vision “The Dany Foundation”. I saw that, just as the cross of Jesus was the “failure” out of which the Church grew, so the inability of the community at Troisly to care for Dany might be the ground out of which today’s unmet need and solutions might grow. He replied, giving his permission and his blessing.

This problem is too much for me, a mother, to bear alone. My son has capital from a medical-negligence settlement; beyond that, we need supporters with power and influence, business acumen, spiritual wisdom, and experience to join us, to create a community in Scotland, drawing on other parent-led projects, which might in turn inspire others elsewhere. Are there any willing to join in?

KATE SAINSBURY (Reader)
Inglewood House
Station Road, Comrie
Perthshire PH6 2EA

 

IICSA report on Ball’s translation; clearing Bishop Bell; talking about sin

From the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan

Sir, — Your account (News, 17 May) of the Report of the Independent Investigation into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), while picking upon the part played by Archbishop George Carey, omits any mention of another key figure, who must bear much responsibility for the whole miserable event.

The hinge on which the case turns is the appointment of Peter Ball to be Bishop of Gloucester. The earlier Gibb report merely reported that Ball had been no 2 on the list sent to John Major, though it did report that the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, Robin Catford, had earlier tried Peter Ball’s name on the diocesan representatives of Norwich when they were seeking to appoint a diocesan bishop there in 1985. The Norwich representatives then indicated that they did not want a bishop who seemed so greatly to enjoy the company of young men.

The IICSA report mentions this in para. 61. It does not mention here that the previous year Catford had made the same approach to the Portsmouth representatives when their diocese was vacant, and they (I have on good authority from one of the four) replied that they lived too near to Sussex with too much knowledge of Chichester diocese to contemplate nominating Ball.

To anyone who asked the question, which the Gibb report omitted, how Ball was appointed to Gloucester, the IISCA gives a part-reply. It does highlight the critical role played by Catford in persuading John Major to use his discretion and appoint the second name on the list, with a very loaded and possibly even devious exercise of his advisory role. Catford appears in a very bad light in paras. 65-66 of the IISCA report. But the report does not consider the prior question how Ball ever became considered for appointment by the Crown Appointments Commission. The CAC must surely have received clean unqualified references, tabled by the two appointments secretaries (one the Archbishop’s, the other the Prime Minister’s) and including, presumably, a detailed reference from Eric Kemp, Ball’s diocesan bishop in Chichester.

The report does show that Kemp was well aware of activities (or at least rumours) that would have seriously qualified any frank report; so we are left to wonder what kind of references the two secretaries laid before the CAC. Had Kemp written nothing, or had anything damaging been filleted out of anything that he had written? Ball was also an unlikely candidate on the quite different grounds that he opposed the ordination of women, which Gloucester diocese strongly supported (a point that it does not appear that Catford made in his memorandum to John Major).

So it becomes reasonable to assume that, as previously with Portsmouth and Norwich, Catford was pressing a strong case for Ball’s appointing — and securing Ball’s position as second on the list with the CAC was enough to enable him then to recommend to the Prime Minister that Ball be appointed. But IISCA does not report what references and what other support Ball had at the CAC; and the natural conclusion must remain that George Carey, along with the CAC, was being taken for a ride on behalf of Catford’s favoured candidate.

If this is so, three immediate reflections come to mind. First is that it is hardly surprising that George Carey, with the PM’s appointments secretary’s glowing character reference before him, was fully ready to believe Ball’s protestations of innocence. Second, if a proper handling of the stories around in Chichester diocese had been put before the CAC, Peter Ball would never have been even second in the candidates for appointment to Gloucester, and, while the matter would no doubt have reached the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is Bishop Kemp who would have had to deal with the first round of complaints; and, third, the key person responsible for getting Ball into this position was the civil servant who was adviser to the PM, in relation to which the State is as liable as the Church for the unwanted outcome.

The PM retained the final discretion in the appointment of bishops; he, on the wholly misleading advice of the civil servant who was supposed to have first-rate and dispassionate knowledge of the clergy, exercised his discretion on behalf of a deeply flawed candidate; and considerable blame should therefore lie with Downing Street.

None of this touches directly on the part played by either the police or George Carey or the Prince of Wales, but it helps to explain why Ball was so readily believed.

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COLIN BUCHANAN
21 The Drive
Leeds LS17 7QB

 

From Mr Richard W. Symonds

Sir, — Your leader comment (“Power of abuse”, 17 May) states: “. . . It is easy, then, to see why Dr Warner [the Bishop of Chichester] has been so reluctant to declare Bishop Bell innocent of the charges of abuse brought against him by ‘Carol’, despite encouragement to do so from those who have investigated the case thoroughly.”

As someone who has assisted “those who have investigated the case thoroughly”, I do not find the Bishop’s reluctance to declare Bishop Bell innocent “easy . . . to see”.

In fact, I find Dr Warner’s reluctance incomprehensible.

RICHARD W. SYMONDS
The Bell Society
2 Lychgate Cottages
Ifield Street, Ifield Village
Crawley
West Sussex RH11 0NN

 

From the Revd Dr Philip Goggin

Sir, — It is surely the case that it would be pastorally insensitive to prioritise confession of personal sin with a person who feels victimised by the sins of others, as may be the case with someone who has been abused (Letters, 17 May). But to jump from that compassionate stance to the conclusion that victims should not be invited to confess their sin in worship must raise many theological questions.

Sin is, arguably, both a personal and a collective state of being where we are estranged from God. Without such acknowledgement, the point of atonement and redemption is lost, and so coming to God would not require Jesus to have bothered with the cross.

To confess sin is to acknowledge the brokenness of human life, to appreciate with St Paul “that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time . . . [and] we ourselves . . . groan inwardly” (Romans 8.22-23).

We, as individuals, may contribute only a little to that brokenness, and what we contribute may hardly be our deliberate intention (as Paul seems to acknowledge when he writes, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing,” in Romans 7.19, and as modern psychological and sociological thinking would often imply); but brokenness it still is. The act of the abuser is no less symptomatic of that brokenness than is our own perversity.

So, to plead penitence is to acknowledge that fallen state and to seek restoration by God’s grace. A victim of abuse can make that acknowledgement no less than the abuser.

PHILIP GOGGIN
St Peter’s Vicarage
Middlewich Road
Minshull Vernon
Crewe CW1 4RD

 

Find a church — one with some theology, maybe 

From Canon M. D. Williams

Sir, — The tweet from Church House on 7.45 a.m. on Sunday 19 May started by wishing everyone a “Happy Sunday!” Of more concern is that it suggests how to find a “nearby church service that suits your needs by heading to AChurchNearYou.com”.

The consumerist value becomes more explicit in the next sentence: “Search by location or tag to find the perfect church for you.”

It is deeply worrying that the national Church is promoting such a self-centred approach to what it is to worship God. What suits my needs? What is perfect for me?

Marketing communications have their place — but they need some theological thought, please.

MIKE D. WILLIAMS
9 Cathedral Close
Exeter EX1 1EZ

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