Reactions to the IICSA report and a radio interview
From the Revd Dr Philip Goggin
Sir, — During the Radio 4 Sunday interview with the Archbishop of York on Sunday morning, about the IICSA report (News, 9 October), he was asked whether he knew how much money might be set aside for reparations for victims (no, he didn’t), and whether more money would be available for reparations than for what was described as “reputation(al) management” (no, he didn’t know that either).
To my ears, the answers played into the hands of those who doubt the Church’s sincerity. The Archbishop may honestly not have known the answers, but it would have been great to hear him say something like: “I would certainly hope so” to the second question.
But an even better answer might be to challenge the basis of the question. Reputation management is at the heart of our problem. This has been so mismanaged in the past that the Church’s reputation now is far, far worse than if relevant matters had been dealt with transparently and effectively at the time. Reputation management, in any case, sounds highly suspect. It is self-serving and manipulative in intention and ultimately self-defeating, as we have seen.
So, at the very least, we should be heard to say that reputation management is now irretrievably tainted and is not what the Church should be putting money into. Did Jesus bother about his reputation? His message — YES. His reputation — NO. He also said quite a few things that touch on reputation management. “Whited sepulchres” comes readily to mind.
Rather than strive for reputation, could not our goal be Christian integrity in the Church: its procedures (not least, safeguarding), officers, and institutions? Curiously, that would do far more for reputation than paying a PR firm (mentioned in the interview) to put its spin on our affairs. There could be two other advantages. We would not be destroying our soul (also mentioned in the interview). And, if we keep our soul (and a calm head), it might just help the Jesus message get through.
4 Valley Road, Wistaston
Crewe CW2 8JU
From Mr Roderick Clark
Sir, — In our depressing safeguarding situation, may I suggest that the church hierarchy boldly jettison the modern principles of media liaison and follow the spirit of the advice to “true contemplatives” in The Cloud of Unknowing: “that they should not involve themselves . . . in anything done or spoken about them, not even to respond to critics by explaining themselves” (my own translation of the Table of Chapters, Chapter 17)?
Moreover, if the current episcopal safeguarding lead now resigned, and all our other bishops (and archbishops) refused to take on that position, we would immediately make some progress towards the IICSA recommendation that professional safeguarders should be in charge.
With an “Act rather than talk” policy, the Archbishop of York’s histrionic appearance on BBC Radio’s Sunday programme might have been avoided; meanwhile, a brief postponement of his confirmation in July, in acknowledgement of his admitted historic shortcomings over alleged domestic abuse by a priest, would have spoken volumes.
25 Helmsdale Road,
Warwickshire CV32 DN
From Mr David Roberts
Sir, — I write as the chair, from 2013 to 2019, of the London Diocesan Fund’s Audit and Risk Committee.
Sadly, the horrors of child sexual abuse committed by a range of offenders were not a surprise to readers of IICSA’s recent report. What was a greater shock was the catalogue of malpractice by certain senior clergy and bishops with whom the responsibility for discipline in the Church lies.
Faults recorded include failure to act, refusal to follow good practice, confusion, indecision, delay, abuse of authority, bullying, mendacity, and breach of confidence. Some clergy and bishops have been determined, at all costs, under the cloak (now ripped away by IICSA) of alleged confidentiality towards victims, to conceal their own failings, which represent simply another form of abuse. This has been in the face of responsible pressure for the publication of relevant reports.
Some clergy have been hung out to dry for years while IICSA has deliberated. But others, now implicated by IICSA’s conclusions, either remain in office or rusticate in retirement. Is the Church now to take no action against these people? They should not be rewarded by the lapse of time to which their faults have contributed.
7 Nunnery Stables, St Albans
Hertfordshire AL1 2AS
From Dr R. H. Grayson
Sir, — IICSA recommends that bishops should be stripped of their safeguarding roles in favour of transferring these to diocesan safeguarding officers is naïve. The safeguarding officer defending the handling of the George Bell affair in the diocese of Chichester stated to IICSA that the typical complainant must be believed, by virtue of being almost invariably a “sole complainant”. Therefore the accused is bound to be prejudged as guilty — as happened in this case — and the presumption of innocence which is basic to English law is completely disregarded.
Yes, bishops do need to be stripped of their safeguarding roles. At least one current case involves a retired, very senior cleric accused of withholding information relating to an abuse charge on his watch who has been deprived of his permission to officiate by his bishop, without any warning or reason given — while the bishop himself has been under investigation on a similar charge, but has continued to officiate as normal.
Handing such roles over to diocesan safeguarding officers is, however, a guarantee that nothing will change. It makes no provision for those who are falsely accused, of whom Bishop Bell is a prime example. Only when investigative powers are removed from the Church altogether and handed over to an independent body, with legal enforcement powers, will justice ever be obtained for complainants and defendants alike.
RUTH HILDEBRANDT GRAYSON
25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ
From Dr Kevin Carey
Sir, — I was surprised to see how often your coverage of the IICSA report referred to “the Church” when, as far as I know, the abuse was almost entirely perpetrated by clergy. It is right that the hierarchy should apologise to victims, but the laity, which will have to foot the consequent bills of this scandal, are also owed an apology.
It is surely no coincidence that during the burgeoning abuse scandal the machinery of the Church was totally caught up in an arcane dispute about whether women and/or gay people could be priests and bishops. There seems neither to have been much discussion about the relationship between abuse and unchecked male power.
12a High Street
West Sussex BN6 9PX
From the Revd Caroline Brownlie
Sir, — Am I the only listener to the Sunday interview with the new Archbishop of York who kept hoping that there might be some mention of the reasons for the failure of many of us clergy to maintain our own integrity? It was only when the Archbishop used the word “soul” that anyone outside the Church might have realised which institution was being referred to.
What about the relationships between God and each of the priests involved over the decades? With echoes of Augustine’s words, “Love God and do as you like,” if sin of whatever kind persists and is kept in the dark, then there is a clear split between what we teach about God and our conscious knowledge of ourselves. We therefore lack the integration of the love that we say that we believe in, and its influence and effect within our deepest instincts, histories, personalities, vulnerabilities, and ability to minister in the public sphere.
When I was assisting with clergy appraisals some years ago, the most notable omission was time given to the life of relationship with God and prayer. When we do allow God to get to know us, bringing any of our patterns of behaviour into that relationship, we then have a choice next time about how we behave, and we can look for the proper and God-given help that is (and was in these cases) clearly needed.
Would those outside the Church not be more attracted to its Founder if we demonstrated our faith in him in this most crucial and vulnerable area of human activity? He loved us while we were sinners, which is the only reason any of us can become good.
Retired priest and psychotherapist
Address supplied (diocese of Ely)
From the Revd David Grieve
Sir, — Michael Ramsey once wrote that “we are still the Early Church.” This perspective encourages me. The IICSA report and the scandals, as they became public, leave me, as they do most Christians, with a sense of utter guilt and deep shame that we, the Church, have let down so many victims so badly. There are no other words for this than sin and guilt before God and in the eyes of the world.
Ramsey’s perspective is, I find, helpful in this call to make change happen. While it is urgent that we right the wrongs and make the changes that are called for — now — the perspective that we are still the Early Church gives the hope that we can change, repent, amend, and become more Christ-like.
The Church is always going to need reformation precisely because it is made up of sinners who move from lostness in sin to being found in Christ, and who are called to be changed from one degree of glory into another. Our history is full of true saints who have lived the way of holiness and who continue to inspire us.
So we can and shall keep on growing towards God, learning more of him, of how to understand and express what it means to know God in Christ, and we will see the Church change in structure, ministry, and service. And yet we will be recognisable as Christ’s Church. We are a people of hope, and “Hope does not disappoint us.”
The Old Rectory, The Village
Castle Eden, Hartlepool TS27 4SL
Faithful puzzler puzzled
From Mrs Alexandra Hewitt
Sir, — While I was at university, my parents forwarded their copy of the Church Times every week, so that I could tackle the crossword. I cut my crossword-solving teeth on it, carefully studying the solutions each week to understand the ones I had missed.
On starting work, I took out my own subscription, specifically so that I could do the crossword every week. Forty years on, it is still my favourite crossword, being gently challenging and often very creative (although I do now read the whole of the rest of the paper, too).
My disappointment was, therefore, immense when I turned to the inside back page after lunch on Sunday, to find that it was to be published only fortnightly. What am I to do every other week?
Please, please reinstate the crossword as a weekly feature.
57 Glenham Road
Thame OX9 3WD
The reduction in frequency was one of many cost-cutting measures (most of which are less visible) that are necessary to keep the Church Times solvent during a period of unknown duration when advertising revenue is hard to come by. My apologies to all who have written to me directly about this. Editor