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Letters to the Editor

by
16 July 2021

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Church’s safeguarding specialists

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — During the recent General Synod debates on safeguarding and reform of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), we received presentations and were invited to ask questions. Both were useful, but the very format and directive character of such deliberations limits what can be said and shared. This is a matter that the next Synod will need to address.

I would have liked to complement the concern of Bishop Tim Thornton that, with only 1300 CDM cases (very few safeguarding) since 2003, there must inevitably be a thin spread of expertise among our bishops and archdeacons. This may explain why 43 per cent of CDMs fail, at great cost, financial and personal.

More worrying, as another contributor flagged up, only a handful of firms of solicitors are advising our bishops. I share that concern, and it especially matters where safeguarding is concerned. There are 1758 members of the specialist Law Society Children Panel. In the three months between May and September 2020, those members handled the safeguarding cases of 7910 children.

These are lawyers, tested, regulated and professionally steeped in safeguarding culture. Every day of the week, deeply worried people with a variety of limitations, including learning difficulty and personality disorder, find their way to these experts, knowing that is where the job is done properly: the Church doesn’t.

Currently, diocesan lawyers do not employ a single member of the Law Society cohort of expertise. This may be at the root of the problem. Put the right people into the system, those who are fully acculturated to doing things properly with respect for complainants, and respondents alike, with due respect for the human rights of each, and many of the well-rehearsed problems will evaporate. We need a panel of safeguarding lawyers to handle this specialist work. The Church would not dream of putting its pension law into the hands of non-specialists.

We need this to be resolved. The Synod cannot evaluate the merits of a reform package without having available the full array of facts and concerns.

MARTIN SEWELL
8 Appleshaw Close
Gravesend, Kent DA11 7 PB

 

From the Revd Matthew Ineson

Sir, — The Bishop of Huddersfield told the Synod last week that “all the work of the National Safeguarding Team (NST) was now underpinned and shaped by the insights and experience of survivors.” This is not true.

Reasons for delay in the Devamanikkam review are entirely due to the NST/church authorities, who appointed a “reviewer”, wrote the terms of reference, and stated that they would control the flow of information and redact what they liked without consultation with anybody. A simple request from me to have a truly independent manager to oversee the whole process, appointment of a reviewer, and terms of reference agreeable to all parties, genuine independent legal advice, confirmation that the Church would release all information that it held in the case, and publication of the report in full was refused.

My insight into and experience of the way in which this sham of a review is being conducted have been totally ignored.

Kate Blackwell QC called the review “compromised before it had started”. The Church ploughed on regardless. I have always refused to co-operate with the review, and will continue to do so as it is presently set up. Synod members might wonder why such things have happened and why they are not being told the truth.

MATTHEW INESON
One of the victims of the priest abuser Trevor Devamanikkam
Address supplied

 

Stipends review and proposals for different terms

From Canon Stephen Fielding

Sir, — The Revd David Ford is entirely right to call for the removal of tied accommodation for clergy in the longer term (Comment, 2 July). It is anachronistic, ties up capital inappropriately, and takes no account of differing clergy situations. But he is entirely wrong to call for the abolition of the stipend.

Unless you take the view that any clergy post is equal to another, in challenge and in scope, the argument should be not that the stipend should be abolished, but that it should be pitched to reflect the substantive nature of the ministry undertaken. Just think, for example, how similar the post of dean of a cathedral is to that of rector of a major parish church or of the team rector who has ten churches.

None of these changes can be meaningfully discussed or implemented without a rebalancing of the capital structures of dioceses and cathedrals, so that each starts from a level playing field and not under the pressures of financial stringency.

STEPHEN FIELDING
The Vicarage, Bendish Lane
Whitwell SG4 8HX

 

From the Revd Ben Rundell-Evans

Sir, — As a rural incumbent in my late twenties (with, I hope, many more decades in parish ministry to come), I read with great unease the Revd David Ford’s article. It is not “radical”, I would argue, but a lacklustre slippery-slope argument in favour of a very middle/upper-class social club of self-funded clergy .

A truly radical review would examine why, collectively, the national church institutions (NCIs) employed 97 people with total benefits of more than £60,000 per employee, year end 2019. Of these 97 employees, 25 earned between £80,000 and £100,000, another 25 earned £100,000-£200,000, six earned between £200,000 and £300,000, and one earned more than £500,000. These figures make my eyes water, given that more and more clergy are expected to take on more and more parishes, or, as your contributor suggests, to expect no remuneration.

Are our local churches (arguably the only tangible and living part of the C of E), or even our dioceses, really the key places for a radical rethink? Does one national Church really need a plethora of London-based institutions, paying people on London-based salaries? Are these institutions succeeding in keeping our parish churches alive? There is much doubling up and wastage.

Surely, we are clearing the wrong temples if we are looking at reducing community- or parish-based stipendiary clergy.

BEN RUNDELL-EVANS
The Rectory, Portnell’s Lane
Zeals, Wiltshire BA12 6PG

 

From the Revd C. M. Rowberry

Sir, — The recent report from the national Church regarding stipends for clergy (News, 25 June) states that the current costs for clergy amount to £50,000. It does not, however, break this down. This week, one of my parishioners commented that £50,000 was a decent amount for a vicar who works only on Sunday.

It is misleading to suggest that the stipend is this amount. I receive, before tax, £28,000. In addition, I also am allocated a vicarage and have money deferred as payment into a pension fund. It is true that the cost of the upkeep of the building is met by the diocesan housing department, but, over the years, there has been a steady creep of passing costs to the clergy: oven, fixtures and fittings, carpets and floor coverings, and the upkeep of the garden.

I am privileged to live in a five-bedroom house with nearly a half-acre of garden. It was a double blessing when my son and his wife were able to live with us, but now there are only two people in a house that we did not choose, with a garden that is like a jungle, having to pay for garden machinery more fitting for a farm than a domestic garden.

I would happily exchange this for the £50,000 a year to live in a house of my own choosing, with a small garden, and pay into an ethical pension fund.

C. M. ROWBERRY
The Vicarage, Vicarage Drive
Hedge End
Southampton SO30 4DU

 

From the Revd Michael Hopkins

Sir, — The issue of moving away from tied housing for clergy has been raised. The United Reformed Church undertook a comprehensive piece of work on this, which concluded that the details render such a move very difficult, and the main winner would be HMRC. The details do matter, and are much more complex than many appreciate. The report is at www.urc.org.uk

MICHAEL HOPKINS
23 Hillary Road, Farnham
Surrey GU9 8QX

 

Funding for diocesan racial-justice officers

From the Revd Jonathan Coore

Sir, — Without apparent regret or shame, the Church of England has declared itself morally bankrupt on the issue of racial justice.

The latest taskforce, set up by the Archbishops’ Council, has had crucial recommendations rejected on the grounds of cost. The Archbishops’ Council began by talking about what is not possible and went on to be imprecise and vague about what is and crucially, when. In the process, it risked making fools of their own taskforce (decent and courageous people and an asset to the Church).

I very recently spoke with a senior figure in the Church who was not sure whether reports of racism in the Church were “entirely accurate”. Perhaps commission a taskforce with the idea of actually finding out? No, wait, that has been done. Commissions, steering groups, committees, sub-committees, taskforces, reports, and papers have come and gone, all saying exactly the same thing, over a period spanning decades and with no discernible progress.

Even if this were about money (which it is not), the Church of England has recently begun investigating itself over the issue of Queen Anne’s Bounty to see if there are any links to slavery, thereby risking “reputational damage” (a task akin to finding out whether Willy Wonka owned any cocoa beans). Apparently, ignoring yet another set of recommendations, especially in the current social context, does not run that risk.

It is my hope that when strong and incontrovertible financial links are found with slavery, it is unequivocally confessed and that sufficient monies are then made available from the £9.2 billion (largely seeded by Queen Anne’s Bounty) to fund racial-justice officers.

The taskforce recommended funding officers for five years (News, 23 April). That should be enough time to make themselves obsolete, which would be the most desirable outcome and, I hope, end this wilful and shameful institutional blindness.

JONATHAN COORE
Succentor
St George’s Chapel
Windsor Castle
Windsor SL4 1NJ

 

Alternative view of the European Union’s future

From Damian Thwaites

Sir, — May I suggest we have grounds to be more upbeat on the future of the European Union than was argued by the Revd Alexander Faludy in “The EU has to face up to some hard truths” (Comment, 25 June)?

It is certainly important to track public opinion on the EU. The EU and its forebears have conducted regular “Eurobarometer” surveys since the early 1970s. In 1973, support for the EEC stood at 43 per cent. The success of the Single European Market recorded a high of 65 per cent approval in 1990. Support again dropped below 40 per cent in the 1990s, when the EU was perceived as navel-gazing about the Maastricht Treaty. It happened again in 2005, when a proposed European Constitution was voted down in France and Netherlands.

The EU fares better when it demonstrates what it can do to meet everyday concerns of its citizens, by enabling freedoms to live, trade, work and study across a Single Market of 450 million people, which protects social rights and environmental standards. When it comes to Covid-19, Eurobarometer has also last week published a survey. It indicated that 50 per cent of those asked in March/April were dissatisfied with EU management of the pandemic. The same survey, however, found that 74 per cent believe that the Union “should have more competences” to deal with a crisis such as a pandemic.

Survey data were collected when the EU’s rollout programme was stuttering, a predicament not wholly of the EU’s making. The latest data indicate that full and partial adult vaccination rates across the EU have now encouragingly reached 50.5 per cent.

We should also look closely at votes cast by EU citizens in ballot boxes. The 2019 European Parliament (EP) elections for 751 MEPs recorded their highest turnout in 20 years, including with a UK electing 73 MEPs while heading towards Brexit. A turnout of 51 per cent among more than 400 million eligible voters is not to be celebrated, but we should note its impact.

Sixty per cent of the seats were won by Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, and centrist Liberals. If there is a “Grand Coalition” supporting the present European Commission President and its members, it is because 461 democratically elected MEPs confirmed it in office in November 2019. The EP is an important check and balance on the European Commission and EU Council (representing member states).

There are clear challenges ahead for the EU as it moves towards a “post-Covid, post-Brexit” future. The internal challenge is to member states that would seek to stay inside the Union while deviating from its core values and that risk marginalising themselves to the extent that the exit door comes into view.

The Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, not widely regarded for his caution in EU circles, speaks for the overwhelming majority of people in the EU on the latest anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals of the Hungarian government. Nevertheless, the biggest challenges facing the EU are external: Russia, Turkey, and North Africa in its neighbourhood, with a significant internal impact on the Union.

In addition, the EU needs to deal better strategically and more coherently with China, and that is what the Biden Administration is looking for from the EU.

The EU Conference on the Future of Europe launched on Europe Day in May is a participatory and innovative, if time-limited opportunity, that includes Citizens’ Panels on EU policy areas (one third of each panel is drawn from the under-25 age group).

European Anglicans are working with our partners in the Conference of European Churches and alongside the Roman Catholic Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU (COMECE) on engagement with this EU Conference, implementing the vision in the Bishop in Europe’s Message for Europe Day of “a bridging Church”. Our advocacy now spans refugees and migration, gender justice, freedom of religion and belief, and climate care.

The beginnings of the EU were rooted in the Christian hope of Schuman and other founding fathers, including Adenauer and De Gasperi. It will always need hard thinking about its pace and direction, but the EU is, at heart, both expression and manifestation of hope through co-operation.

DAMIAN THWAITES
Attaché, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representation to the European Institutions and Director of Communications, diocese in Europe
Office of the Bishop in Europe
Rue Capitaine Crespel 47 bte 49
1050 Brussels, Belgium

 

Models of mission are mix, but no match

From the Revd Dr Alan Billings

Sir, — Using managerial rather than theological language, the Church of England is now pursuing simultaneously two operating models: parish and congregational (the mixed economy). This is creating confusion and incoherence.

And it is doing so when it scarcely has the financial resources to support one adequately, let alone two.

Do we not understand that a house so divided cannot stand?

ALAN BILLINGS
Police and Crime Commissioner, South Yorkshire
43 Northfield Court
Sheffield S10 1QR

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