Comments: Church of England publishes part of Elliott report into sexual abuse case

It would be very good to examine all these allegations thoroughly. Any apology should come from Archbishop Welby or it would have little value. Everyone can think of these tragedies in their prayers. I think the Church needs to confront the past so that it can remain important in the future.

Posted by Kate Odling at Tuesday, 15 March 2016 at 3:42pm GMT

"Many listened sympathetically; some offered absolution. But none took action or advised Joe to do so."

And that willful blindness is the heart of the issue. See no evil, hear no evil. It beggars belief that so many morally bankrupt people have found their way into the church hierarchy, but they have.

These evil men were never called by God; the idea that they were has enabled them. This goes far beyond safeguarding reform, essential as that is: the whole idea of ordained priesthood, based on the assertion of the wannabe priest, assessed by flawed people, needs to be reexamined.

Personally, I'd ditch it, emphasize the priesthood of all believers, and view ministers as people doing a job. The power imbalance created by having a separate priest class is just too high.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 15 March 2016 at 3:42pm GMT

Archbishop Anthony Bloom of blessed memory said “Intercession means an involvement that may spell death, and I am frightened when I hear a congregation of people intercede for one need after the other ... just for the time Evensong lasts.” We pray for victims, so job done. “Holding in prayer” is one of those churchy phrases that is, I fear, risible to those who are not members of the club, and to many of those who are – self included. It generates a picture in my mind’s eye of John Barron as the pompous dean of St Ogg’s. Another pet hate is “seeking the Lord’s will” – puts me in mind of an irregular verb, reverse conjugation, I dreamed up at a synod: He/she/it is consistently unhelpful, and while you speak with a determined voice, it is the Lord’s will that I ....

Posted by Fr William at Tuesday, 15 March 2016 at 6:47pm GMT

James, I agree with your sentiment that it shows some priests (and presumably bishops though you shy from that deduction) were not called by God. I will spend time thinking on your solution - it has appeal (I have certain reservations with the idea of secondary ministry) but there are some practical downsides too.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 15 March 2016 at 9:40pm GMT

"These evil men were never called by God; the idea that they were has enabled them. This goes far beyond safeguarding reform, essential as that is: the whole idea of ordained priesthood, based on the assertion of the wannabe priest, assessed by flawed people, needs to be reexamined." - James Byron -

The reality James - as here so dramtically seen - is that no-one is immune to the propensity for sin and violence; not even Leaders in the Church.

One only has to look at the life of King David, newly portrayed in a current version of his life on film (see kiwianglo) to realise that even this 'Anointed of God' pre-cursor of the Incarnate Jesus; David, King of the Jews; was not immune to sin. This sin was not dissimilar to that of the 'priestly-anointed' in this blog-piece.

Disappointing though it may be - especially to pious people - the Church is not a mausoleum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. God help us!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 15 March 2016 at 11:06pm GMT

An alternative to redefining the priesthood (something that, I recogize, would provoke furious resistance from the rump of Anglo-Catholicism) would be reintroducing laicization. Unbelievably, England abolished the penalty of unfrocking over a decade back. As canon law stands, a child molester and his accomplices stay priests and bishops until their dying day.

Beyond that, the disciplinary process needs to be separated from the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Bishops are charged with disciplining the very priests they've colluded with. The conflict of interest is just too great. Frequently, clergy defend clergy come what may. The blue wall of silence has nothing on these guys.

What's needed is an Anglican juge d'instruction. A qualified lawyer wholly separate from the priesthood, answerable to no bishop, with sweeping powers to tear apart the lives of priests and bishops in search of the truth, and the power to summarily suspend, and commit to trial before a panel of laity, any member of the clergy found to be complicit in these evil acts.

No one expects the Anglican inquisition, but to root this cancer out, it needs to happen.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 15 March 2016 at 11:51pm GMT

"What's needed is an Anglican juge d'instruction. A qualified lawyer wholly separate from the priesthood, answerable to no bishop, with sweeping powers to tear apart the lives of priests and bishops in search of the truth"

One might say that this is the role of the police, social services and the CPS. And had the CofE reported what were prima facie crimes to the authorities,, they might have acted. Instead, by concealing the events, any hope of finding the truth is lost. For so long as the Anglican Church thinks of itself as being one of the authorities, whose pastoral and disciplinary functions substitute for the actual authorities, this sort of horror will continue.

It appears that the sins - I use the word advisedly and carefully - of the Catholic Church were sins of other churches too. Treating the victims as deserving at best sympathy but never justice, and the perpetrators as needing at most rehabilitation but never punishment, always with a focus of concealment so as not to draw attention to the problem, was never going to end justly. A generation of clerics threw children to the wolves for the "good" of the church, apparently not realising that even by their own sinful, wrong and corrupt lights, their project could not succeed. The concealment would not last, and when it broke, the impact on the churches would be far worse than had they admitted the problem at the outset. They turned the transgressions of individuals into a plot by the whole, so victims were not just failed by individual priests, but failed by their church.

That an organisation contains sexual predators is inevitable. It is the mark of the organisation how it deals with the problem when it arises. Clerics of the past, and some of the present, attempted to show that the churches did not have such a problem and though that the admission would be worse than good responses. They were clamorously wrong, and found themselves co-opted to the interests, if not the cause, of abusers. Shame on them. They traded the abuse of individuals by individuals into the abuse of whole by the whole. Shame on them, and shame on those who continue to cover up these sins.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 7:51am GMT

I've just read the survivor's own testimony "Carried on the Sea of Forgetting". A very courageous and moving story. The sexual abuse issue facing the Church must be met with truth, justice and healing. This is the single most important thing leaders of every denomination have to do: listen and do everything in your power to help.

Posted by Pam at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 7:55am GMT

James Byron,

"sweeping powers to tear apart the lives of priests and one expects the Anglican inquisition, but...."

On whose say so? One plaintiff? Two?

what structures are you putting in place for these lives to be rebuilt by the legal establishment if found that, like certain high profile police investigations, they've gone off on half cock?

somewhere in your fury it's difficult not to see
"better to kill 10 innocent men, than let one guilty man go free"
struggling to get out

Posted by primroseleague at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 8:20am GMT

At least this case won't lead to the kind of George Bell fan club correspondence. But arguably worse, according to the Guardian report, the victim was invited to visit the abuser on his death bed in 1990. It is unconscionable that it has taken 26 years for the Church to act. People on their death bed do not pick up the phone. How could it possibly be that in the light of incontrovertible evidence (the penitence of the abuser) absolutely nothing was done to support the victim by those (there must have been a number) who were intimately involved at the time? There clearly wasn't much reviewing of files in the Diocese of London. Ah .... but of course there would not have been any files.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 9:50am GMT

"The sexual abuse issue facing the Church must be met with truth, justice and healing."

The church and its clerics should face truth and justice. The survivors deserver truth, justice and healing. I am not interested in providing healing for the perpetrators and those that enabled and concealed them: the festering filth that is their conscience is theirs to deal with. For too long the narrative of child abuse in churches is to worry away at the non-question of why the perpetrators do it. The responsibility first and foremost of the church is to stop the perpetrators to stop there being more victims. Instead, it has worried about the poor misunderstood abusers, and how terrible they must feel about being unable to resist the temptations put in front of them.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 10:28am GMT

Interested Observer, of course the authorities should be informed if at all possible, but there'll be plenty cases dropped for lack of evidence, or never started because the complainant doesn't wish to come forward, or has died. Even when a priest's tried and convicted, there needs to be an investigation of accessories whose conduct may not be criminal, but who should be stripped of their vestments and cast out.

Primroseleague, you can find me vigorously defending the presumption of innocence on here. I take none of it back: a judicial investigation (launched after a detailed, credible accusation) isn't a presumption of guilt. Like in France, the investigating judge would be an impartial person seeking the truth, whether that leads to acquittal or a disciplinary tribunal. Do that, and no compensation's necessary.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 3:44pm GMT

£35,000 seems a paltry sum of money to compensate someone for "sadistic" abuse and decades of denial by the Church.
“I am … deeply sorry for the hurt I have caused you.” Paul Butler

I'm no fan of Paul Butler but well done for 'owning' this apology and not writing it in the passive voice.

Posted by Laurence Cunnington at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 4:44pm GMT

It is not my intention in what follows to diminish one whit the terrible suffering that abused children experience, suffering that, for some of them, simply makes it impossible for them to succeed at life. So, please put that aside for now.

But I think of some of the clergy I have known who were guilty of sexual abuse of minors. It was obvious that some of them were themselves immature, sexually, certainly, but in other respects as well, mainly because they had no legitimate way of expressing their sexuality as they grew up. Many of them grew up in the shadow of the church, and its condemnations of what they were, and so they turned for spiritual nourishment to the Church.

But sex is a powerful force, and can break the most sacred and binding oaths. And some of them expressed their sexuality where they thought they could do so privately, where it would never come to light, without being known for their forbidden sexuality. (And many of them got away with it too.) Homosexuals are not (qua homosexual) sexual predators, and do not abuse the young, but I can think of one class of homosexual who might, almost by instinct, betray their most solemn oaths, and these are clergy, who are betrayed by the institution they serve, as well as by their own repugnance, built into them by faith, at their own desires. The men I am recalling here were not, I think, by nature sexual predators, but their hiddenness, and their own sense of personal betrayal (of the Church, their vocation, and the Lord), merely because of their forbidden desires, might well lead them to express a very immature and undeveloped sexuality in the only way and in the only place that they could.

The result is horrific, and still the Church refuses to accept that there is any healthy way to express their sexuality, and still be able to say, without reserve, that God has called them to serve. Can we be so surprised that it should come out in such bizarre and unhealthy ways? Clearly, there are many more such scandals still hidden, that will come to light, and the Church will condemn, as some here have done, the terribly conflicted feelings and actions of priests who, when they began, wanted only to serve the Lord, still ignorant of the sheer titanic power of the urges they had repressed for so long. We may want to save our concern for the young people so badly betrayed, but we can scarcely say that the Church itself played no part in the abuse.

My younger brother used to irritate me, as younger brothers do, and I used to say, "Don't bug me." One day, in aggravation, I said (making up a word on the fly) "Don't be such a bugger". At that my aunt, who had just walked into the room, rose up in a towering rage. For years I wondered what I had done to make her so angry. Imagine the society in which some of those clergy were raised, and what horror they had of what "they" were!

I remember a local Roman Catholic priest say to me once: "I can't have any friends. If I have a friend who is a man, they think I am gay. If I have a friend who is a woman, they think I am having an affair." And as he told me this he was crying. Let's acknowledge the social attitudes that forced young men to look upon themselves with horror, and who tried to hide what they were in a commitment to God and his Church. Surely, they deserve some of our pity, and some of them need healing, just as much as the young people whose youth they stole away.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 7:11pm GMT

I agree with your sentiments Interested Observer. My empathy is with survivors and the hierarchy of the Church has much to answer for. The question of why perpetrators acted (act) they way they did (do) is important though. The cleansing of the temple demands it.

Posted by Pam at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 8:14pm GMT

Responding to James Byron's post above, the March 3rd issue of the Tablet has an interesting article about abuse and the response to it in the Roman Catholic Church and in particular notes that the idea of the priesthood as a 'cast apart' is rooted in Catholic theology. Clericalism may be a distortion of this theology but it pervades the Church of England as much as the Church of Rome. The idea that 'father knows best' is ingrained even in the wings of the Church which would vehemently deny that they share any aspect of the idea of the minister being a 'priest'.

The laity is, of course, complicit in this notion, it absolves us from responsibility. But the notion is one which the clergy by and large enjoy, giving them authority and power which in secular life they couldn't aspire to let alone exercise. It's high time that 'priesthood' was demystified, that Paul's notion of each part of the body having different roles are equally valuable and indeed indispensable is actually implemented in Church organisation and Christian relationships. By doing this the church becomes an association of equal people all equally ministering of which sacramental ministry is one, but just one form.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Wednesday, 16 March 2016 at 8:26pm GMT

Fantastic post by Eric MacDonald. Thank you, Eric. Pam and Richard's comments following, also lock into a similar issue: that the way the Church itself is framed, may contribute to the circumstances where people find themselves repressed, hemmed in, with their hidden sexuality suppressed (even from themselves).

Human sexual nature has a wild, bestial and evolutionary force which, if repressed, may break loose in all kinds of bizarre, uncontrolled, and anarchic eruptions of the subconscious.

Having run a sex offenders' centre I have seen this time and again. Otherwise good and decent lives, wrecked by sexual repression and its bizarre manifestations.

Anywhere that the Church creates a culture of repression, a climate of 'haram', for normal, loving human sexuality... there is a risk and danger, not only to the vulnerable victims of abuse, but to the vulnerable abusers themselves.

Sexual compulsion can be such a wild beast. It can subvert good and decent people. That is exactly why sex offenders often recommit their crimes, because the compulsion goes so deep.

Celibacy is a beautiful calling for some people, but to associate it with a whole class of people is running into trouble. Same when some forms of natural human sexuality are outlawed: then everything goes into hiding, and natural, lovely sexuality gets hidden even from the person themselves, erupting instead in unpredictable compulsion and urge, less controlled, and sometimes strange and sick.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 17 March 2016 at 7:38am GMT

In my former profession, and in many others, the phrase "regulator capture" arises. A regulator is set up to represent the interests of the consumer, be it of utilities, transport, financial products, whatever. That regulator has the best intentions, but the bodies they are supposedly regulating immediately establish a regulatory liaison group whose job it is to manage the relationship with the regulator. Indeed, sometimes the industry gets together to form a trade body with a regulatory liaison group, so that the industry can speak with one single focused voice. They have good people, resources and strong focus, and can explain in detail to the regulator why they are behaving the way they are. Why trains can't run on time. Why broadband costs what it does. Why water metering is necessary. Why certain financial products operate the way they do. The regulators usually don't pay as well, don't have the experience and don't have much in the way of research capability, so in the absence of other narratives, the narratives of the very people they are regulating become normative.

Meanwhile, the people the regulator supposedly represent have none of this. They are not skilled in lobbying, have perhaps unrealistic expectations, and as individuals are unlikely to be able to get a meeting with the regulator at all (I have spent an idle afternoon in the lovely office overlooking the Thames belonging to the head of my then-industry's regulator: I can assure you I was not there as a customer).

And thus, "regulator capture". The interests of the regulator become progressively more and more aligned with the regulated, and the interests of the people supposedly being protected get forgotten. The regulator spends a lot of time with the industry, and understands the terrible pressures under which they operate and how terribly unreasonable the customers are. They spend very little time with the customers, who don't speak with

That's what happened in the churches. The hierarchy understands the problems facing priests. They were, indeed are, priests themselves. The justifications they advance ring true. Meanwhile, the inchoate voices of victims, many of them damaged, disorganised, sometimes incoherent, do not form any sort of narrative. And so, the regulators have been captured.

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 17 March 2016 at 9:26am GMT

I love that concept, Interested Observer. It's really fascinating. Perhaps accounts for why bank regulation has sometimes seemed so toothless, or why Press Complaints bodies can seem almost in collusion with the people they are regulating.

I saw it in Internet governance as well, with ICANN.

You also sometimes suspect that politicians when they come to power get 'captured' - presidents in the US, British politicians and their mandarins.

In neoliberalism, we live in a 'laissez faire' universe. The Establishment must be protected, and should be left to get on with its own governance.

'Looking after your own' seems to have been one of the terrible flaws in various church traditions.

You raise a fascinating and important point about somehow keeping regulators at arm's length from bodies they are supposed to regulate.

Hand in hand with that is the need to create ways that people's complaints can be listened to proactively and with accountability visited on those who might rather 'deal with matters ourselves' and hope problems might go away.

Personally I believe there's one step that should always be taken when sexual abuse may have occurred: it's called the police.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 17 March 2016 at 4:17pm GMT

"I can think of one class of homosexual who might, almost by instinct, betray their most solemn oaths, and these are clergy"

I think I have to challenge Eric MacDonald on this; despite his attempt to disassociate what he has said from the 'homosexual = paedophile' equation, I would suggest it's just feeding into a classic homophobic agenda.

I think I'd want some better evidence than mere supposition- studies by academics, trials perhaps? Please can you provide me with the references? Is there a definite link between repressed *homosexuality* and paedophilia? I think I'd want to be absolutely certain before I start making that connexion, Eric.

What about the vast majority of child abuse that is heterosexual? Where does Bishop George Bell fit into this? Married (to a woman), alleged to have abused a girl?

What about all the closet gay clergy who rather than abuse children end up on the cruising / cottaging / sauna treadmill? Why don't they abuse children?

I would have thought child abuse is something rather more than an expression of repressed homosexuality.

If someone is a repressed homosexual, they're a repressed homosexual. If someone abuses children they are a paedophile. If a repressed homosexual abuses children, they're a paedophile. If a heterosexual abuses children, they're a paedophile.

If repressed sexuality might lead to abusive behaviour, then it is repressed behaviour of either orientation. What *may* be relevant is the repression, not the orientation,

And please, less of the pseudo-scientific nonsense about 'classes of homosexual'.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Thursday, 17 March 2016 at 5:03pm GMT

"Personally I believe there's one step that should always be taken when sexual abuse may have occurred: it's called the police."

I agree, Susannah, but since law enforcement have other priorities, they aren't a complete solution. They're usually limited to investigating a specific crime, and even if they launch a wider inquiry, they can only act on conduct that rises to the level of criminality, and only act where they have evidence. Also, they're in no position to break down networks of secrecy in the church. They've plenty other crimes to investigate. If evidence doesn't emerge, they have to drop it, and move on.

A dedicated investigating judge, devoted to the task, wouldn't replace the police, but they'd certainly complement them, and may well discover evidence to hand over. They'd come to know the usual suspects, build up networks of informers, and have a zeal to pursue the many corrupt priests and bishops. Balzac called the juge d'instruction the most powerful man in France: we need that power unleashed on the hierarchy. A bloodhound judge would ensure that regulator capture never took hold.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 17 March 2016 at 10:59pm GMT
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