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Letters to the Editor

31 May 2024


Office-holders, or, in reality, not? 

Sir, — I write to start a discussion about whether parish priests really are “office-holders” with less job security than most secular workers, or whether it is a convenient management fiction.

We work, on average, longer hours than most employees. We have to agree to be resident most of the week in tied accommodation (sometimes at personal cost rather than any benefit). We have a conventional uniform. We are canonically obliged to remain within certain forms of wording in carrying out certain duties. We are compulsorily subject to both a draconian disciplinary system and a system of particular action outside that system without any appeal or redress rights: the blue-file letter of advice and admonition, which bishops often unaccountably use to issue judgements, having made a No Further Action finding within the official system. And so on.

The ambiguities of Anglican understanding of “niceness” in management can equally work to the benefit or detriment of the clergy. Some may assume that the former applies, and try not to see the latter. This is especially true when bishops are non-specialist in background, understandably busy, and over-reliant on registrars with no background in employment law and limited expertise in evidence-gathering protocols. Plea-bargaining does seem to happen, despite the official line. Clerical casualties result — despite official good intentions — more often than is comfortable, as the Sheldon report “I was handed over to the dogs” graphically demonstrated.

Instead of improving freedom for priests-in-charge and diocesan officers who have no freehold, continuing office-holder designation seems more designed to minimise the mutuality of obligations usual elsewhere, evade a formal duty of care, and preserve an autonomy of management conduct which would not be tolerated in modern secular employment structures.

The Church seems to lag behind secular society markedly in terms of justice and accountability. The toll on clerical mental health is great but under-documented.

For the sake of transparency, I call on the Church of England to release in full the assurances that it has given the Charity Commission in recent years on office-holder-status vulnerability and the eligibility of priests for safeguarding inclusion when they are faced with emotional assaults in the form of repeated vexatious lay accusations.

I write this out of concern for a national matter of professionalism rather than from any personal agenda, though I am a member of the Sheldon CDM survivors group. Giving ground-level core workers such a formally insecure employment designation seems to be an own goal in a sustained period of relatively declining wages or stipend and the loss of housing provision on retirement.

I love my parish work, respect my diocese and revere my managers. I fear, however, that the failure to address this lacuna in the formal employment structure will be regretted by future generations of priests and their recruiters. What do others think?



David Campanale and Lib Dem candidacy 

From the Revd Dr Margaret Joachim

Sir, — I write in response to the letter from the Revd Simon Douglas Lane (24 May), and the description of David Campanale (Comment, same issue) as “deposed as the Liberal Democrat PPC . . . over concerns about his Christianity”. How strange that the letter and the article should appear on the same day.

The Liberal Democrats are proud to have had candidates and MPs from all major faiths and none. Our MPs are allowed a free vote on specified matters of conscience. Our processes for approval and selection of candidates do not at any stage involve consideration of an applicant’s religion (or lack thereof). They do require all our candidates to demonstrate mature thinking and judgement, resilience, a commitment to representing all potential constituents fairly, and the ability to work harmoniously with the local activists who will be campaigning to get them elected.

It is particularly unlikely that the party would discriminate against Christians, given that I am the chair of the committee that oversees approval and selection of all parliamentary candidates in England.

Chair, Liberal Democrat English Candidates’ Committee
8 Newburgh Road
London W3 6DQ


Reflections on the scandal of infected blood 

From the Revd P. A. Newman

Sir, — The scandal of infected blood (Comment, 24 May) is yet one more stain on the integrity of our institutional establishment with a scent of ethical decadence in public service. It prompts recollection of my own initiation as a regular blood donor, in company with many another, in the University of Leeds Chaplaincy Church of Emmanuel in 1974. It is particularly memorable as coinciding with a midday eucharist, for which a vested priested wended his way through an array of blood donors prostrate on our camp beds. It was, in retrospect, a profoundly symbolic synchronicity: existential and eschatological.

It was also a mere three years after the publication of The Gift Relationship: From human blood to social policy (London, 1970) by Richard Titmuss (pioneer Professor of Social Administration in the University of London, LSE) and less than a year after his demise (1973). He conducted extensive empirical research into the respective blood-transfusion systems across the United States and the UK.

The contrast was stark between the American commercial market of blood banks purchasing blood from donors for resale to hospitals and the British National Blood Transfusion Service (set up with our National Health Service), entirely reliant on screened donation by volunteers without monetary incentive or awareness of the eventual recipient. The social and political significance of this “gift relationship” was that of an ethical altruism and a common good, surely worthy of reflection at every eucharist (and blood-donation) by us all during these pre-election weeks?

5 Cranworth House
Cranworth Road
Winchester SO22 6EJ


The inquiry into John Smyth and its management

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — Andrew Graystone (Letters, 24 May) reports that Keith Makin has not sought evidence from key witnesses for his review of the Church of England’s response to the abuse by John Smyth. This reinforces the complaint from Graham Jones about the inadequate coverage of the period 2012-17 in a draft of the Makin review, leading him to withdraw his own testimony (News, 8 March).

The period 2012-17 is specially significant, because we have it on record in a statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself that by 2013 both he and the then Bishop of Ely knew about Smyth’s abuses (News, 20 May 2021). Similarly, the then Bishop of Durham was told in 2015, as evidenced by Scripture Union’s investigation of its relationship with Smyth (News, 26 March 2021).

Appropriate action in 2013 or 2015 could have brought to an end Smyth’s continued abuse in Africa. Repeated delays of the Makin review are postponing the day of reckoning, but, ultimately, the reputations of those who failed to act effectively and, indeed, the reputation of the Church of England will be tarnished in the historical record.

242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER


From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — Andrew Graystone says that the Makin review of John Smyth’s serial abuse, now four years overdue, “may eventually be published though there is still no date for this to happen”. Not only is there no definitive publication date, but it seems, on the basis of information that I have received, that the so-called Maxwellisation letters have not yet been sent to those to be criticised in the report, despite the latest update statement by Keith Makin on 14 May.

Mr Graystone highlights the mismanagement of the whole exercise from the start by the National Safeguarding Team (NST). It would appear, too, that Mr Makin has been overwhelmed by the task that he has undertaken. Is it not time for the NST to end his contract and hand over to someone else the job of completing the review? If she is available, I would suggest the barrister Sarah Wilkinson, who provided a superb and detailed report on the ISB débâcle on time and within three months of being instructed. She could also, then, speak to those people with knowledge of the Smyth saga that Makin has not interviewed, such as Mr Graystone, author of the book Bleeding for Jesus, who says that Makin has spoken to him only briefly.

Sir Brian Langstaff, the chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry, when producing his second interim report on compensation in April 2023, commented: “I could not in conscience add to the decades-long delays many of you have already experienced due to failures to recognise the depth of your losses. Those delays have themselves been harmful.”

”Graham”, the survivor who has withdrawn the evidence he submitted to Makin, has also written about the effect of delays on victims in a recent blog on the Surviving Church website (19 May). The NST should cut the Gordian knot and take decisive action now to ensure that the Smyth review is published without further undue delay.

20 Holbrook Barn Road, Boxford
Suffolk CO10 5HU


Church volunteering is better than just moaning 

From Mr Patrick Kidd

Sir, — I am grateful to Andrew Brown for mentioning my recent Spectator column on volunteering (Press, 24 May). I hope it wasn’t really, as he put it, “another Anglican doom piece”, as I had told the commissioning editor that far from writing “Woe is me,” I wanted to encourage others to do what they can and not be put off by the perceived workload.

Though I seldom quote Karl Marx, his doctrine from 1875 of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” is a good model for Christian service. As is the last verse of “In the bleak midwinter”, coincidentally published in book form the same year.

Being a warden is, for me, a largely enjoyable duty, not a burden. If you want something you love to survive, you must do more than moan. My church is lucky in its volunteers and recently threw a party for a couple with a combined 94 years of service to the parish.

We must all encourage others, by accepting that people have limits, not imposing unnecessary bureaucracy and always saying thank you. To that end, the recent work of the Archdeacon of London in calling for a much-reduced impact on churches of the proposed Martyn’s Law against terrorism is welcome.

97 Greenvale Road
London SE9 1PE


Post Office examination 

From the Hon. Michael Benson

Sir, — The events that unfolded at the Post Office inquiry last week were shocking and served only to underline the massive failures of its senior management. It is to be hoped that those who are responsible will be held to account in a court of law.

What, however, was almost as shocking was the rude and bullying stance taken by some of the KCs when questioning the Revd Paula Vennells. Kicking a person when they are clearly down is an unpleasant scene to witness, and a skilled interlocutor has no need for such an approach. Let it be hoped, therefore, that, going forward, the inquiry will be conducted in a way that preserves justice for all.

Grange Farm, Westow
York YO60 7NJ


‘Certainties’ and factionalism within Anglicanism 

From Mr Steve Vince

Sir, — I wonder whether your correspondent Arthur Burgess (Letters, 24 May) would include in the category of “certainty”, which he berates, that of the Episcopal Church in the United States, which is so certain that same-sex sex and same-sex marriage are onside with God that it has rigorously removed from its ministry all clergy who, in conscience, are of the contrary opinion; or those in the Church of England (they exist: I’ve read what they’ve written) who regret the Living in Love and Faith process precisely because it allowed those who held the “conservative” position to express their views instead of being silenced.

Or, to move it up a level or two, if we are not “certain” — or, at least, certain enough to stake our lives on it — that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Son of God who died for us, rose again, and is the rightful Lord of all creation, we might as well shut up shop and go home, and, at any rate, stop talking at funerals about the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ” — something that is becoming more and more relevant to me now that I carry a Senior Railcard and a bus pass.

13 Selwyn Close
Wolverhampton WV2 4NQ


Sticking to the BCP 

From Mr Charles Clark

Sir, — Richard Fagan (Letters, 24 May) ought to take issue with the Book of Common Prayer rather than “liturgical ad-libbers”, as it is from here that we get “us” instead of “you” near the end of the Grace.

It was translated as such when it was introduced at the end of the Litany in 1559, and this was retained in the 1662, when it was repositioned at the end of matins and evensong. In fact, the Prayer Book contains a number of scriptural translations that are unique to it.

14 Lubbock Court
Lubbock Road
Kent BR7 5JW


Wildernesses in peril 

From Mr Graham Ferguson

Sir, — When Canon Malcolm Guite woke up over Greenland on his long-haul flight (Poet’s Corner, 24 May), savouring the beauty of the wilderness below and wondering what Dr Johnson would make of it all, given the latter’s fear of what the development of human flight might bring, did Canon Guite also consider the damage that air travel is bringing to “the true wildernesses, extensive, untouched, pristine”?

15 Springfield Park
Berwick Upon Tweed TD15 2FD

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