THE Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, has acknowledged that a “deficit of trust” exists in the Two Cities Area since the death of Fr Alan Griffin (News, 23 July, 27 August). His “unfortunate death” had highlighted other concerns in a diocese that was “still on a journey” of culture change, she said.
While apologising for the hurt caused to other members of the clergy listed, alongside Fr Griffin, in the “brain-dump” report produced by a former head of operations upon his retirement, she noted that, had the Coroner in Fr Griffin’s case not made her report public, this would never have come to light. And she maintained that “we have learned to our cost in the Church that sometimes rumours weren’t dealt with when in fact they were safeguarding.”
Minutes of a meeting of the Two Cities Greater Chapter earlier this month, seen by the Church Times, record that the response of the diocesan leadership to the death of Fr Griffin is considered “wanting in several significant respects”, with a feeling that Bishop Mullally had “demonstrated insufficient pastoral care for her clergy”, especially among those named in the brain-dump report, some of whom felt “a sense of rage, indignation, bewilderment, frustration and sorrow”.
In a letter to clergy in the Two Cities sent earlier this month, Bishop Mullally wrote: “I am resolved to continue the process of cultural change in the Two Cities Area which was already a pressing priority . . . There is currently a deficit of trust. This must be addressed by a continual striving for transparency, approachability, collegiality, sensitivity, respect and kindness as characteristics of our relationships with everyone.”
On Wednesday, she spoke first of her concern for the friends and family of Fr Griffin. Asked about culture change, she said that this process had been ongoing since her arrival in the diocese in 2018. Among her findings on arrival was that clergy spoke of “a sense of isolation. There is a competitiveness; people were anxious about needing to prove themselves. . . There are potential tribes here. . . And also I have to say the fact of being the first woman bishop also brought some of its own complexities within that.”
There was a need to create a “more collaborative” environment. Other work had included increased support for mental well-being, including support for those going through the Clergy Discipline Measure process.
“Culture change isn’t just me: it’s about us,” she said. “Some of the reason why people feel isolated and anxious is about us and how we treat each other . . . The unfortunate death of Fr Alan made people articulate that we are still on a journey.”
Asked about the clergy named in the brain-dump report, she said: “We have to recognise that the coroner put that in the public domain, and I am sorry for the hurt that that has caused. . . There is no doubt in my mind that there are things that we will learn through it, not least that we are already beginning to bring in a triage system around those things that come forward to safeguarding.”
But the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) had emphasised the importance of safeguarding matters being passed to professionals, she said. “We have learned to our cost in the Church that sometimes rumours weren’t dealt with when in fact they were safeguarding. So therefore we do need a system that both appropriately triages and deals with them and disregards them if they are only found to be rumour.”
Those things in the “brain dump” that “weren’t proven or were wrong, they were given no standing anywhere”, she said. “The only ones that were followed up were those ones where the safeguarding team felt there was an issue. Those comments would never have found light anywhere else if it hadn’t been for the coroner putting it in public domain. . . But I do recognise that we have to learn and improve our systems.”
Although there were those who were upset by the death of Fr Griffin, and those “rightly” hurt by their appearance in the brain-dump report, trust did exist within the Two Cities, she said. She had apologised for failing to make it clear that those affected could always come to talk to her directly.
Asked about the specific context of the Two Cities, she spoke of her pride in their clergy, and of the difficulties presented by the pandemic: “What was left were the poor, the doctors and nurses and the clergy. . . They have gathered communities, that have populations that come and go, they have a high proportion of homelessness, high proportion of mental health, all things that create increased pressure.”
The fact that, in contrast with other parts of the country, some parishes had one priest and one church was related to the need to work on collegiality. There was also a higher proportion of Resolution churches, and there were fewer women clergy.
She spoke of a “shared understanding” with area deans about moving forward.
“I would love to fix this overnight, but, actually, you can’t,” she said. “Because, actually, you have to travel it together, and you have to create an environment in which we can engage and talk about it . . . For us, learning as a diocese, us learning as the Church through Fr Alan’s death but also the Two Cities learning, and in a sense, for me, that would be justice for him.”
Last week, the Rector of Marylebone, the Revd Dr Stephen Evans, said: “As with any bereavement, but particularly in the case of a tragic death, feelings are running extremely high in the Two Cities — and beyond — and people — not only clergy but Churchwardens and life-long faithful churchgoers too — are experiencing a wide range of shifting emotions, including grief, anger, confusion, fear, abandonment and hurt — to name just some. Of course, different people will feel these things to a greater or lesser extent, not least the forty-one other priests named in the destructive ‘brain dump’.
“I pray daily for the repose of Fr Alan’s soul and for healing, which is now so sorely needed, not only in the Two Cities, but in the wider National Institutions of the Church of England, which appear to have made an incident of this magnitude all too predictable, perhaps inevitable.”