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Letters to the Editor

by
15 March 2024

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Mr X’s £2m case, Makin review, and Jay proposals

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — Your readers may recall the plight of the survivor cyphered as “Mr X” (News, 31 May 2023).

After the conviction of one of his abusers, Mr X was the subject of the review commissioned by the diocese of Chichester in 2004, which was suppressed until 2014. He was subject of a second review commissioned by the lead bishop in 2020, which recommended that he be given support to remove the debts caused by his mental breakdown.

He was the subject of a third report completed by the Independent Safeguarding Board and presented to the Archbishops’ Council in April 2023. That report also recommended that action must be taken to release him from the cycle of economic dependency created by the Church, by finding ways to release him from his debts. Nevertheless, the Archbishops’ Council decided that it would reject the recommendations of the third report, and defer his needs to the Redress Scheme. There is, as yet, no date for the start of that scheme.

Readers will want to know that Mr X is currently subject of a fourth review, by Kevin Crompton, which will be delivered to the Archbishops’ Council later this month. In all of those years, in spite of all of those reports, not a single member of the Church’s pastoral staff has ever met Mr X or his family to listen to their pain and hear their needs.

The money spent thus far by the Church on lawyers and reviewers to examine Mr X’s case is now well in excess of £2 million. To resolve Mr X’s dire financial needs would have cost less than one tenth of that. As a result of the Church’s insistence that they will not help Mr X financially, there is every possibility that he and his young family will be made homeless in the next two weeks.

Although he is mild-mannered and gracious, Mr X is a totemic figure among church abuse survivors. Nothing would do more to begin the healing of the Church’s relationship with abuse survivors than an urgent and positive intervention for Mr X. It is beyond me to understand why the Church continues to walk by on the other side.

A senior priest said to me: “This is the extreme end of the cruelty of the Church.” She was right.

ANDREW GRAYSTONE
17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG


From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — You reported that a survivor of John Smyth’s abuse — Graham Jones — has withdrawn his testimony from the Makin review after seeing a draft of the report. He considers the draft report to be seriously deficient, with many gaps where evidence has not been gathered, especially for the period 2012-17 (News, 8 March).

It is essential that survivors who withdraw or are excluded from the Makin review be freed from any confidentiality agreement and provided with an alternative platform for their testimony. Otherwise, we will never know the truth, and senior figures who failed to act when they became aware of Smyth’s abuse will never be held to account.

An inadequate review after so much delay shows that the Archbishop has not achieved his 2016 intention to address the “whole culture of silencing in the Church” . He followed this up in 2021 by saying that the Church must stop using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence the victims of abuse.

Vasantha Gnanadoss
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER


From Mr Clive Billenness

Sir, — I was very disappointed to see Canon Angela Tilby promoting arguments (Comment, 8 March) that are starting to gain a degree of traction in the Church of England that the recommendations by Professor Alexis Jay that responsibility for the oversight and operation of safeguarding with the Church should be transferred to two independent charities will be very hard to achieve.

Canon Tilby has repeated a familiar argument that it is “difficult” to define what “independent” means in the context of an Established Church. Numerous regulatory bodies, ranging from the European Court of Human Rights to the professional bodies representing accountants and auditors, have published volumes of guidance on the principles of independence and objectivity to be applied in any situation.

As a certified auditor and a habitual churchgoer, I have worked within such a regime for more than 30 years and have not the slightest difficulty in understanding when my independence might be (or might be considered by others to be) compromised. She equates independence to an obligatory absence of a faith. This is an entirely false argument, since even judges in the UK swear an oath before God to serve to do right “to all manner of people”. Faith and a commitment to doing right are not mutually exclusive.

She then expresses concern that safeguarding officers could not be based in a diocese if employed by a separate body. In industry, this is now referred to as “onsite outsourcing”, and many organisations do exactly this for a range of professional services.

More than 40 years ago, the District Audit Service had its staff located on organisations’ premises in an oversight role without major difficulties. In the years when I worked in this way, I was never once considered as a “spy”, but frequently as a “critical friend” who could be relied on to offer impartial comment. Only in an organisation that was committed to concealment and non-compliance would there be any reason to fear the presence of a safeguarding officer who would be committed to helping the diocese to achieve a shared vision of a safe Church for all.

Finally, she is anxious about funding and conflates this with redress payments to victims of abuse. Taking these separately, decades of shared services run on a non-profit basis in the National Health Service and elsewhere have demonstrated the economies and efficiencies of scale achievable by pooling professional resources to the mutual benefit of all.

Professor Jay’s report envisaged that the detailed planning would form part of the process of creating these charities. Part of this would involve the careful benchmarking of safeguarding expenditure in each diocese. This would enable a scalable, activity-based cost model to be developed, which should assist each diocesan finance officer with future planning for this activity, which is at present often under-resourced.

Nowhere, however, does Professor Jay suggest that either of the two proposed charities would become responsible for determining the sums payable to victims of abuse as redress. Indeed, the General Synod is currently considering a redress scheme that would be subject to statutory regulation relating to compensation levels.

We are not considering the Jay report in a context of excellent historical performance. The recent report by Dr Sarah Wilkinson was highly critical of the Church. In the words of a Synod colleague, we are now in a position of, after being blinded in one eye by a bungling opthalmic surgeon, now being asked to trust them to try again with our other eye. We have received an expert Second Opinion. Let us act upon it and not raise unfounded objections in order to delay what in our hearts we know must be done to regain trust and confidence in our safeguarding processes.

CLIVE BILLENNESS
Synod representative for the diocese in Europe, and member of the Archbishops’ Council’s Audit
Committee
4 Rue des Sports
09600 Léran, France


Call for C of E apology for ‘seeking to destroy’ African traditional religion

From Mr Michael Varvill

Sir, — On 4 March, the Church Commissioners (News, 8 March) warmly welcomed the report of their oversight committee, including: “Penitence. We call for the Church of England to apologise publicly . . . for seeking to destroy diverse African traditional religious belief systems.”

This truly makes the mind boggle. I shall not attempt to summarise the negative effects upon African peoples of ju-ju, vodun, witch-doctors, fetish-priests, and man-leopard societies, nor the cannibalism and the ritualistic murders of widows, slaves, twins, and albinos which sprang from those beliefs, because the negative effects are all too obvious. These belief systems were flourishing in Nigeria in the 1950s, when I was born there. A good overview of them in the late 1950s — and of the efforts by the British authorities and the Roman Catholic and British Churches to reduce them — can be seen in, for instance, A New Africa (Faber, 1961) by Smith Hempstone, an independently minded journalist who later became the US Ambassador to Kenya. Also he described the historical efforts to stamp out slavery, which was continuing.

Some 60 per cent of Anglicans reside in Africa, about half of them in Nigeria. According to the report, the C of E should be apologising publicly for their or their forebears’ conversion to Christianity. The Church Commissioners’ warm welcome of this displays total confusion.

MICHAEL VARVILL
The Mill House, Fittleworth
West Sussex RH20 1EP


Bishop Snow’s promise and Dr Paul’s reproach

From Dr Neill Burgess

Sir, — I warmly welcome the idea of a “reset” as broadly described by Bishop Martyn Snow during the General Synod debates (Synod, 1 March). His reset appears, however, to include a promise to deliver on “decisions made” by Synod, with a clear statement in his letter to Synod members (Online News, 8 March) that this means planning “the process by which standalone PLF [Prayers of Love and Faith] can be brought forward”, and an implication in his “ten commitments” that we might “commit to exploring the process for clergy and lay ministers to enter same-sex civil marriages”. Let us be very clear: the Synod has not decided to do these things.

Yes, the February 2023 Living in Love and Faith (LLF) motion welcomed a decision to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance, but no decisions about the content of this guidance have yet been agreed by the Synod. Moreover, this motion endorsed both the overriding principle not to propose any change in the doctrine of marriage and the more specific requirement that the final version of PLF should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.

Yes, the November 2023 LLF motion asked the House of Bishops “to consider whether some standalone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, possibly on a trial basis”, but this was a request to determine whether such services might be permissible or not; it was not a commitment to approving such services if they were shown to be permissible. As things have turned out, it appears from GS 2346 that the matter is now settled: such services are currently neither legally nor doctrinally permissible.

And what of the examples of “ten commitments” shared in the February 2024 LLF debates? Well, majorities in the House or College of Bishops might support allowing clergy same-sex marriage, but let’s not blur the boundaries: Synod has made no decision to do so.

If we are going to have successful discussions about a reset — and I hope that we do — it is essential that they start with a clear understanding on all sides of what the Synod has and has not already agreed to do.

NEILL BURGESS
General Synod representative for the diocese of York
9 Emerson Avenue
Middlesbrough TS5 7QW


From Canon Simon Butler

Sir, — It was with a depressing sense of familiarity that I read the claim of the Revd Dr Ian Paul (Letters, 8 March) that he is being “gaslit” by progressives in the Church of England. His letter caused me to review my ordination vows, which, he claims, preclude my arguing for an extension to the Canons to permit same-sex marriage.

I cannot find anything in them to support this view. I take my vows as seriously as, I am sure, he does, but I conclude that he seeks to impose his narrow interpretation on the rest of us. Since when has the Church of England imposed a particular interpretation on the meaning of our ordination vows? Who is gaslighting whom, one may well ask?

The language of “gaslighting” is a common and tiresome trope in the online world, where Dr Paul exercises so much of his often combative ministry. His radicalism contrasts noticeably with my experience of conservative clergy at the parochial level, who are finding that division on sexuality goes through their churches rather than simply between conservative and progressive congregations. Many such clergy are approaching the LLF task with appropriate and commendable pastoral skill and circumspection.

Dr Paul’s approach is regrettable because, although he often portrays himself as a defender of orthodoxy, at the moment he is undermining those parochial conservative clergy seeking a less aggressive, more pastoral, approach as they face the profound challenge of pastoring divided congregations.

Dr Paul has never led a church, and it shows.

SIMON BUTLER
9 Eastgate Gardens
Guildford GU1 4AZ


Commons veteran was not Father of the House

From Mr Patrick Kidd

Sir, — One hesitates to correct Lord Harries, but in his enjoyable obituary (Gazette, 8 March) of the admirable Patrick Cormack, there was a small infelicity. Though the latter sat in the Commons for almost 40 years, he never became Father of the House, a post now held by a fellow churchwarden of St Margaret’s, Westminster, Sir Peter Bottomley.

The title goes to the MP with the longest continuous membership of the Commons, and, when two or more entered at the same election, it is decided by the order in which they took the oath. This meant that it was Ken Clarke rather than Dennis Skinner who became Father in 2015, both having entered on the 1970 election. Some new MPs have been known to push their way towards the front of the queue to help their chances of getting this title decades down the line.

Cormack also first became an MP in 1970 and swore the oath before Clarke, immediately after Norman Tebbit, but he never became Father, as Alan Williams, who, like Cormack, left the Commons in 2010, had been elected in 1964. This had one benefit for Cormack, since the only formal duty of Father is to handle the election of Speaker, a post that he sought in 2000 and 2009. He might have felt unable to stand if he were both a candidate and presiding officer.

PATRICK KIDD
97 Greenvale Road
London SE9 1PE

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