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Letters to the Editor

by
30 July 2021

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Taskforce’s recommendations exceeded its brief

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — The Anti-Racism Taskforce (News, 9 July) was given a very clear brief: to sift through previous recommendations from Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns which had not been implemented, and identify those that could be acted on swiftly.

From answers to questions in the General Synod and in the Archbishops’ Council, it has been made clear that the Taskforce quickly abandoned this brief, but have declined to explain why.

As a result, we have been offered a list of aspirations without any rationale, with no explanation of why these measures have been identified, no assessment of whether they can be implemented, and no analysis of whether they will produce the desired effects.

The primary reason that the Council did not accept the recommendation on racial-justice officers was that the Council is in no position to tell dioceses how to spend their money. A better understanding of the structure of the Church would make that obvious.

In the wider world, the debate about racism has produced division and resentment, even to the point of creating anti-race racism. Can’t we do better? We have already descended into a war of words, with one part of the Church briefing the national media against another part because it didn’t get what it wanted.

We will not address the vital issue of racism by making arbitrary demands and following them up with emotion-laden threats, but by, all together, being captured by the startling theological vision of those “from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and the lamb” (Revelation 7.9).

IAN PAUL
Member of the Archbishops’ Council
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

 

What should be done after safeguarding disasters

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — Readers may be surprised to learn that there is a remarkable synergy between many survivors of abuse in churches and some of those who are accused of it. The common ground is that accusers and accused find themselves thrust into a hugely damaging space. It treats survivors as offenders and makes victims out of the innocent.

Whether you are abused by a priest, or a priest who is accused of abuse, you will find that your life is put on hold. There is often no sense of process or timescale. When reporting to the General Synod (Synod, 10 July) about the delays to the John Smyth review, Bishop Jonathan Gibbs admitted, chillingly, that “effectively, it could be without end.”

You will also find yourself trying to navigate the Byzantine maze of the Church’s disciplinary process alone. You will not know whom you are allowed to talk to or where you can go to ask for help. You may not even be told by whom and of what you are accused.

Of course, the Church is looking into all of this. But the pain of the abused and accused is measured in agonising hours, while the Church measures its steps in decades. If anything, the recent General Synod debate on the Clergy Discipline Measure represented a step backwards.

The report by the coroner Mary Hassell on the tragic death of Fr Alan Griffin is a Prevention of Future Deaths report (News, 19 July). Listen to that. The coroner is warning us that she believes that, as they stand, the systems of the Church may result in further deaths. I believe that she is right.

Among those I meet from day to day, there is a real possibility of further tragedy, caused by the failure of the Church to manage its relationship with survivors in an appropriate and pastorally effective way.

Already this year, we have seen a grim procession of priests being harmed by a deeply flawed process. Every time I see a picture of happy and hopeful ordinands, I fear for them, knowing that at least some of them will end up broken by the institution to which they are so joyfully committing themselves.

What could be done immediately to improve the lot of those who are caught in the sticky web of safeguarding? I have three suggestions.

First, every victim or complainant, and every church officer facing discipline, should be offered an advocate of their choice who will walk with them through the whole process. That advocate should be given authority to knock on any door, attend any meeting, and see any document relating to the situation. No one should have to navigate the system alone.

Second, the Archbishops’ Council should immediately and generously fund existing organisations that support survivors, such as MACSAS and Sheldon. Their resources are limited, but they are already doing the work that the Church should be doing, and they know what else needs to be done. While the Church gets its act together, others can be helped to fill the gap.

Third, all survivors of church abuse should be automatically invited to make impact statements, either in person or in writing, to the relevant synod, or to senior church officers of their choice. It should be a standing item on every agenda until it is no longer required.

Nothing will hasten the reform of the Church’s safeguarding process like looking into the eyes of those who are experiencing its torture. Perhaps the first to be offered this space could be the family and friends of Fr Griffin.

ANDREW GRAYSTONE
17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG

 

From Canon Nigel Ashworth

Sir, — Dr Jonathan Gibbs, lead safeguarding bishop, in announcing eight new “workstreams” to the General Synod recently, also admitted to a long delay in investigating the case of John Smyth QC, and the effective abandonment of investigation into the abuses perpetrated by the Revd Trevor Devamanikkam.

The tone of activism contrasts with the extreme slowness in dealing with these and many other cases and providing justice for victims.

Now, delay, mishandling of processes, and just old-fashioned gossip have brought the coroner’s Prevention of Further Deaths letter. It is an appalling indictment of what we have become.

The Bishop of London has made a statement: “Alan Griffin’s death was a tragedy, and my heart goes out to his family” (News, 23 July). This sounds properly empathetic, but it does not acknowledge that officials in the diocese were the dramatis personae in the tragedy.

In Hamlet, the participants do not enter into a “lessons-learned” review or begin a new workstream. They do not remain in post and undergo extra training. They leave the stage so that a new beginning can be made.

NIGEL ASHWORTH
St Ann’s Rectory
44 George Leigh Street
Manchester M4 5DG

 

From the Revd David Fisher

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative states, “. . . our deepest sympathy and prayers are with the family and friends of Fr Alan Griffin.”

The Bishop of London states: “. . . and my heart goes out to his family for all they have endured. I am deeply sorry for their loss.’ I ask both of these senior bishops of the C of E, “Where are your prayers for the real victim of this suicide, Fr Griffin?”

It is true that those who are left behind by the death of a loved one need prayer and possibly support. Yet they are still alive.

The one who needs our prayers is the one who, in St John Henry Newman’s words, says, “I go before my Judge” (Dream of Gerontius VI), then to say, “Take me away, and in the lowest deep, there let me be . . . that sooner I may rise and go above, And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.”

May Fr Griffin rest in peace.

DAVID FISHER
The Rectory, Tollgate Road
Salisbury SP1 2JJ

 

Synod BSL and subtitles meant full accessibility

From Mary Bucknall

Sir, — I attended the recent General Synod meeting in July, which was held on Zoom over four days owing to Covid restrictions.

As a profoundly deaf representative of Deaf Anglicans Together, I was most grateful to have the excellent services of British Sign Language interpreters on the screen. The automatic subtitling of the live-stream on YouTube is also a boon, although some of the transliterations made me smile, e.g. “diff” for “deaf” and “doom” for “Zoom”.

There is now BSL interpretation on YouTube as well, which is a brand-new feature.

Such provision of communication support is essential if deaf people are to participate, as they are unable to make sense of what they hear, even with powerful digital hearing aids that amplify but do not clarify speech sounds. This results in isolation, especially in group situations, unless people are willing to speak clearly and at a slightly slower pace to facilitate lip-reading.

Deaf people also need communication support to attend church services and meetings.

I wish to thank the staff of the Synod Office for ensuring there was full accessibility on Zoom throughout the Synod sessions. It was a real privilege to be able to attend.

MARY BUCKNALL
The Post Office Flat
Bishops Caundle
Sherborne, Dorset DT9 5ND

 

Economy or ecology?

From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — As the Revd Dr Anderson Jeremiah testifies, definitions matter (Comment, 23 July). It is good to see this analysis of archiepiscopal rhetoric of “mixed economy” and “mixed ecology” to describe the Church of England in the 21st century, as it often appears to function as a (non-theological) canopy for the hierarchy to advocate all sorts of schemes to arrest decline.

Unfortunately, however, the analysis is compromised by an anti-capitalist stance to the economy and a romantic approach to ecology. Nevertheless, his call to be clear about the ecclesiology that we are working with is well timed.

IAN K. DUFFIELD
Director of Research, Urban Theology Unit
Victoria Methodist Hall
Norfolk Street, Sheffield S1 2JB

 

Archbishop Benson

From Canon Howard Tomlinson

Sir, — I cannot reconcile Michael Ledger Lomas’s observation that E. W. Benson was “congenitally pessimistic” (Feature, 23 July) with the archbishop’s earlier career.

The pioneering work that he undertook as the first Master of Wellington College and the first Bishop of Truro could hardly have been accomplished by a congenital pessimist.

And, as A. H. Baynes, who knew Benson well over four years as his chaplain at Lambeth, reminisced, aside from occasional bouts of depression and “terrible . . . wrath”, the archbishop was “hopeful, enthusiastic, warm-hearted, considerate to all” and “always seemed to me a thoroughgoing optimist”.

HOWARD TOMLINSON
34 Park Street
Hereford HR1 2RD

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