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Letters to the Editor

by
08 October 2021

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Bishop of London is failing justice for Fr Alan Griffin

From the Revd Roderick Leece

Sir, — Lord Lexden has lost faith in the Church of England’s institutional integrity, and it seems wrong that he is the one to resign rather than those whom the coroner Mary Hassell criticises in her report for individual and systemic failings in the diocese of London which contributed to the suicide of Fr Alan Griffin, after a safeguarding investigation. She found that there was no safeguarding element with regard to Alan, whom I knew and liked, nor evidence of any wrongdoing.

Back in July, I contacted the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, immediately after reading the BBC news item about Alan, advising her about the gravity of the failings and that resignations would surely be expected. The next morning, after reading the excoriating report of the coroner in full, I was in touch again to say that whoever the relevant archdeacon was should step aside from all safeguarding and disciplinary matters, pending further investigation.

Unfortunately, the Bishop (News, 1 October) continues stubbornly to maintain that, far from dismissing the gossip, hearsay, and lies peddled in a “brain-dump” exit interview in February 2019, clergy must not “filter” such tittle-tattle and should pass it on to safeguarding professionals. She cites IICSA recommendations — but their interim report did not come out until later, in May 2019.

The current Safeguarding Policy Statement for children, young people, and adults states that “all suspicions, concerns, knowledge or allegations, that reach the threshold for reporting to statutory authorities must be reported.”

Much of what is in the (erstwhile secret) “brain-dump” report is malicious, inaccurate, and sordid, and reaches no “threshold” whatsoever. Instead of asking for evidence and quickly establishing that the Head of Operations for the Bishop of London was totally unreliable as far as the truth is concerned, a deeply damaging — indeed, fatal — report was passed on rather than summarily binned by the Archdeacon.

The Bishop of London attempted to pass off the “brain-dump” Two Cities Area Audit as mostly about “churchyards and cranes” in a meeting with central-London clergy. She was persuaded to reveal to the 42 (now 41 surviving) clergy named in the report that they were included within it; and they were contacted to see if they wanted to know what had been said about them.

Many of my friends have been deeply wounded and shocked to discover they are, indeed, named and maligned in an official diocesan document, the contents of which in every case I am aware of are far worse and more scurrilous than thought possible. The first priest who was in touch with me was disturbed, confused, and upset by reference to information about a “husband” that he didn’t have, as well as claims of an ongoing affair over many years with a person (name redacted) conducted on church premises. Malicious, wicked, and evil lies. As were the deadly claims about Alan Griffin and “rent boys”.

The diocese of London is embarking on a Learning Lessons Review, the terms of reference for which were drawn up without the involvement of the 41 surviving clergy on whose behalf the coroner issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report. But, so far, there have been no resignations, nor repentance for commissioning and passing on a revolting and disgusting document peppered with poison.

Indeed, in her interview with you last week, the Bishop of London seems to lament the coroner’s putting the “brain-dump” report into the public domain, and fails to understand how outraged and concerned Mary Hassell might have been at how clergy are being treated in secret. This is the culture that needs changing.

Even in the light of Alan’s death, the Bishop still claims that things that weren’t proven or wrong in the official Two Cities Area Audit were given no standing anywhere. Is she really saying that my friend who was wrongly recorded as having had a husband, and also conducting an affair, would have been considered for senior positions in the Church of England? Of course there could have been hidden consequences for any of the 41 surviving clergy. But not, it seems, for the hierarchy.

Bishop Mullally says that, for her, learning lessons would be justice. But justice requires accountability: when a man has died because of individual and systemic failings, surely justice is an objective and not a subjective matter?

RODERICK LEECE
Rector of St George’s, Hanover Square
2a Mill Street
London W1S 1FX

 

From the Revd Nick Pigott

Sir, — The Bishop of London says that the death of Fr Alan Griffin was “unfortunate”.

It’s unfortunate for me that I have large ears. It’s unfortunate for me if I fall off my bike. His death wasn’t “unfortunate”: it was tragic, and entirely preventable.

NICK PIGOTT
10 Beacon View
Dartington
Devon TQ9 6HH

 

Anglican perspectives on love and faith

From Dr Henk Carpentier Alting

Sir, — You quoted from a General Synod election address in which the candidate left their previous Anglican church when it adopted an “Inclusive” statement on sexuality. (News, 24 September). I was that candidate. Since I experienced some of the dilemmas of the election, permit me a reflection.

What I wrote looks divisive and would probably not help my electoral chances; so perhaps I should have left it out. The official guidance, however, rightly asks candidates to disclose their affiliations and other matters that voters might consider relevant. I had no choice but to accept the electoral consequences; the disclosure was not particularly virtuous on my part.

While my case might be unusual, most candidates faced pressure to present a good electoral front. The campaigning organisations gave helpful advice with many candidates ready to speak out, which you noted. I also noticed this with subjects such as racism, lack of diversity, saving the parish, safeguarding, abuse, and the CDM. These have a ready electoral appeal, but, noticeably, other matters were avoided.

For example, many candidates mentioned Living in Love and Faith (LLF), which invariably got their approval. We must strive to respect and learn from one another as together we seek a way forward. But an LLF training video shows us an ordained minister who, with excellent pastoral care, moved from a same-sex to a heterosexual orientation and a happy marriage. The Government is considering legislation to prosecute those who assist such persons, as requested by the previous Synod.

Surely, some candidates noticed that we cannot have mutually respectful LLF conversations when some of us support the prosecution of others of us so that yet others are deprived of competent help that they have every right to receive. No laity address that I read mentioned this, and it is not hard to see the electoral benefits of silence in this case.

I accept that candidates wrote their addresses in good faith. I suspect that many of us were also aware of the pressure to remain silent when it was to our personal or partisan electoral advantage. It was an uncomfortable lesson for me. Nevertheless, while some matters could be glossed over in the election, the Synod cannot avoid the coming realities.

HENK CARPENTIER ALTING
30 Buckingham Road West
Heaton Moor
Stockport SK4 4BA

 

From the Revd Simon Winn

Sir, — You note in your short report (News, 24 September) that Archbishops Philip Richardson and Don Tamihere made a submission to the New Zealand parliament’s justice committee supporting the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.

What the report omitted and is arguably of more significance was that they described conversion practices as “an abuse connected with colonisation”.

Their submission concluded: “We recognise the diversity of takatapui and other expressions of gender and orientation as unique offerings from matauranga Maori and its Pacific roots. We see that measures to erase these, including conversion therapy, are acts of colonisation. Therefore, we support this Bill as an act of decolonisation.”

The word takatapui is defined as “an intimate companion of the same sex” and appears in one of the earliest Maori dictionaries compiled by an Anglican missionary in 1832.

I was fortunate to be a member of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia’s General Synod during protracted discussions to reach agreement on permitting the blessing of same-sex unions in church. On a number of occasions, I heard Tikanga Maori colleagues state, “This is a Pakeha [European/settler-heritage/non-Maori] issue; takatapui are our whanau [family], our brothers and sisters; we would not reject or exclude them.”

The Western Church still has plenty to learn and to repent of in its “othering” of difference and diversity and its part in imposing “civilised” world-views through colonisation.

Returning to the C of E after a happy and enriching decade serving in a diocese in the South Pacific, I observe that here we are continuing to struggle to live together in love and faith.

SIMON WINN
St Alfege Vicarage
Park Vista
London SE10 9LZ

 

Neighbourhood lessons for Church from policing

From the Revd Dr Alan Billings

Sir, — Professor Michael Mulqueen (Letters, 1 October) writes that, in comparing what has happened to neighbourhood policing with current developments in parts of the Church of England, I make claims about policing that are “ostensibly accurate” but “unfair” in the way in which I present them. I am not quite sure what to make of that.

My central claim was that the years of financial cutbacks made an adverse impact on neighbourhood policing, and this damaged the relationship between police and public. He says that this would come as a surprise to police decision-makers whose aim throughout this time was to improve local policing. But that was my point: no one sets out to damage their organisations.

Some forces saved money by deliberately merging response and neighbourhood teams — mine was one — only to find that the commitment to localities took second place to responding to incidents.

Others found their neighbourhood work disrupted because they constantly switched officers to more pressing needs.

My argument with what some dioceses are doing in moving away from the parish model is that there is very little evidence that what they propose can work, and quite a lot that says that it won’t.

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

 

Questions over the discarding of the Torrance report

From Mr Richard Murray

Sir, — In a parody of a Banksy event, the Torrance report has been shredded. An Episcopal Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, comprising the seven diocesan bishops, including Bishop Dyer, met online in private “to consider the setting up of an independent mediation process to help the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney move forward from its current difficulties”. This review will replace the fully independent review carried out diligently by its sole author.

Professor Brock’s letter (24 September) tries to generalise from the particular. Professor Torrance said that his conclusion “cannot rest or fall on a single claim or the rebuttal of this or that particular incident”. In addition, the College of Bishops “recognises the level of hurt and upset experienced by a number of people”, which has been a “challenge”. Bishop Dyer has claimed she has been the victim of bullying, harassment, and “possible hate crimes” on social media. Police Scotland found no evidence of criminality.

A triumvirate of Scottish Episcopalians has been appointed, expenses paid, which will oversee “an external mediation organisation to scope, and subsequently undertake, a confidential mediation process”, with expenditure authorised by the provincial standing committee; and for, as yet, an unspecified period of time.

A number of questions immediately spring to mind.

First, and at a fairly basic level, does this represent appropriate expenditure when the College already has a general report, now made public, together with a confidential annex that only the Bishops have seen?

Professor Torrance gave his time freely, receiving nothing in return but disrespect. Had the College accepted Professor Torrance’s report and Bishop Dyer resigned, we could have begun the normal process in an interregnum when an adjoining bishop oversees the diocese, and the task of rebuilding and healing could have begun.

Second, what consideration was given to the individual letters sent to every member of the College from a number of vestry committees in the diocese? These affirmed that, in refusing to implement the initial report’s recommendations, the College is giving the impression that it listens to the views of one of its own number in preference to those it is appointed to serve. To redress this, it was requested that the Bishops’ proceedings be held in public and that, in the interests of justice, Bishop Dyer be excused from participation in the decision-making process.

In the acknowledgements received from just three bishops, one said: “Please be assured that your reflections on this difficult situation and your concerns will be taken into account in the work of the Episcopal Synod this week as we try and initiate a process that will address those concerns and help the Diocese.”

Third, the College “are in the process of considering what additional pastoral support can be made available”.

As an aside, I note that the Dean of the diocese resigned the day after the Bishops’ announcement was made. Why have these “shepherds” of the Episcopal Church removed themselves so far from their flock that it has become divided and scattered?

As a former trainer in team leadership and listening skills, I can say that leadership is, above all, else a position of servanthood. Decisions made by bishops should be a service rendered on behalf of the People of God, not a power imposed from on high.

In short, I cannot see how this proposed review can achieve what is required in this diocese.

RICHARD MURRAY
Rowanbank, Kendal Road
Kemnay, Inverurie AB51 5RN

 

More faith at the BBC?

From the Revd Elizabeth Lane

Sir, — Referring to your worrying article on the BBC’s vacancy for a “Religion Editor” (Comment, 1 October), it occurred to me that if we replaced “Religion” with “Faith”, the position might become more attractive.

ELIZABETH LANE
Address supplied

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