THE next Bishop of Birkenhead, the Ven. Julie Conalty, at present Archdeacon of Tonbridge, will “help accelerate change in the Church”, a survivor of clerical abuse said last week.
The survivor, Gilo, who co-edited Letters to a Broken Church (Books, 16 August 2019), was asked by Archdeacon Conalty to provide a reference for her application to the post.
“I am not a church insider; so I approached the reference in terms of my experience of Julie’s honest engagement and compassion towards survivors,” he said last week. “If the Church were seeking someone who would conform to the status quo, not speak out of turn or rock boats but deliver soundbites — then I knew they would not be ready to embrace the witness to truth and justice that Julie brings.
“I think many of us are confident that Julie will help accelerate change in the Church. She takes the need for culture and structure change, and the need for justice and rebuilding of lives very seriously.” She was, he said, “one of very few senior figures who recognises that corruption in the Church needs to be faced”.
Phil Johnson, who chairs Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), described Archdeacon Conalty as “a powerful advocate for survivors of abuse” who had “supported many survivors both directly and through her work on the support scheme; we have every confidence that she will continue to do so.”
Jo Kind, a member of the MACSAS committee, said that those living in the diocese of Chester were “in for a treat”. Archdeacon Conalty had “incredible honesty, insight, and integrity, which shows itself in the way she listens to people, is willing to call out injustice, and to challenge, or equally to give praise where it is due. She is a key part of the ‘culture change’ in the Church of England which is talked of so often.”
Archdeacon Conalty served the Bishop of Rochester’s Lead for Safeguarding for three years. In a speech to the General Synod last year (News, 21 February 2020) she referred to the “derisory payments that have been paid to survivors of church-context abuse”, noting that dioceses had “the capacity to go further than a full and final settlement . . . to question our insurers about their practices, and indeed our lawyers”. Writing in the Church Times that year, she said: “we need to start calling out the parts of our culture that are dangerous and corrupt” (Comment, 9 October 2020).
In a video message after her appointment was announced on Thursday of last week, she noted that the diocese of Chester had asked for “Bishops who keep survivors central to their safeguarding work”.
Last year an independent review found that a former Bishop of Chester, the late Victor Whitsey, had been able to abuse at least 18 people, children and adults, without being challenged (News, 23 October 2020). It noted that a former Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, who retired in 2019, was not a safeguarding professional and should not have been conducting inquiries into allegations.
In appearances before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Dr Forster said that a cleric in the diocese convicted of downloading 8000 indecent images of children should not be banned from ministry for life because he had been “lured” into child pornography by the internet (News, 5 July 2019). Before his retirement, he delegated all safeguarding responsibilities to the then Suffragan Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, after concerns were raised about his handling of another abuse case — that of Gordon Dickenson, who admitted and was convicted of eight counts of indecent assault against a child (News, 5 April 2019).