Private Eye story on Woolton case
From Mr David Roberts
Sir, — I was nurtured in the Christian faith at St Peter’s, Woolton, Liverpool, before 1980, and members of my family continued to worship there. I was not surprised to read (News, 1 January) of the conviction and imprisonment, just before Christmas, of the previous Rector, Canon John Roberts (no relation), for several sexual offences over a long period both at Woolton and at Liverpool Cathedral.
Rumours of these matters had circulated for many years in the wake of Canon Roberts’s conviction, in 1989, for two sexual offences. Canon Roberts’s sentence in 1989 had been light, and he was allowed to continue his ministry at Woolton until his retirement in 2002. After that, he ministered as a volunteer chaplain, subject to conditions, at the cathedral. In 1989, many in the local church and diocese appeared to believe that there had been a miscarriage of justice.
The matter has been amply reported in the Church Times, and extensively in the local press, but not nationally, perhaps because of Christmas, Covid, and Liverpool’s perceived provincial obscurity. An aspect that might, in more normal times, have attracted national attention was the appearance of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a witness for the prosecution. The Liverpool Echo reported on 21 December: “The jury heard evidence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who expressed regret for not handling one complaint differently when he was the Dean of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.” The case has now attracted the attention of Private Eye and others.
Private Eye recently reports that, in 2011, one of John Roberts’s victims had complained to Dean Welby about Canon Roberts’s misconduct. The complainant put his case so forcibly that the Dean banned him from the Cathedral. An email from the Dean to Canon Roberts at the time included the following: “. . . in the absence of any independent evidence and in the light of his behaviour today we accept your account. . .” and “. . . for obvious reasons you are more vulnerable to unfounded allegation than others. . .”
This correspondence was considered by IICSA in 2019, but it was heavily redacted, and only lightly touched on when the Archbishop of Canterbury gave evidence to IICSA, and was not the subject of a formal conclusion by IICSA, all presumably because Canon Roberts’s actions were sub judice. It has not yet emerged that the Dean had involved any bishop or the police in the complainant’s concerns in 2011.
This leaves considerable pastoral, jurisdictional, and other legal conundrums. How does the Church independently consider the actions of a priest in one of its Provinces after that priest has become the Metropolitan of the other Province?
This unhappy tale highlights continuing grave questions about the quality and consistency of episcopal decision-making (including the assessment of possible conflicts of evidence) on judicial matters at a senior level in the Church of England, and about the discipline of bishops.
7 Nunnery Stables, St Albans
Hertfordshire AL1 2AS
The storm surrounding Mr Robinson-Brown
From Canon Bernhard Schunemann
Sir, — I am writing in the strongest possible terms in support of the Revd Jarel Robinson-Brown (Features, 5 February). White English people have no idea how toxic the atmosphere for immigrants or people of different skin colour has become in England and particularly in the hierarchy of the Church of England in the past three years. Not a month goes by without my being told to “go home”, which is particularly hurtful for my children, who have never known any other home than the one that we have here in England.
The Church of England at the highest level has been afraid to speak out, and has instead sought to appease English nationalists. One instance of this was Archbishop Justin’s intervention in the Brexit debate, and now another is the ill-judged and heavy-handed intervention by the Bishop of London.
My wife wrote to Archbishop Welby telling him what effect his intervention had on her in this parish. He never even acknowledged the letter, but mysteriously quoted from it in a later press statement, as though the words were his own.
St Stephen’s Vicarage
London SE21 7HN
From Mark T. Jones
Sir, — My youngest brother, who works on the front line, on reading the Revd Jarel Robinson-Brown’s depressing tweet, responded thus: “Colour, class and religion will be of no relevance to the countless thousands who benefit from Captain Sir Tom Moore’s fund-raising.”
For my part, I take the view that at least God is colour-blind about humanity, even if some of those who claim to serve him are not.
MARK T. JONES
48 Frederick Road, Malvern
Worcestershire WR14 1RS
All Saints’, Spring Park: view from a parishioner
Sir, — The PCC of All Saints’, Spring Park, clearly, and understandably, have much energy to support their parish church and incumbent, the Revd Yvonne Clarke, in the face of the draft pastoral scheme (News, 5 February). They might wish to re-focus that energy.
As a resident in the parish for nearing three-and-a-half years, I have received no contact from the church (not even a Christmas or Easter circular), nor seen any signs of engagement with the community, and would not recognise Ms Clarke in the street.
The church and halls, which seem predominantly closed and unused, appear uncared for — broken glass in the vestry windows, overgrown hedges, one of which covers most of the noticeboard, on which a few pieces of A4 are pinned at irregular moments.
Some of these appeared, last autumn, stuck to a tree outside the church: “Vote against the Measure: It’s a No”, a protest march, and that Ms Clarke, “the first black female deacon in the Church of England”, was “being forced out by the Bishop of Southwark. . . He wants to see her barred from ever being a priest in God’s Church, after she has done no wrong. . . He seeks to make [her] homeless and jobless.”
A walk down to the south door (something few would do) led me to the notice from the Church Commissioners which had duly been affixed to the door, but I gained no encouragement to join the campaign. There has been no word in our 64-page monthly residents’-association magazine, an obvious place to drum up support; and the parish’s website is not easily found on the internet. All I have seen is this negativity, no display of all the good that the church may have done and still be doing. I have no awareness of any fund-raising.
When churches were allowed to reopen for private prayer, the offering of All Saints’ was just 30 minutes on a Wednesday morning, besides the one Sunday-morning service. There was no visible offer of pastoral care or support.
In the statement of July 2020 (which I found on the website of St John the Evangelist, Shirley, one of the benefices into which All Saints’ would be divided), full details are given of what would happen to the parish, the building, and Ms Clarke — no, she would not be homeless. Given the above, I am not surprised to read that the parish had neither met any of the Directions issued in 2016 with regard to “financial viability and capacity for governance and mission” nor “demonstrated the future capacity to do so”.
I would urge the PCC and congregation to take heed of this, and devote their energies to promoting and increasing the church’s offering to the community in whatever way they can, particularly during these times when there is so much need. As and when the pastoral scheme comes into effect, the parishioners and community will be able to keep hold of the name All Saints’, feel a part of it, and realise that, while the physical church building might now be a chapel of ease, the parish is still alive.
NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED
Jesus did not ‘target’ the Jews: he was one
From the Revd Sue Faulkner
Sir, — The language of P. Brown’s letter (5 February) exemplifies the problem of Jewish-Christian relations. Indeed, I find the use of the word “targeted” both inaccurate and offensive. It weaponises evangelism and is a language that can thus underpin a Christian legitimising of anti-Semitism.
It is inaccurate, in that Jesus did not single out the Jews for conversion. He himself was Jewish, born into a Jewish family, and raised by the rites, rituals, and sacred texts of Jewish life. He spoke into his own community and family, and it is clear from his use of scripture that he understood his life as coming to fulfil the Law, not to convert it.
If I may be so bold as to suggest it, too, this language of evangelism is also one that dangerously lay behind much of colonial mission: a conversion needing to be done to peoples, an us-and-them understanding of Christianity.
Language matters, and “targeting” is not a Christian activity.
St Michael’s Vicarage
24a, High Street
Silverstone NN12 8US
TV serial about gay Londoners during AIDS crisis
From the Bishop of Ripon
Sir, — I was disappointed to read the Revd Gillean Craig’s lukewarm review (Television, 5 February) of Russell T. Davies’s widely acclaimed and brilliantly scripted series It’s a Sin. Drama can shine a light on how generations have faced issues and challenges, and we can learn much from watching and learning. Religious attitudes towards the LGBTQI+ communities feature in Davies’s series, and not surprisingly, a mixed picture emerges. The stories that we tell ourselves are not necessarily the stories that others tell about us.
I hope that the current Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process will enable generous learning and non-polarising shared discernment, towards decisions that must be made to bring to birth the “radical new Christian inclusion” that the Archbishop of Canterbury has talked about.
Here in the diocese of Leeds, we are delighted that our three cathedrals are taking a lead in running pilot courses for LLF. We have a diverse group of LLF advocates, and I look forward with enthusiasm and energy to our engagement together. I am grateful for storytellers such as Davies. With a nod to a character-group from another of his dramatic triumphs, the formidable Daleks, I hope we can learn to “seek, locate, and love” rather than “seek, locate, and destroy”.
Redwood, New Road
Sharow, Ripon HG4 5BS