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Press: When bureaucracy has tragic consequences

05 April 2024


THERE were two really worthwhile long reads published last week: Tim Wyatt, late of this parish, in the magazine The Fence, on the scandalous career of Martin Sargeant, and Andrew Graystone, in Prospect, on Sir Paul Marshall.

The Wyatt story, thoroughly researched, went down any number of foetid rabbit holes in pursuit of a man who stole £5 million and uncounted reputations from the diocese of London (News, 23/30 December 2022). The money was mostly stolen under the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, the reputations under the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally.

What I thought most impressive about the story was the apportionment of blame at the end: who and what made the organisation so defenceless against a cunning and greedy enemy? After all, when Fr Alan Griffin killed himself in despair that the diocese had passed on to the Roman Catholic diocese of Westminster the wholly false allegations against him — that he was HIV positive and made use of under-age prostitutes (News, 23 July 2021) — “nobody would take an iota of responsibility: Sargeant, [the Ven. Luke] Miller, Mullally, the head of safeguarding, and the manager who wrote the ‘brain dump’ down all told the coroner they were simply passing on information.”

Some blame obviously attaches to Lord Chartres for his patrician disdain for paperwork; some to Bishop Mullally herself. In her defence, Wyatt points out that “London is a hotbed of traditionalist priests who cannot reconcile themselves to women’s ordination. Even those, like Hugo [a pseudonymous gay priest], who concede the diocese had long been a ‘cesspit of toxicity’, insisted Mullally — who oversaw both the exit interviews and the brain dump investigations — was to blame. . .

“When her name comes up many of the clergy use nicknames such as ‘The Dame’ or even ‘Bedpan’ — a reference to her nursing background. . . Another [pseudonymised] priest said, as well as old-fashioned misogyny, many of the old guard also hated that ‘they can’t get away with nearly as much as they used to’.”

Wyatt’s last conclusion is the most interesting: that the safeguarding culture itself was respons­ible for this monstrous safeguarding failure. By removing any element of fallible human judgement, and ensuring that any and all allega­tions were treated as true, and their subjects guilty until proved innocent, the bureaucratic process turned into a machine that would infallibly grind some victims into the dust. When that happened, all involved honestly pleaded that they were only following due process.

IT ALL does make me feel a certain sympathy for Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB). If their views on homosexuality have been informed by contact with some of the gay subcultures in the diocese of London, these are easier to understand. But it’s notable that, when they came to deal with the sadistic abuser in their own ranks, John Smyth (News, 10 February 2017), they seem to have extended to him the same sort of tolerance and protection.

Andrew Graystone’s long piece on Sir Paul Marshall, the millionaire Evangelical influencer, contained little that will be news about HTB to the readers of the Church Times (News, 1 March), although the snippet that the former Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, had formed a folk duo with Marshall at Oxford did amuse me.

The more serious scoop was that the Marshall/HTB nexus had managed to get government funding for their resource churches under a Covid-recovery programme, Match Challenge. Graystone reveals: “Marshall’s charities, the CRT and Ark, each received handouts of between £4m and £5m from the Match Challenge in 2020. Marshall met Diana Barran, Conservative peer and then under secretary of state at the Department for Culture, twice at the end of that year. He had donated, perfectly properly, £500,000 to the Conservative Party in late 2019.”

Ark does education: CRT does HTB church-plants. “The CRT declared income of almost £10m in 2020, much of it from the one-off grant of £4m of taxpayers’ money from the Match Challenge. It’s not clear where the initial £4m to be matched came from, given that CRT’s entire turnover for the previous year had been just £2.4m.”

The CRT in turn gave £500,000 to HTB, perhaps the parish church least in need of half a million quid in all of Great Britain. One of the strengths of Graystone’s piece is that you understand that this is not because Marshall believes it needs the money most, but because he believes it will spend it best, because HTB is doing the Lord’s work — and, of course, that the rest of the Church of England isn’t.

I COULD go on: the Telegraph carried a couple of now routine anti-C of E hatchet pieces. But I’d urge you, instead, to read Nick Spencer’s essay, on the Theos website (and see also his column), on the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the vastly influential author of Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky used science to demolish the picture of rational man, and replaced it with a figure familiar to 17th-century Puritans: humans as creatures whose faculties are profoundly corrupted by exigencies of evolution, i.e. for the Christians, by the Fall.

It’s a lovely piece of intellectual archaeology, except that, when this buried tomb is opened, the inhabitants are still alive and talking to us.

A longer version of Tim Wyatt’s article is available to his paying Substack subscribers.

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