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Letters to the Editor

30 June 2023


Disbanding of the Independent Safeguarding Board

From the Revd Janet Fife, the Revd Matthew Ineson, and seven others

Sir, — Physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse is devastating. When such abuse is perpetrated by a leader in the Church, the effects are grievous and lifelong. We know. We are all victims and survivors of abuse by bishops, priests, and other church officers. If we were to tell you what was done to us, you would weep for shame. And yet, for every one of us, the way in which we have subsequently been treated by the Church has been at least as damaging as our original abuse — some would say, more so.

When the Independent Safeguarding Board (News, 23 June) was established, some of us were initially suspicious. That is hardly surprising. If you have been sexually assaulted by a bishop, a priest, or a Reader, you don’t find it easy to trust anyone who comes to you in the name of the Church. After years of struggling to survive, day by day, we couldn’t believe that the Church would really allow external safeguarding experts to review what had happened to us, and recommend ways to put it right.

Over time, many of us came to trust Steve Reeves, Jasvinder Sanghera, and the processes that they were starting to put in place. We recognised that, in spite of the weaknesses in the way in which the ISB had been set up, Steve and Jasvinder brought independent voices, compassion, and expertise to our situations. They understood what trauma does to a person.

On Wednesday 21 June, the Archbishops’ Council sacked them.

The Independent Safeguarding Board had produced just one case review, which related to a survivor known as Mr X. It was carefully written and researched by an independent expert, and it was damning of the Church’s catalogue of failures. It recommended that the Church should act immediately to resolve Mr X’s problems. The Board was dissolved before the Church had even responded to the recommendations, let alone acted on them.

A number of other reviews were in process. For the survivors involved, taking part in such a review is a very costly process. But we saw it as our last hope to achieve some form of resolution. That hope evaporated when all of our reviews were unilaterally suspended without warning. Any arrangements for continuity appear to have been dreamt up on the back of an envelope. We don’t trust them. Why should we? We don’t believe that they are independent. We don’t want the deeply personal information that we have shared to be passed to strangers. We don’t believe that the Church is going to respond constructively to our reviews any more than it has to our friend Mr X.

Trust is a precious commodity, and especially for those who have been abused. The Church has squandered it. In the days after the dismantling of the ISB, various members of the Archbishops’ Council have tried to defend the decision publicly. We know the facts, and we know that their explanations have been characterised by ignorance and untruth. We also know that the information that has been presented to the General Synod is thoroughly disingenuous. What was to have been a presentation by the ISB will now be little more than time-wasting, self-justifying spin. We don’t trust the members of the Archbishops’ Council, and we don’t believe that you should, either.

So far, all of the blame for this debâcle has been pinned on the only two people who tried to support us. No one else has accepted any responsibility. No bishop or member of the National Safeguarding Team has resigned. No member of the Archbishops’ Council has stood down. In fact, they all seem to be patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

We are told that the Church is now going to move straight to “Phase Two” of independent scrutiny. Why should anyone trust that? What safeguarding expert is going to take on such a role when they have seen how the Church has behaved? How many years will it take even to get back to where we were a fortnight ago?

Many of us have spent the past week propping each other up, trying to avert further individual tragedies. The truth is, we don’t know where to go. There is nowhere left. We are devastated.

Please, never again allow your leaders to roll out the old trope that they are listening to the voices of survivors. They are not.

Address supplied

Sir, — The news of the sacking of the two members of the ISB has rightly produced a public outcry. Whatever the alleged reasons that the Archbishops’ Council offers in defence of its decision, nothing excuses the complete lack of safeguarding concern in the way in which the news was disseminated. For a survivor to qualify for an ISB case review, all other options need to have been explored, and the survivor needs to be at the end of the road and without hope of any other resolution. They are, therefore, at their most vulnerable. I had a review agreed and commencing in September.

On Wednesday, when the Archbishops’ Council released their statement, I was walking home when I read it. The news left me completely stunned; it was for me the death of any vestiges of hope. Without thinking, I walked blindly into a busy road. Had the traffic been moving faster, this would have caused harm to me and motorists.

The Church has been warned in past lessons-learned reviews of the dangers of withdrawing support suddenly and is aware that, with smartphones, bad news can be received anywhere and at any time, meaning that safeguards in this area have to be completely rigid. The calls from the ISB for time to warn survivors before the announcement was made should have been acted on. The failure to do so demonstrates how completely negligent the Archbishops’ Council is.

I had hoped that my review would be an exploration of the way in which the Church deals with mental health, the need for it to learn, to appoint practising advisers in the field: a legacy that would have benefited so many, and which, this latest fiasco proves, is badly needed. I had not given up on helping the Church to improve, but the thoughtless and dangerous actions of the Archbishops’ Council prove that its members gave up on survivors a long time ago.


From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — In my letter on 28 April, I set out reasons that Meg Munn should not take up the position of acting chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB). The other two board members, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves, have now had their contracts terminated by the Archbishops’ Council, ostensibly on the basis that working relationships between the parties had broken down. In reality, it was the intransigence of the Council in failing to admit its error in seeking to impose Ms Munn as acting chair and insisting that Jasvinder and Steve acquiesce in her appointment as a precondition of any dispute-resolution mediation process.

Bishop Julie Conalty, the deputy lead bishop for safeguarding “with a focus on survivor engagement”, tweeted on 22 June in response to the announcement of the “sacking” decision: “Today the church is less accountable. To remove, at short notice, the strongest independent voices the C of E to account for its safeguarding failings makes us look resistant to robust scrutiny and challenge — which, of course, we are.”

This damning comment invites the question whether Bishop Conalty or any of the safeguarding bishops was consulted before the decision either to appoint Ms Munn or to “reset” the ISB and terminate its members’ contracts.

When the former chair of the ISB, Maggie Atkinson, “stood back” in 2022 after a finding by the ICO of a data-protection breach, the Archbishops’ Council made a serious-incident report to the Charity Commission (News, 4 August 2022). Surely, the current crisis, indicating a failure of governance by the AC, must lead to the making of another such report. It may also be the subject of a following motion in the General Synod on 9 July, expressing a lack of confidence in the Archbishops’ Council. If so, the Council’s members should not be surprised.

General Synod member 2015-2021
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — Contrary to your printed headline, the ISB didn’t disband; it was summarily disbanded. The Archbishops commented that “we believe this is the only way to get independent oversight of safeguarding back on track and move forward as quickly as we can.”

On 24 May, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves had formally served a dispute notice on the Archbishops’ Council. Their dispute is that the Council has frustrated their capacity to deliver the services of the ISB.

The dispute notice appears in effect to have been ignored. So much for the power of reconciliation.

242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

The production of Faith in the City and its influence

From the Revd Dr Alan Billings

Sir, — As a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas, which wrote the report Faith in the City, I would take issue with some of what Greg Smith said in his article (Comment, 23 June).

We were not a commission of “the great and the good”, as he alleges, but a mixed group of practitioners — I was an inner-city vicar — academics, experts in particular fields and a sprinkling of bishops with urban experience, such as David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool. This was part of the Commission’s strength.

Our report was based on what today would be called a strong evidence base, together with the voices of those who had lived experience.

It carried weight, partly because of the research, some of which was commissioned, but also because we were reflecting what parish priests and their parishioners were telling us in the many packed open meetings that we held across the country. These were made possible because the Church of England was still meaningfully committed to parish ministry, had roots deep into urban-priority communities, and a tradition of social theology on which to draw.

This is being lost as the modern Church prioritises another ecclesiastical model besides that of the parish and has little time for theology. Unsurprisingly, therefore, we have few fresh insights to offer the nation as it struggles with the latest levelling-up agenda.

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

From Professor Andrew Bradstock

Sir, — As Greg Smith notes, the report produced by Archbishop Runcie’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas had a “significant impact” on churches at the time. But it may have had more influence on its other intended audience, the government, than is generally thought.

As Mr Smith mentions, some in government did try to rubbish the report by dismissing parts of it as “pure Marxist theology”; and this became the media story. Yet, others, including Peter Walker and Michael Heseltine, engaged seriously with it, the latter producing a lengthy response, which was broadly sympathetic.

Importantly, the report provoked the government to engage more intensively with the inner cities. Its specific recommendations were, unsurprisingly, ignored, but, as Margaret Thatcher’s chief policy adviser at the time, Brian Griffiths, has said, the report itself was the “trigger” for a raft of inner-city reforms in areas such as education, housing, and law and order.

Indeed, as Eliza Filby has written, the prominence given to urban poverty in the election manifestos of all parties in 1987 suggests that Faith in the City “fulfilled its aim of alerting both the politicians and public to the plight of the nation’s cities”.

(Biographer of Bishop David Sheppard)
Fairport, Station Road
St Helens, Isle of Wight PO33 1YF

Not full communion yet

From the Provost of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow

Sir, — Your correspondent, and my former teacher, the Revd Dr Ian Bradley (Letters, 16 June) seems to have confused the Saint Andrew Declaration for a statement of full communion between Presbyterians and Episcopalians. It is surprising, indeed, that someone of his academic background could come away from reading it with such a mistaken impression.

Dr Bradley cheerfully speaks of concelebrating with Episcopal clergy and celebrating what he seems to think was an Anglican eucharist in Episcopal churches. It seems to me that showing such disdain for the traditions and canon law of another Church is far less likely to lead to ecumenical unity than anything that the Bishop of Argyll & The Isles or, indeed, anyone else was suggesting at the recent General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

300 Great Western Road
Glasgow G4 9JB

The DACs do it better

From Cllr John Walsh

Sir, — I read with horror the suggestion of Mr Anthony Acton (Letters, 16 June) that the powers of diocesan advisory committees (DACs) could be transferred to a local planning authority (LPA). Perhaps I am in the unusual, if not unique, position of being the chairman of both a DAC and a metropolitan borough council’s planning committee, and accordingly offer your readers just some of the impracticalities of the suggestion.

Most LPAs, in my experience, have neither the capacity nor the necessary skills to deal with the existing number of listed-building applications in a consistent and timely manner, which results in the high number of appeals. The additional casework would merely exacerbate an already unsatisfactory situation. Many LPAs do not even employ a conservation officer and need to draw on external consultants. LPAs simply do not have an understanding of the liturgical needs of our churches. The timetable for dealing with planning applications and the process of making an application would all make the idea more complex and would give rise to many more instances when a parish would be aggrieved at the outcome. Then there is the cost of making a planning application.

We should fiercely defend our heritage and listed buildings while being sympathetic in considering the need for change. This is, in my view, far safer in the hands of a DAC than a LPA.

I am sorry if your correspondent has had a bad experience with a DAC, but I could not disagree more strongly with the suggestion that the DAC is “a serious hindrance to mission”. The DAC process may have its faults, but, in my experience, the alternative would be far worse.

JOHN WALSH (Hon. Lay Canon)
Chairman, Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council Planning Committee, and Manchester Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches
52 New Hall Lane, Heaton
Bolton BL1 5LW

Does anti-Semitism inhibit criticism?

From Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — Dr Salim Munayer in his article “How to confront anti-Semitism” (Comment, 23 June) does not identify the discriminatory hardships suffered by Palestinians which caused such consternation among the clergy visiting Israel and who subsequently came to him for advice. Despite their concern, however, the likelihood of their falling foul of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) definition from any measured account of their experiences is non-existent. The idea that the definition as adopted by the UK, and other countries, inhibits criticism of Israeli policies and action is largely manufactured.

The claim of Dr Munayer that the definition “has been increasingly used to censor journalism, attack free academic discussions, and discipline clergy” is, to say the least, startling. The criticisms levelled at Israel in the media do not seem to have been restrained by the UK’s adoption of the definition; and, as far as I am aware, academic discussion of Israeli-Palestinian relations has not been subject to censorship: witness the work of Dr Ilan Pappé, Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies and a distinguished historian of the region. His 2018 work The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine offers a well-documented account of the programme to eliminate a Palestinian presence at the time the State of Israel was established, an account that runs painfully counter to the preferred narrative current in Israel. And who, may one ask, are the clergy who have been disciplined for transgressing the definition, other than outright Holocaust-deniers?

I would agree that the examples of views and actions that are critical of the State of Israel, from the Jerusalem Declaration of 2021, are not in themselves anti-Semitic. But then I would not consider that they breach the IHRA definition.

One may regret the growth in the late 19th century of the Zionist movement, which converted Israel from an eschatological to a political reality; and regret, too, the dispossession of the Palestinians of their land in shocking circumstances in 1948; but, after 75 years of Israel’s existence, it is difficult to see how Palestinians driven from their land at that time can realistically have it returned to them or to their families. To hold out such a hope is only likely to impede any prospect, however slight, of a two-state solution.

That political views are often expressed vehemently and in a partisan way can apply as much to criticism of Israel as to any other political entity or situation. That the IHRA definition places Israel in some specially protected category is simply nonsense.

And actions of boycotting trade or disinvesting are clearly not in themselves anti-Semitic. They may be thought wrong or inadvisable on other grounds. Indeed, in the current edition of The Jewish Chronicle, Jonathan Freedland, in his criticism of the recently introduced Bill to prevent local authorities’ implementing a policy of boycott or disinvestment, reaches just such a conclusion.

In short, there is no real reason to meddle with the IHRA definition. The somewhat hysterical and unfounded claims about its malign scope are deeply regrettable and, indeed, arouse suspicions as to their deeper motive.

The Manor House, Thurloxton
Taunton, Somerset TA2 8RH

Clergy retirement, housing, and remuneration

From Prebendary John Lees and the Revd Tony Redman

Sir, — Huw Spanner’s article “Insights into the silver service” (Features, 23 June) raises some very good points about retirement conferences and how permission to officiate (PTO) needs to be well judged, especially in the light of how half the eucharists celebrated may be presided over by a retired priest. The information on which he relies includes self-supporting ordained ministers (SSMs), who receive neither stipend nor an ecclesiastical pension, but who currently make up at least 27 per cent of all clergy in the Church of England, and nearly a half of the “retired” clergy in many dioceses.

SSMs have similar but different issues when it comes to managing property and pensions after the end of paid employment, just as our formerly stipended colleagues do, and yet are often excluded from attending retirement conferences, which they are often informed are “not for them”. SSMs with PTO almost always remain within their sending parishes when they reach 70, but, for them, there is often very little liturgical marking of such a change, little in the way of support offered to manage change, and, very often, less well-being support offered than their formerly stipendiary clergy colleagues.

The National SSM Advisers Network, of which we are co-conveners, has recently alluded to this in the National Guidelines for Self-Supporting Ordained Ministry, jointly issued with the Ministry Council to all dioceses through their diocesan bishops. We would encourage all retirement officers to read and reflect on how post-retirement ministry with SSMs is both similar and different, and how retirement conferences might be tailored to support them, too.

3 Vicarage Street, Colyton
Devon EX24 6LJ

The Cottage, Great Livermere
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP31 1JG

From the Revd Andy Williams

Sir, — I write with regard to the article regarding clergy retirement. Sadly, Canon Parsons is somewhat out of date with regard to the current state of Pensions Board assistance with retirement housing. They will certainly not “house you in one way or another”; and there are other inaccuracies in his comments.

I have been dealing with the Pensions Board regarding retirement housing for more than 12 months. The shared equity scheme no longer exists, as shown in their January 2023 leaflet and webpage. The availability of rented housing, or even communal housing, is very dependent on where you wish to retire to. In my case, there had only been one property in the whole of the north-west of England.

At the end of 2022, owing to lack of suitable housing, the Pension Board agreed to look into buying a bungalow for us. I submitted several properties, only to learn, in February, like the rest of those on the list, that the Pensions Board are no longer buying new properties.

In retirement, as you point out, we will probably have to move away from our last parish and lose many of the friends, groups, and contacts that we had built up. We had hoped to retire close to family, but that looks increasingly unlikely.

The Pensions Board’s current suggestion to look at private rental, housing associations and private retirement housing is financially unrealistic given the reduction in income we face. Sacrificial ministry is one thing, but being expected to continue that in retirement, along with our families, is unacceptable.

2 The Mallards, Chester Road
Macclesfield SK11 8PT

From Angela Capper

Sir, — The Central Stipends Authority report for 2022 may well value clergy remuneration at £48,770 if housing is taken into account, but two things should be remembered. If the clergy were paid nearly £50,000, they would have been able to secure a mortgage, which would stand them in good stead in retirement. Mortgage providers, however, are interested only in actual income, not in the “benefits” of tied housing. Instead, most clergy I know spend considerable amounts of money over the years on heating, lighting, carpeting, furnishing, and decorating the rectory/vicarage, to say nothing of the garden upkeep, out of their approximately £28,000 stipend.

Second, on retirement, clergy pensions are roughly two-thirds of a stipend, about £18,000 not two-thirds of £50,000. We rent from the Pensions Board, and half our income is spent on rent and council tax. My understanding of clergy remuneration is that stipend and housing should be adequate to allow ministry to be fulfilled without the worry of making ends meet before and after retirement. My concern is that this principle is being eroded.

3 Kingfisher Walk, Loddon
Norfolk NR14 6FB

Two archbishops and one resolution for both

From Mr Adrian Vincent

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury rightly relies on Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference when calling on the Archbishop of Uganda to reject the criminalisation of LGBTQ people (News, 16 June).

Resolution 1.10 also states, however, that marriage is “between a man and a woman . . . .and . . . abstinence is right for those not called to marriage.”

By seeking to introduce a liturgy of same-sex blessings, Archbishop Welby is also in breach of Resolution 1.10.

It is time for both Archbishops to obey the resolution.

16 Faris Barn Drive, Woodham
Surrey KT15 3DZ

Stopping the boats

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — There is a further reason for Bishop McAleenan (Comment, 2 June) to oppose the Government’s Rwanda plan. The BBC has seen Home Office figures costing the Illegal Migration Bill at £6 billion over two years. Official development assistance was earlier cut by two per cent to five per cent of GNI.

In the past financial year, in-donor refugee costs, already more than £3 billion, were charged to the already reduced aid budget, and so never reached many countries from which refugees resort to small boats. If in-donor refugee costs of £6 billion were spent instead on loss and damage resulting from climate change in such countries, that would be a legal and more humane approach to stopping the boats, enhancing, not trashing, the reputation of this country.

The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB

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