THE Telegraph picked up on the news, first broken by Channel 4, that a safeguarding inquiry has been opened into the Archbishop of Canterbury, after a formal complaint. There is, perhaps, a sort of rough justice in this. I don’t for a moment believe that the Archbishop knew about John Smyth’s abuse when it was happening. I’m morally certain that he didn’t want to know, either. It must have required considerable self-discipline to avoid all the gossip that would have swirled around the disappearance of a figure so prominent in the Iwerne network, but Archbishop Welby has never lacked self-discipline.
When the scandal broke into the open, though, his desire to distance the Church from what had happened led to over-reaction, both rhetorical and political. With regard to safeguarding, the Church seems to have invented “cancel culture” a bit before the rest of the world.
First, there was the assault on the reputation of George Bell. Then came the humiliation of George Carey, which was much more deserved, but still needlessly prolonged. The purges in the diocese of Lincoln seem from the outside to be the products of a kind of hysteria. Finally, there is the completely conscious weaponisation of the process against the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Martyn Percy.
Very few of these cases were about allegations of abuse as such: they were all about failures to react appropriately to allegations about third parties. This is a standard almost impossible to live up to, and one contested by the lawyers on both sides. What the Church has ended up with is a system in which the survivors are treated stingily for financial reasons, while the reputations of the clergy involved are trashed, as if that were a compensation. Neither side gets justice.
All these nuances are wholly wasted on the outside world, for whom there is only one shadowy, sinister monolith, “the Church”, in which there is no distinction between cardinal, Pope, bishop, and priest. They are all covering up and all guilty.
THE nightmare outcome for the authorities here must be the experience of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, where the Church has lost both its money and its reputation in the various abuse scandals.
The New York Times had a long piece on the experiences of one of the survivors of Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, written, for once, by a Roman Catholic, Elizabeth Bruenig. “Francis . . . wasn’t a victim, he thought. He had never felt like one. He had explanations for all the times Mr. McCarrick had insisted that Francis share a bed with him as a boy and for the ways the man had touched him when he did. Mr. McCarrick was lonely, Francis had told himself; plenty of clergymen were. And Francis had turned out well: A father of four with a happy marriage and lucrative work, he had little reason to meditate on the former cardinal.”
Yet, of course, he did; and once he had admitted to himself what had happened, he could not go back to church properly. Every time he saw a priest, he would wonder whether this was another abuser. In the end, he found himself going to a cathedral and sitting and listening to Gregorian chant on his earbuds. It was the closest he could get to the experience of God which he longed for. But, after Christmas last year, he started to return to mass. It was too hard to do faith alone.
By the standards of the English press, what is extraordinary about this is the open sympathy that the writer shows, confessing her own doubts and desires alongside his.
TWO more American religion stories, showing both the best and the worst of the black-led churches there. The Daily Beast website followed up a tweet from Donald Trump, Jr, who has taken up the cause of Stella Immanuel, a minister in Houston, originally from Cameroon, who claims that Covid-19 can be cured with hydroxychlorine — and also, in a sermon on her website, that incubi and succubi “are responsible for breaking marriages, miscarriages, impotence, untold hardship, financial failure and general failure at the edge of breakthrough. In fact studies show that seven out of ten people in the church are affected by these spirits. Everyone needs this information.”
This would be funnier if she were not also practising as a registered medical doctor in Texas. Her qualification comes from a Nigerian medical school.
On the other hand, there is the case of Pastor Derrick DeWitt, who runs a small care home in a poor neighbourhood of Baltimore — one of the very few to have escaped infection altogether. The Washington Post reports: “To outsiders, it may seem as if the 100-year-old facility has kept the virus at bay only by the grace of God, he said. . . [But] For him, alarm bells started ringing when President Trump said on Feb. 28 that the novel coronavirus was a ‘hoax’ spread by Democrats. It seemed like a sign that things were about to deteriorate, DeWitt said, so he directed the nursing home to enter ‘full lockdown’.”
I take it all back. God really can speak through the mouth of the President.