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Press: IICSA coverage raises independence question

16 October 2020


MORE, lots more, about the Vatican’s scandals with money came out this week; and I don’t think you could say that the plotting has fallen off too much since last week’s accusation that one cardinal spent a million dollars to bribe a witness in the trial on alleged sex offences of another who had been investigating his handling of the Vatican’s money (Press, 9 October). But, first, the rather more subdued stories of English religion.

The IICSA report (News, 9 October) got some decent coverage, but there was so little there that had not been said before. How many times can bishops say that “Starting tomorrow, everything will be different”?

Both the lead bishop on safeguarding, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, and the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, seemed entirely sincere when they promised redress and proper financial compensation to the victims of abuse. But neither man is actually in a position to make the relevant decisions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was quoted in The Times as saying: “Nothing must get in the way and we must do whatever it takes. This report is a big wake-up call.”

Clearly, his alarm, like mine, has a well-functioning snooze button. One difficulty with the report was deciding whether it recommended genuinely independent oversight.

The Times reported: “Bishops should be stripped of ‘operational responsibility’ for investigating allegations of abuse and leading disciplinary proceedings against priests, the report said. It called for these powers to be passed to lay ’safeguarding officers’ within local dioceses.”

Is this really independent? Survivors’ organisations think not, since the proposed officers would still be responsible to the central Church.

The least-expected news on the topic came from Gabriella Swerling in the Telegraph, some days later: “The ‘Safe Spaces’ helpline, which was set up to support survivors of abuse, was launched on September 29.

“The helpline, which had been in discussion for seven years, went live in a ‘rushed and incomplete state’ week, the survivors claim, ‘so that the archbishops could refer to it in their response to the IICSA report’.

“On October 6, the day on which the IICSA Report was published, the Safe Spaces phone line was still answered with a message saying: ‘Hello. This is the Safe Spaces team. Our project will go live on 28th September 2020.

“‘Our opening hours will be Monday, eight until six. . . Please do leave a message and we’ll get back to you at our earliest availability.’”

Least-expected twist to the story, yes; but who could call it completely unexpected?


OVER in Rome, the accusations piled up against Cardinal Becciu, who has sacked his lawyer after the man posed on Instagram standing in the surf of a Sardinian beach wearing a pair of minimalist swimming trunks of the style known in Australia as “budgie smugglers”.

Only The Washington Post suggested that the scandals might run out into the sand: “Vatican prosecutors haven’t indicted anyone yet in the London venture investigation, and their case seems rife with holes and potential conflicts, given Vatican superiors approved the contracts with the middlemen that provided them with such huge management fees.

“News reports this weekend suggested that Francis himself was aware of the problems of the London venture in late 2018 and that one of his friends was involved in introducing the middlemen most implicated in the deal into the Vatican.”
But it will certainly provide us with stories for months to come.


CULTURALLY, there was an interesting review by John Gray in the New Statesman of a crime novel.

He praised The Glass Kingdom by Laurence Osborne as a crime novel that gains an unusual realism because the characters are propelled by chance and self-deception: “With few exceptions, crime fiction presents a world in which human events form a coherent narrative held together by notions of right and wrong. If the classic detective story is a puzzle soluble by reason, hard-bitten noir describes those who investigate crime, and sometimes criminals themselves, as rebels against injustice. The protagonists are in search of redemption, and if they fail in their struggles they are still inspired by a moral vision.

“Simenon and Highsmith are outliers in a tradition based on the premise that humans are autonomous beings who choose their paths in life on the basis of moral judgements.”

But, Gray continues, “That humans possess such free will is not a matter of fact. It is an interpretation, an image of human action formed by Western theism and its secular surrogate, liberal humanism. [But in fact] Not knowing why we act is what makes us human.”

This passage may be unjust to classical or orthodox Christianity. Gray discounts the possibility that we may have firm beliefs about why we act which are in fact false, even if we then act on them. But it does quite squarely describe one of the axioms of the post-Christian secular world.

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