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Letters to the Editor

17 April 2020

Church Times letters: letters@churchtimes.co.uk We regret that we cannot guarantee consideration of letters submitted by post under present working conditions


Titus Trust’s reviews of Smyth case 

From Canon Judith Maltby

Sir, — According to your report (News, 9 April) and its own statement, the Titus Trust has completed two reviews of the John Smyth case: an external independent one carried out by Thirtyone:eight in 2018/19 and an internal cultural review. The Trust is planning a further independent cultural review, but has not disclosed who is leading that review or whether it will be published.

As far as I can tell, the external independent review by Thirtyone:eight has not been published; neither have its terms of reference or its recommendations. Surely, the point of an “independent” review is to strengthen the accountability of the organisation being reviewed by providing some level of transparency.

This is in sharp contrast with, for example, the review of the Peter Ball case by Dame Moira Gibb (2017) or the reports produced by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Protecting the identity of the victims/survivors cannot be the excuse, as we have seen how Gibb and IICSA have worked to ensure the privacy of victims/survivors who wish to remain anonymous.

How much trust can reasonably be placed in these reviews of the Titus Trust if they are confidential to the very group that is under scrutiny? Transparency in safeguarding is the only way forward to a safer Church.

General Synod member (Universities and TEIs)
Corpus Christi College
Oxford OX1 4JF


Parishes need Church Commissioners’ aid soon

From Claire Evans

Sir, — Your headline “Cash package announced to help dioceses” (News, 3 April) is misleading. The Church Commissioners seem to think that they deserve a gold star for paying out now £25 million of money already in the budget for poorer parishes. Where is the generosity in that? And saying that dioceses can have a three-month delay on paying their share and more time to pay it back sounds like a private landlord protecting his coffers, not the “National Church” looking after its own.

The Church Commissioners are far removed from the real national Church. That is as described by the Revd Andrew Welsby (Letters, 3 April) and other hard-working priests, who in this pandemic are responding to the practical and spiritual needs of their congregations, elderly and otherwise, and their communities, often involving new ways of working which come with a financial cost. A broadcasting licence for music for online services costs £50; an annual subscription to Zoom to have online Bible-study for an hour, £100.

They are paying for necessary new types of expense personally themselves because every church’s cash income has stopped in its tracks, and they, unlike the chair of the finance committee, John Spence, they, in love, are neither willing nor able to say “You can have more time to pay.”

Mr Spence is pondering how else he might help and will let us know in few weeks. Here’s an idea. Please send £500 to every parish now. It will be put to good use, showing God’s love in the community and strengthening the bonds of love among Christians at this time of national crisis. Failure to act with love and generosity will only confirm that the Church Commissioners have entirely lost sight of the intended beneficiaries of those who gave the endowments of which they are the jealous custodians.

20 Church Street
Rugeley WS15 2AB


Episcopal guidance and the C of E’s ministry 

From Canon Nicholas Cranfield

Sir, — In the letter sent from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England to be shared with all clergy on 24 March 2020 (News, 27 March), it was clearly stated, in paragraph 2, that, “Our church buildings must now be closed not only for public worship, but for private prayer as well and this includes the priest or lay person offering prayer in church on their own.”

Like many priests, I wondered at the time by what authority this ban on my entering the parish church — of which I am the freehold incumbent — was issued.

Now, I learn from an Easter Day television interview that the Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed that this was only ever “guidance” and not an instruction, and that, therefore, neither he nor the Bishops have broken canon law.

Both clergy Prolocutors of the Provinces of Canterbury and York, in a letter reported (News, 3 April) that I never received, suggested that now was “not the time for arguments about whether bishops have a legal right to do this”. Nor, I suspect, will they accept that now is the right time to quibble about what “must” in the original letter means if we are to retain confidence in the willingness of bishops to accept that they cannot abrogate canon law at will.

10 Duke Humphrey Road
London SE3 0TY


From Dr Charlie Bell

Sir, — I write as a doctor, an academic, and someone involved in evaluating the national response to Covid-19.

I am extremely concerned that there appears to be an impression given off, in some cases willingly, that the difference between the Church of England interdict and government advice is based on medical advice; and yet this advice is clouded in mystery. We are at odds with many other Churches in the UK, and we should be very clear, and honest, about why that is.

I would also like to raise a concern about some wording in the letter from the Prolocutors on 31 March, which stated: “Every trip we take outside our home endangers life: ours, our family’s, even perfect strangers.”

This is not correct, in a scientific sense, and I am appalled when we put such statements out. This is utterly misleading and should be retracted; it is already causing undue concern and undermines the strong message from HM Government which we have committed ourselves to engaging with.

Our present approach risks both its integrity and its credibility unless we act to rectify this.

3 Parish Mews
126 Parish Lane
London SE20 7JH


From Canon Lindsay Hammond

Sir, — Kim Hearn (9 April) writes: “This is not about clergy putting themselves out there as some sort of superheroes.”

I am no superhero. But I see the staff of Tenterden Social Hub, who are working seven days a week to cook and deliver eighty meals each day to the elderly. I see the volunteers who have enlisted with Helping in Tenterden, and who leave their homes to collect essential shopping items and prescriptions. I see the Tenterden Family Foodbank team, who collect supermarket surplus and take this to families in need. I thank God for these people, and ask where I should be: at home, or alongside them? These are our local superheroes.

In terms of worship, I believe that we here have responded to the lockdown with creativity and enthusiasm. We have learned much in a short space of time, and are getting to grips with the technology in — for us — new and exciting ways. But, given that the porch of one of our churches is a drop-off point for foodbank items, which takes me into the building daily, I think that it is a great pity that, even alone, I have been unable to record and stream an act of worship from a place that is so important to so many.

The Vicarage, Church Road
Tenterden, Kent TN30 6AT


From Canon Stephne van der Toorn

Sir, — An interview in the World at One on Radio 4 on Easter Day concluded that the Church had been invisible during the crisis and irrelevant. I thought of the way in which my parishioners have been supporting the village, one another, and the vulnerable, and remembered the foodbank being hosted by the church, which has already helped numerous households, and I wondered, sadly, to which Church they were referring.

The Rectory, Rectory Lane
Brantham, Suffolk CO11 1PZ


Amendment of abortion law during pandemic

From the Revd Dr John Hare MD FRCOG

Sir, — May I clarify the temporary alterations to the working of the Abortion Act brought in for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, changes that the authors of the letter (17 April) refer to as “the most significant change to the provision of abortion since 1967”.

Most early pregnancy terminations (abortions) are procured medically using the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. Because abortion may take place only in an “Approved Place“, if this method is prescribed, the first tablet was required to be taken before the woman left the clinic or hospital. She then went home and would miscarry there.

The onset of the pandemic has made it potentially dangerous for all concerned to continue this practice, with a risk of the spread of infection to the woman, her family, doctors, nurses, and other clinic and hospital staff. All branches of medicine are, whenever possible, moving to distance consultations, including prescribing.

I cannot understand how the authors of the letter interpret the allowing of the woman to take the initial step of swallowing a tablet in her own home rather than in a clinic or hospital can be interpreted as “allowing women to perform their own abortions”. The effects are dealt with at home irrespective of where the first tablet is taken; taking it at home prevents the possibility that the miscarriage will occur in a car, or on a bus, train, or aeroplane.

We all wish to prevent women performing their own abortions; many of us can remember the days before 1968 when that was the only option available to the majority.

The Royal Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and of General Practitioners have welcomed these temporary arrangements as a way of keeping pregnancy termination under medical surveillance in the present crisis, and have issued comprehensive guidelines on telephone and video consultations and counselling.

I completely agree that a further debate on the provision of abortion services needs to be held, which should include contributions from the full spectrum of faith belief. But now is not the time.

3 Estuary Reach
Old Maltings Approach
Melton, Suffolk IP12 1FN


A reverent custom

From Shirley Williams

Sir, — The Revd Nick Davies (“Two and God in a crematorium chapel”, Comment, 9 April) writes that, while processing to a crematorium, he noticed two individuals crossing themselves as he drove past. He comments that “in times of panic, it seems, old habits die hard.”

How offensive! For Catholics (and others), this would be a perfectly normal current practice, often accompanied by a prayer such as “Rest eternal grant them, Lord,” or, simply, “Rest in peace,” showing respect for the deceased and praying for the repose of their soul.

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