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Letters to the Editor

07 February 2020

Coronavirus, Brexit, Lichfield ruling, abuse in the 1990s, and civil partnerships


Coronavirus and intinction practice

From Canon Geoffrey Willett

Sir, — In the swine-flu situation a decade ago, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement that recommended the practice whereby the president at holy communion, whose hands should have been washed with the appropriate alcohol-based rub, personally intincts all consecrated wafers before placing them in the hands of the communicants.

I think one unintended result of this is where communicants now dip their wafer in the chalice instead of drinking from the cup.

In view of the possible approach of coronavirus, I suggest that a further statement be published, and that this practice be forbidden at any time.

A communicant seldom has access to the alcohol-based rub as a precaution, should a finger as well as the wafer touch the wine, and this after shaking hands with, say, 30 people in the passing of the Peace.

22 Clifton Way
Burton upon Trent DE15 9DW


Moving forward from the debates about Brexit 

From Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — Like a gloomy analyst who views human interactions as evidence of deep-seated and crippling neuroses, Bishop Brian Castle (Comment, 31 January) interprets our strong and legitimate disagreements over Brexit, reinforced as they were by robust political discourse, as dangerously toxic and an enduring threat to social cohesion.

The distorting lens of the media might suggest otherwise, but my own sense is that most people are tired of argument, grateful for a resolution, and anxious to get on with their lives in the new situation that Brexit has created.

And to regard the perceived divisions in our society as comparable to what occurred in Northern Ireland or South Africa, and that we need to set up similar reconciliation processes, is little short of ridiculous. These were societies torn apart by sectarian and racial divisions, where people were tortured and murdered, and where hatred was deeply embedded on both sides of the divide.

Bishop Castle, in characterising our current differences in such stark and inflammatory terms, is likely to engender the very discord and toxicity that he so deplores.

The Manor House
Thurloxton, Taunton
Somerset TA2 8RH


Anger at Lichfield Consistory Court grave ruling 

From the Revd Hugh Maddox

Sir, — I was saddened — nay, angered — by the decision of Lichfield diocesan advisory committee, supported by the Diocesan Chancellor, to refuse permission of an inscription on a headstone, for “being too personal” and “not consistent with Christian belief” — the verse of Byron (News, 24 January).

For God’s sake, how can loss be “too personal”? And Byron’s words may not be the full Christian belief, but in saying that there is more to a person than just the body, they are consistent with it.

Having been a parish priest for 40 years, I found the Chancellor’s comments insensitive, patronising, elitist, and dogmatically narrow-minded in the worst degree. How often in my ministry with non-churchgoing parishioners — usually the majority — have I had to soothe the unnecessary hurt caused by such decisions!

36 Corfe Road
Stoborough, Wareham
Dorset BH20 5AD


Efforts to raise awareness of abuse in the 1990s 

From Professor Ann Loades

Sir, — In response to Canon Andrew Dow (Letters, 24 January), I entirely agree that it is easy to be wise after the event, so to speak; and it is impossible to know in detail who knew what about “abuse” in 1992, but some people certainly “knew”.

In 1992, I was invited to give the “keynote” lecture for the first national conference of Christian Survivors of Sexual Abuse meeting in York (a meeting mostly of women who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy); and, in 1993, I gave the John Coffin Memorial Lecture in the Senate House, University of London, on “Thinking About Child Sexual Abuse”. Published in 1994, it sold well.

Together with Dr A. McFadyen (University of Leeds), I and, no doubt, many others have made sustained efforts (print, talks, or lectures) to try to get the phenomenon of “abuse” taken seriously. So, who did not want to know, and why?

1A Grey Street, Tayport
Fife DD6 9JF


House of Bishops’ teaching on civil partnerships 

From the Revd R. W. Crook

Sir, — The House of Bishops’ pastoral statement on civil partnerships (News, 31 January) has been strongly criticised by a number of our bishops with descriptions of it being “cold, legalistic, loveless”. There are many of us, however, who do not recognise the statement in those terms. I, for one, regard the statement as a plain, clear affirmation of the difference between marriage and civil partnerships, and necessary to avoid confusion in many people’s minds.

The Church rightly sets a high value on committed relationships entered into with sacred vows. The changes in society’s values which have taken place over recent years must not be allowed to damage or compromise the stance that the Church has taken for centuries.

Such headlines as “Sex (again)” (Leader comment, 31 January) do not clarify or help the Christian witnesss to faithfulness in marriage. As the churches continue to experience a falling away of belief in our Christian religion, perhaps it is time that we sort to become disestablished. Certainly, I believe that we owe it to our younger population to make it plain that the following of Christ often requires a radical change to popular accepted practices, of which civil partnerships are one.

14 Bollington Avenue, Northwich
Cheshire CW9 8SB


From the Rt Revd John Gladwin

Sir, The notice sheet in my parish church described the House of Bishops’ statement as “unpastoral and unloving”. The notice sheet went on to reaffirm the PCC’s policy on equality. Clergy and lay leaders are distressed, and some are very angry. How did the Bishops, who, as the reaction of many of them indicates, are not given to pastoral insensitivity, nor to trying to impose on the Church statements that are not acceptable to clergy and lay pastoral workers on the front line of the Church’s ministry, get themselves into this mess?

It is not surprising that many have called for this statement to be withdrawn. The reality is that it is already fatally holed below the waterline. It is clear that, in the day-to-day pastoral work of the Church, few will be taking any notice of it. We can surely assume that the Bishops will be looking at what went so badly wrong, and what changes need to be made to their procedures to ensure that this never happens again.

This sad story does, however, open up a door of opportunity. It made me ponder whether we have got the issue the wrong way round. The assumption of the statement is that the law, civil and ecclesial provisions for marriage, are fine, and that the problem is that people increasingly do not abide by them. Supposing we consider that it is not the people who are wrong, but our social, cultural, and legal provisions?

Some time ago, I conducted the wedding of a couple who had lived together for 14 years. They had a child, and were expecting another child. They had been living in a deeply loving and permanent relationship, which is at the heart of what our Christian understanding of marriage is all about. The ceremony of marriage did not change their relationship. It changed the legal status of their shared life together. It was a joyful and blessed occasion. What was it about the institution of marriage that led to their waiting 14 years before entering it?

In thinking about civil partnerships, might we not begin to consider what changes are needed in our present culture and practice of marriage to bring these formal arrangements closer to how people choose to live their lives today? An added benefit of shifting the agenda is that it might set the debate about the support of same-sex couples in a wider and more creative context.

The White House
131a Marford Road, Wheathampstead
Herts AL4 8NH


From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — Those who baulk at the House of Bishops’ clumsy deliberations over its Civil Partnerships Pastoral Statement can take comfort that it was ever thus, as Cyril Garbett, Archbishop of York 1942-55, makes abundantly clear: “Sometimes we do useful work, but more often than not we debate again and again the same subjects, and reach no conclusion.

A spends some time suggesting some harmless reform; B, usually the least wise of the bishops, rises at once, and says this is just what the Church is longing for; C, though he has every sympathy with the proposal, regards it as most dangerous; D regrets that all the bishops except himself are ignorant of science; E says the proposal really consists of three different and contradictory propositions. After F, G, H, I, J, and K have repeated, at length, the previous arguments, Ebor says the matter was discussed 25 years ago, and Cantuar says that it should be referred to a committee; for this we vote, and believe we have done something for the Kingdom of God. What a fatuous waste of time!

“We are afraid of making decisions and always postpone them on some excuse or other; so, for over 20 years, we have done nothing. I despair of the timidity and indecision of my brethren.”

8 Bielby Close, Scarborough
North Yorkshire YO12 6UU


From the Revd Toddy Hoare

Sir, — It is unfortunate that sloppy preparation and consultation has led the House of Bishops to make inept, ill-judged, and untimely remarks about civil partnerships. It effectively slams the door shut on those hesitant couples edging towards some faith whereby they might bring their union to church for a blessing. It makes the job for us parish priests no easier, as their pontifications have no pastoral sensitivity, as a result of which many will identify the Church as unwelcoming and judgemental, and not a place of comfort and encouragement.

Yes, Bible teaching may be challenging, but it is not there to pile guilt on lack of scriptural understanding if it becomes a barrier to people in developing their faith. We need to open doors, not slam them shut.

Could the House of Bishops stick to the Good News in future?

Pond Farm House, Holton
Oxfordshire OX33 1PY


Is the time ripe for a Laity Discipline Measure? 

From April Alexander

Sir, — I was interested in the case of the “‘dying’ woman who ‘duped’ her vicar” (News, 24 January) and noted that, according to your report, it may well be thought that the behaviour of this parishioner far surpassed that of the vicar for egregiousness and malice, and yet it was he who was subjected to discipline.

At Wymondham (same edition), the matter is unresolved, but here, too, there is the possibility of clergy discipline, but no such course for lay people, even if they were found to have been at fault.

I have witnessed lay bullying of the clergy at first hand for a couple of years, and, this Christmas, became a victim myself in a lay-on-lay attack. For myself, I am desperately hoping for an apology, although there is no sign of that to date.

At the very least, we need a discipline regime for lay people which would enable a diocesan bishop to ban them from entering a particular church or taking part in its activities. In talking to bishops and legal officers, I have found overwhelming support for something of an answer to this problem.

As the Clergy Discipline Measure regime requires “root-and-branch reform” (unnamed ecclesiastical lawyer, News, 24 January), and as there is already a working group to consider it, now would be a very good time for a discipline regime for the laity to be considered.

General Synod representative for Southwark diocese
Address supplied


If we’re on the radar . . . 

From Anne Foreman

Sir, — Work on identifying the factors that help or hinder the growth of “off-the-radar” mid-sized churches is to be welcomed (News, 24 January). Welcome, too, is the fact that the survey has been designed by incumbents of such churches who live and breathe this ministry.

As a General Synod representative who reports to deaneries with several mid-sized churches, I think that the Revd Phillip Johnson is spot-on in his view that support with administration is an important factor in freeing up the time of hard-pressed clergy. O that strategic development funding had a category for “Admin support for mid-sized churches” — in which size was the relevant factor rather than urban or rural location!

A modest amount of funding for additional administration for the 5000 mid-sized churches could go a long way towards their achieving those extra five people each who will reverse the Church of England’s decline.

12a Baring Crescent
Exeter EX1 1TL


Hungary, its government, and the debate about persecuted Christians 

From Professor Frank Furedi

Sir, — As is, sadly, often the case, the invective directed at Hungary has expanded from the Revd Alexander Faludy’s initial focus on questioning Hungary’s assistance to persecuted Christians internationally (Comment, 10 January) to a full-blown attempt by Dr Abby Innes to pathologise the government itself (Letters, 31 January).

Dr Innes makes little attempt to address the policies adopted by the Hungarian government towards assisting Christian minorities. Instead, her purpose is to portray Viktor Orbán’s government as a corrupt and dishonest regime wedded to lining its own pocket. For good measure, Dr Innes throws in the charge that the Hungarian government is a consummate advocate of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

It seems that Dr Innes and I inhabit a parallel universe. As my Hungarian Jewish friends frequently point out, they feel far safer walking the streets of Budapest than of Manchester, Bradford, or London. If, indeed, the Hungarian government is so uniquely corrupt, it is difficult to account for the economic prosperity enjoyed by Hungarian society.

The Orbán government does not always get things right, but its social policy towards the poor and Roma communities is far more compassionate and effective than those of previous regimes.

On Fr Faludy’s point, I have had the pleasure of meeting several members of the Syrian Christian community, who all expressed their thanks and gratitude towards the assistance afforded by Hungary. One of them told me that “We can tell that you Hungarians really care about us.” No doubt Hungary could do more to help persecuted minorities, but, it has stepped up and put its money where its mouth is.

One final point. It is entirely legitimate to disagree and criticise one another’s political outlook. But there is something distinctly mean-spirited about the tendency to call into question an individual or a group’s integrity. I invite your readers to visit Hungary to make up their own mind about the real situation in this nation.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology
The University of Kent
Canterbury CT2 7NZ


From Professor H. David Baer

Sir, — The Ambassador of Hungary (Letters, 24 January) touts his country’s “internationally acclaimed support for persecuted Christian communities worldwide”, but forgets to mention the international criticism of his government’s discrimination against religious minorities in his own country.

In 2010, Viktor Orbán’s government stripped away the legal personality of numerous religious communities in Hungary, many of them Evangelical Christian, and threatened them with winding-down procedures. According to the US Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Reports, 73 religious communities in Hungary were subjected to winding-down procedures between 2014 and 2016.

As an expert on religious affairs in Hungary, I have been contacted more than once by human-rights lawyers representing Hungarian clients seeking political asylum in North America on grounds of religious persecution. In one instance, the client was the leader of a small Christian community deprived of its place of worship owing to a state-sponsored winding-down procedure.

Hungary’s abysmal and morally offensive church law has been subjected to repeated international criticism by the Venice Commission, in the so-called Tavares and Sargentini reports, by watchdog groups such as Freedom House, and by numerous democratic governments.

It’s fabulous that the Hungarian government is standing up for persecuted Christians in places like the Middle East, but when will it direct the same level of concern to minority Christian groups in its own country?

Pastor Gerhard A. and Marion Poehlmann Professor in Theology
Texas Lutheran University
Seguin, TX 78155, USA

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