“Ten years ago I was approached about a safeguarding allegation regarding a priest. I was able to see the survivor and begin to hear what was a difficult and harrowing story. However, I was moving between roles at the time and although I did speak with colleagues about the actions that needed to be taken, I failed to ensure that these were properly documented and followed through in the way I would expect. Now that I have discovered that this incident was not followed up as it should have been, I am deeply distressed and extremely sorry. Because this has recently come to light, I am both thankful that it is being addressed properly now, but also mindful that in my new position as Archbishop of York it is absolutely essential that I am open and transparent about the need for the whole of our church to be scrupulously honest with each other about any failings in safeguarding.
“In the past, the Church of England has been too quick to protect its own reputation and slow to admit its failings. This must change. Those in public office should be subject to scrutiny. Good safeguarding is an absolute priority for the Church of England and for me personally.
“In the diocese of Chelmsford where I have served for the past 10 years, I have been helped by survivors I have worked with as well as a first rate safeguarding team to have a much greater understanding of why safeguarding itself is so important and how we must be prepared to confront our failings and learn from them. Therefore, although I am embarrassed that I did not follow this up as scrupulously as I should have done 10 years ago, I want to go on the record about what has happened in order to demonstrate a new spirit of openness and transparency over how we ensure that the church is as safe as it can be, that survivors are listened to and dealt with honestly, and perpetrators brought to justice.
Statement from Archbishop Justin
“I have been fully briefed on this matter and have read the independent legal advice. I have also spoken at length with Stephen. He clearly should have informed the authorities and made fuller notes of what he did in this case. He has shown humility in immediately admitting he failed to act as he should have done in this case, when the matter was raised with him by the NST this year. He has also said so publicly. I am also reassured that he did refer it on and saw the significance of offering support and contacting the survivor who must always be the priority. While I cannot comment further on this case, our IICSA hearings have shown the journey the Church is still on to be a safer place for all and I pray that this experience will strengthen his commitment to safeguarding and ministry as the Archbishop of York.
“I am looking forward to working with Stephen and we commit ourselves to continue to learn lessons and to recognise and accept we all need to be open and forthright in striving to make the church a safe place for all. This means listening to survivors and constantly examining our own actions and recognising our vulnerability as well as calling on all to demonstrate our commitment to care for all.”
Statement from National Safeguarding Team
“Concerns were referred to the National Safeguarding Team, NST, earlier this year about the handling of a case by Bishop Stephen 10 years ago after information came to light from a clergy file. The concerns raised were about the action taken following allegations of domestic abuse perpetrated by a parish priest. At the time Bishop Stephen responded to the survivor, offered support and subsequently referred the allegation within the diocese, but did not ensure the matter was referred to the statutory authorities or directly to the diocesan safeguarding adviser. The NST has now investigated the matter, taken independent advice and interviewed Bishop Stephen.
“He has shown insight and humility in accepting that he failed to act as he should have done in relation to a serious matter and acknowledged his own ability to fully recognise and respond to safeguarding concerns in 2010 was compromised by a lack of training and understanding, which he has subsequently sought to address.
“The NST investigation concluded that he posed no current risk of not responding appropriately to safeguarding disclosures and that informal action was a reasonable and proportionate response to the case.”
The Charity Commission has told both sides in the dispute at Christ Church, Oxford, to enter into a mediation process.
The Commission is concerned that the very protracted and public dispute between the College’s governing body and its Dean is damaging to the reputation of the charity, and affecting its ability to govern itself.
The situation risks harming the reputation of charity more generally, in the eyes of the public.
Both parties in this dispute have called on the Charity Commission to intervene further. However, any regulatory intervention can be effective only if relationships between all parties are stable. The Commission has therefore today told the parties to the dispute that it expects them to enter into formal mediation within a limited time frame, with a mediator selected by the Commission, and without delay.
Helen Stephenson, Charity Commission Chief Executive, said:
It is not our job, as charity regulator, to referee disputes. Our role is, instead, to ensure that charities are governed effectively, charitable funds are properly accounted for, and trust in charity is maintained. In these exceptional circumstances, we have told the parties to the dispute to enter mediation, without which it is difficult to resolve issues in the charity in any reasonable timescale.
The Commission will not comment further on the case until the mediation has been completed.
It has also asked both sides to refrain from public, or private, commentary whilst the mediation process takes place.
25 June 2020
The ongoing dispute between Christ Church and the Dean has undoubtedly gone on for far too long. Its impact on Christ Church’s daily life, its staff, students, teaching and research, all risk being affected without the prospect of a resolution. We were therefore delighted to learn at our meeting with the Charity Commission today that it has now agreed to intervene. For some time, we have sought to address the impasse through independent mediation, but that process was unfortunately put on hold earlier this year. We hope that the Dean responds quickly and positively to the Commission’s announcement and we look forward to attending the mediation it is facilitating as soon as possible.
Christ Church has published a statement on its website, now changed from the version published on 22 June.
It appears from this that the French authorities had made no contact with anyone in Oxford prior to the court’s decision. However, it has today been admitted by the college that Professor Joosten was one of the 41 signatories of the letter to the Charity Commission which the Church Timesdescribed as accusing Dr Percy of “sacrificing the best interests of Christ Church to his own”.
Sir, — In response to your report “C of E is ‘being used’ in campaign against Dean of Christ Church” (News, 19 June), I would like to point out that the National Safeguarding Team (NST) has no view about, and is not involved in, the wider issues relating to the College and the Dean.
When a referral is made alleging that a senior member of the clergy has not fulfilled his or her safeguarding responsibilities, the NST has a duty to consider the management of any safeguarding risk. In this case, an independent safeguarding person has been asked to investigate and report back.
As I am sure your readers would agree, the Church must take all safeguarding issues very seriously, and all this is being done in accordance with the House of Bishops guidelines. For reference, the Dean of Christ Church is a “Church officer” within the definition contained in the House of Bishops practice guidance.
There is no agenda behind this and we hope that with the cooperation of all concerned this matter can be concluded quickly.
The House of Bishops has confirmed, following a meeting held by Zoom on Wednesday 24 June, that it will proceed with the publication of the Living in Love and Faith teaching and learning resources in early November this year.
The publication of the resources, originally scheduled for July 2020, had been deferred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioned by the House of Bishops and led by the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, the aim of the Living in Love and Faith project is to help the whole Church to learn how relationships, marriage and sexuality fit within the bigger picture of a humanity created in the image of God.
Commenting on the decision to proceed in the autumn of 2020, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on all of us and none of us knows what challenges we will face in the months to come.
“The LLF resources are about vital matters which affect the wellbeing of individuals and communities. That is why it is important for the Church to move ahead with publishing the resources as soon as possible.
“They will help the Church to live out its calling to be a people who embody the reconciliation of Christ as together we explore matters of identity, sexuality and marriage.”
The House endorsed the plan to enable bishops, dioceses, deaneries and local church communities to explore the resources together from the beginning of 2021.
The House acknowledged that engagement with the materials will need to be responsive to local contexts and fully recognises the impact of COVID-19 and other challenges on the health, the economy and the wellbeing of the nation. It is envisaged that in 2022 learning and engagement with the materials will move to discernment, decision-making and if necessary, synodical processes. The group that will take this part of the LLF process forward on behalf of the House of Bishops will be led by Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London.
THE Church of England is being “dragged into a vendetta” against the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, General Synod members have been told.
In a letter circulated last week to other Synod members, David Lamming and Martin Sewell characterise the investigation by the National Safeguarding Team (NST) — initiated after a complaint lodged by the Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson, and others (News, 29 May) — as an abuse of the C of E’s processes by “well-connected persons”…
This letter is currently being circulated to members of General Synod of the Church of England, in advance of their virtual meeting in July. There will be two Q&A sessions, and it is hoped that this summary of the situation will encourage Synod members to look carefully into the way the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, is being appallingly treated – not only by the Governing Body of the College, but also now by the National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England.
The authors, lawyers Martin Sewell and David Lamming, have worked tirelessly on the chronic mishandling of the Bishop George Bell case, and it is profoundly disappointing to see many of the problems identified by the Carlile Report seemingly replicated in the case now being considered against Prof Martyn Percy…
The following statement was issued in response to requests from the BBC and Channel 4 news on 17 June 2020.
A planned independent review into the Church of England’s handling of allegations against the late John Smyth QC is currently underway. In the course of that review, new information has come to light regarding Lord Carey, which has been passed to the National Safeguarding Team for immediate attention as per the agreed Terms of Reference for the review.
A Core Group was formed, according to House of Bishops Guidance, and it advised the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, to withdraw Lord Carey’s Permission to Officiate (PTO) while the matter is investigated.
Lord Carey’s PTO was revoked by the Bishop of Oxford on Wednesday 17 June. Lord Carey is currently unauthorised to undertake any form of ministry in the Diocese until further notice.
While the investigation and review are ongoing, we will not be commenting further on this matter. However, for the avoidance of doubt, we wish to make clear that the new information received relates only to the review currently underway, and that there has not been an allegation of abuse made against Lord Carey.
Notes for editors:
In the wake of Dame Moira Gibb’s review, Lord Carey stood down from the role of Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Oxford in June 2017, and withdrew from public ministry for a season. Lord Carey accepted the criticisms made of him at the time and apologised to the victims of Peter Ball.
In February 2018 Lord Carey contacted the Diocese of Oxford to request PTO (permission to officiate). Following senior legal opinion, PTO was granted by the Bishop of Oxford later the same month to allow Lord Carey to undertake his priestly ministry at the church where he worships. The granting of PTO was conditional on no further concerns coming to light.
As with all granting of PTO’s, Lord Carey was subject to a fresh DBS check and appropriate safeguarding training at the time.
“I am bewildered and dismayed to receive the news a short time ago that due to ‘concerns’ being raised during the review of John Smyth QC I have had my PTO revoked. I have been given no information on the nature of these ‘concerns’ and have no memory of meeting Mr Smyth. In 2018 the National Safeguarding Team and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury invited me to meet with them to arrange safeguarding training and facilitate a meeting with survivors of Peter Ball’s abuse. They have failed to deliver action on either of these matters which were the subject of mutually agreed action. As a result, I have little confidence in their ability to pursue a proper investigation.”
According to Anglican Ink, the statement from Lord Carey as reported above is incomplete. Their report has an additional sentence:
“As a result, I have little confidence in their ability to pursue a proper investigation. I understand from the testimony of victims and survivors of clerical abuse that this lack of confidence is widely shared.”
…Another question that is being asked by many of us is this. If Martyn Percy deserved investigation over safeguarding issues with apparently such flimsy evidence being offered, then why not are other more pressing cases given attention? There are several outstanding CDM claims against serving bishops which lie on file. Presumably these can now be activated by victims and complainants? There is the case of Jonathan Fletcher which seems to be ignored by central church authorities, even though it reached front-page headlines of the Daily Telegraph. If the allegations against Fletcher are even half-true, he still poses a safeguarding threat which should be a priority for the NST. To focus on Martyn, who poses no such threat, and ignore Fletcher can only be described as a deeply political choice.
Unless someone explains the real basis for NST involvement in the Christ Church factional disputes, Martyn’s supporters will conclude that the NST has become a political tool at the service of certain unaccountable factions within the Church of England. If that surmise is correct, one would hope that the General Synod would wake up to this fact and vote the NST out of existence. We cannot afford to have a rogue structure within the Church which operates with so much secrecy, factionalism and sometimes overt bullying. Whoever authorised the unleashing of the NST on Martyn Percy has been responsible for taking an enormous gamble with the Church’s assets and reputation. They have gambled on an outcome which, even if successful at one level, does no credit to the Church. If the anonymous power brokers are, however, unsuccessful in what they are doing in Oxford, this may have the effect of destroying the NST structure altogether and their future ability to exercise power through it.
Christ Church has suffered losses of more than £3m in bequests and donations due to an ongoing “farce” over the Dean’s tenure, it is claimed.
A row between the Oxford college’s governing body and the Very Rev Martyn Percy has become increasingly bitter, fuelled by accusations that the latter’s critics will stop at nothing to have him deposed.
Rev Jonathan Aitken, one of Dr Percy’s allies, has now claimed that the dispute is costing the college dearly, not just in legal fees and tribunal costs but also in lost donations as alumni take action to make their voices heard.
He accused the Censors, dons who take on responsibility for the academic life of the college, of becoming “financial alcoholics” who could not stop pouring away the charitable funds of the college on legal fees.
“The failed coup and the continuing attacks by the Censors and their allies on the Dean have been a financial catastrophe for Christ Church,” he told the Telegraph.
“The majority of the governing body have not been told what the costs are and do not know, to the nearest million, what they might be.
“But as a conservative estimate, legal bills are already in excess of £2.5m.”
This is a comprehensive document. The whole needs to be read carefully before allowing any opening for individual prayer, which is now permitted (date was changed by Government yesterday) from tomorrow, Saturday.
A PDF copy of the Government document, at the time of writing is available here.
The House of Bishops today discussed a range of issues around COVID-19 and approved further advice on funerals, the celebration of Holy Communion and ordinations.
The guidance advises that funerals may be carried out in church buildings from June 15.
It has been issued in light of the easing of restrictions on individual private prayer in places of worship, the reduction in death rates linked to Covid-19 and the pastoral needs of those who have been bereaved. It is in line with guidance from Public Health England.
In keeping with the Church of England’s wider approach to a phased reopening of places of worship, it will be up to each diocesan bishop and senior team how they use the guidance to support churches and cathedrals depending on their local context.
The House noted that this guidance is permissive and not prescriptive. If a building could not open because staff were ill or shielding or could not be easily cleaned, for example, it would be a local decision by those with authority over the building as to whether the permission was used or not.
The funeral may take place at a local crematorium or cemetery if the decision is taken not to open the church as is the case now.
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said: “While the restrictions on everyday life necessary to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have been difficult for us all, I’m only too aware that those who have lost loved ones have suffered most of all. I know that the grieving process has been even more difficult because of the limitations on funerals themselves.
“There are now least some signs of hope of an improvement with a fall both in the number of new infections and the death rate, but there will still, sadly, have to be significant limitations on how we mark funerals for some time to come.
“Nevertheless the House of Bishops has agreed that in light of the changing circumstances it is time to review our advice so that it will soon be possible for funeral services to be conducted inside church buildings following Government guidelines.
“At the same time we are actively planning for a wider phased reopening of places of worship when it is safe and practical to do so and look forward to the time when we can meet and worship together again in our buildings which mean so much to so many.”
THIS IS A PLANNING DOCUMENT ONLY. IT WILL BE UPDATED AND CONTENT MAY CHANGE ONCE GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE ON REOPENING PLACES OF WORSHIP HAS BEEN PUBLISHED. We are awaiting clarification from government on the extent and nature of what ‘supervised individual prayer’ means and what exactly will be required. We will update this document as further information becomes available. SUPERSEDED by version 3 at 17.15 Friday
Here’s an extract (but do read the whole article):
…But more disturbingly, I have heard on good authority and am aware that others have also heard, that at a recent Governing Board of the college, one of the senior college figures boasted to the Trustees “the wily Censors have made sure they complained to the right part of the National Safeguarding Team”. If true, both ends of that statement are extraordinary. I don’t know if the NST are aware of this. I don’t imagine so. There would be an outcry across the Church if the NST had been complicit in their own ugly appropriation. It would raise questions about who is controlling different bits of this structure, and in particular who is pulling the strings of the “right part” of the National Safeguarding Team. I suspect Synod members would throw their hands up in horror and ask: how the hell does one rescue a Church’s national safeguarding so far down a road of ethical dysfunctionality?
But this core group sets an interesting precedent. Quite a few Church of England Bishops have been accused of safeguarding failings, cover up, poor response or no response towards survivors, gaslighting, blanking and fogging, dishonesty – yet how many have had core groups convened about them by the National Safeguarding Team? It would now seem that a complaint from a single source against a senior church officer is no longer time-limited, but will result in the formation of a core group on which the complainant can be personally represented. The person under investigation will presumably be asked to step aside from safeguarding responsibilities during the investigation. Although the circumstances in which this has come about are ugly and point to church officialdom targeting a well-known critic – the situation has unexpected potential for survivors. There are a significant number of survivors who have credible and legitimate claims that serving bishops have mishandled disclosures of abuse or have been dishonest in their response. We might welcome the opportunity to have core groups established, and to have complaints acted upon at last. I suspect the number of bishops who could feasibly be asked to stand down through such action might be surprising…
Again, you need to read the whole article, but here’s a taster
…a few weeks ago Professor Biggar received a letter from the College’s lawyers on behalf of the Governing Body, demanding that the McDonald Centre remove all references to Christ Church from its website, including the Centre’s logo, which has the appearance of the famous Tom Tower. The request was effectively to sever all association between the McDonald Centre and Christ Church.
It is curious, after more than a decade of harmonious scholarship and manifest fraternal accord, that that the Governing Body or ‘Censors’ of Christ Church would seek suddenly to censor this academic relationship. Curious, that is, until you consider that Nigel Biggar has been vocal and very public in his defence of Dean Martyn Percy, who is currently being bullied out of his job by a faction of Censors. Having failed to tarnish him with “conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature“, they have now turned for assistance to the Church of England to try and oust him for “a consistent lack of moral compass“…
on Monday, 8 June 2020 at 3.40 pm by Simon Sarmiento
categorised as Church of England
The Chelmsford Diocesan Synod recently considered plans put forward to “achieve financial resilience”. The papers are published on the diocesan website, and may well be of wider interest as other dioceses consider the same issues.
One aspect of that plan is to accelerate the reduction of stipendiary incumbent posts, so as to achieve in 2021 what was previously the target for 2025, i.e. from 275 (as at 31 March 2020) to 215 in the next 18 months. Surprisingly, 48.5 of these posts are already vacant. The detailed plan is described here: An approach to reducing stipendiary numbers.
…In 2018, the Dean cited past safeguarding concerns reported to him as evidence that the college’s procedures were inadequate. Earlier this year, the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team set up a core group to examine the Dean’s handling of those concerns.
The latest issue of Private Eye reports that two members of that core group are complainants from the college, including the Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson. A C of E spokesperson said on Wednesday: “As at any core group, safeguarding leads from relevant bodies or institutions were invited to share information to work out a way forward; in this case from the Cathedral, the College, the Cathedral school, and the diocese.”
The Dean is not formally represented on the core group, though he has been sent its terms of reference.
The spokesperson emphasised: “The core group has never asked the Dean to stand down — he was asked to abide by certain conditions.”
Archbishop Cranmer has a comprehensive report on the latest horrific developments at Christ Church, Oxford here:
Two letters in the Telegraph (scroll down to “Row over Oxford dean”) from Brian Martin and Jimmy James
Another letter in The Times which you can read here.
A letter to Baroness Stowell, Chair of the Charity Commission, signed by 60 persons, has been released. See the PDF copy for the list of signatories (full disclosure: I am one). The text of the letter is copied below.
Dear Lady Stowell
You recently received a letter from some individual trustees of Christ Church Oxford making a series of allegations against their Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy.
We wish to express our confidence in Martyn Percy. We know him in our various capacities, as a man of consistently good character, an exceptional scholar, a respected public servant, and an outstanding Christian leader.
We do not speculate on the reasons why some members of the Governing Body of Christ Church wish to go to such extreme lengths to destroy the reputation of their Dean and to break his spirit. But we do know that :
The recent letter is the latest episode in a sustained campaign against the Dean led by senior members of the college Governing Body since his appointment.
The specific allegations against Martyn Percy have changed over time, but each allegation has been disproved. In August of last year Dean Percy was wholly exonerated after an extensive investigation by Sir Andrew Smith, a retired High Court judge.
The signatories of the letter are far from objective. Several of them were revealed by Sir Andrew to have employed devious methods and offensive language in their efforts to break his resolve, and some will be parties to an Employment Tribunal tobe heard next year.
The grievances in the letter are a set of untested and gratuitous assertions for which no evidence is provided.
The insinuation that Dean Percy personally represents a safeguarding risk is abhorrent and wholly unjustified.
The suggestion that he “lacks a moral compass” is so far from the truth as to be laughable, were it not so insulting.
We believe that Martyn Percy is a victim of gross injustice and malice. We wish to see this damaging business resolved justly, and with the minimum delay, so that he can continue to exercise his gifts in leading Christ Church.
Statement on latest Government guidance on coronavirus
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said: “We note from the Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy that churches could be open from July as part of the conditional and phased plan to begin lifting the lockdown. We look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in our church buildings.
“We are examining what steps we will need to take to do so safely and are actively planning ahead in preparation. We strongly support the Government’s approach of continuing to suppress the transmission of the virus and accordingly, we recognise that at this time public worship cannot return in the interests of public health and safety.”
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Walesissued this:
The timing and the manner of the opening of churches touches profound sensitivities and spiritual needs. The Government’s document and statements fail to recognise this.
The Government’s position, established today, includes these steps aimed at opening churches as soon as possible: the establishment of a task force for places of worship, to work closely with ‘stakeholders’ in ensuring that premises are COVID-19 secure; and heeding the experience of other countries in which churches are already open for worship.
In dialogue with the Government, the Catholic Church will continue its engagement in this process and has already submitted a detailed plan, in full accordance with public health guidelines, for churches to be opened for private prayer.
The Church is ready to play its full part in the task force, understanding that this includes the possible earlier use of churches for private prayer, as a first safe step towards their use for public worship.
Will these two organisations now consult each other? The Catholic bishops took full advantage from the outset of the government regulations, to maintain livestreamed worship from inside their church buildings.
Update 1 Wednesday evening
The Government has announced that Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, will chair a taskforce to develop plans for the re-opening of “places of worship, including faith, community and public buildings”. For more detail see Reopening of places of worship in England: breaking news and the government announcement is here.
Notice from House of Bishops meeting
The House of Bishop met by Zoom today. The bishops prayed together and continued to discuss all matters relating to the COVID 19 pandemic and how they affect the church.
Notice from House of Bishops meeting The House of Bishops met today (on Zoom) where the various impacts of Covid-19 on a wide range of church matters and national issues were discussed. The Bishops continued in prayer for the victims and families of those most affected.
on Tuesday, 12 May 2020 at 4.12 pm by Simon Sarmiento
categorised as Church of England
Yesterday Bishop Stephen Cottrell had a letter published in The Times. Text available here.
The following letter from Bishop Richard Llewellin appears in The Times today, in response.
SHIFTING THE BLAME
Sir, Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s letter (May 11) misses the point. The decision to close buildings for public worship was indeed made by the government, but the instruction (and it was an instruction, not advice) that even our clergy should not enter their own churches for prayer was given by our bishops. That instruction went well beyond what the government required of its citizens, and sent a signal that the C of E was closing down completely. Resourceful clergy have been making the best of it by streaming prayer and worship from their own homes and have, of course, offered ministry alongside their parishioners in many other ways. But kitchen table is not an altar, and living room not a church. These latter are not dispensable things of convenience, but symbols of God’s presence with us and His care for us in these dangerous and difficult times.
The Right Rev Richard Llewellin
Bishop at Lambeth 1999-2004; Canterbury
…The guidance that churches must close completely was given on March 23 in response to the outbreak and has been reviewed “on an ongoing basis”, with the Bishops acting “within Government advice and in line with best public health practice”.
The policy attracted protests, including a letter published in The Times and signed by more than 600 clergy and laity.
The Most Rev Justin Welby used a YouTube message to echo the first Government slogan repeated during the daily ministerial press conferences on coronavirus, saying it was vital that the church “set an example” in following the guidance to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
“By closing the churches, we make a powerful symbol of the need to listen to that message,” he said. Some vicars responded by saying: “Now is the time to revolt.”
Yesterday’s post links to a detailed analysis of the various previous statements from the House of Bishops, which explains why the original “advice” of the House of Bishops, which was more stringent than the government regulations require, provoked criticism.
…As Bishop Peter Selby suggested in an article in The Tablet last week, the result, in effect, has been to “privatise” the Church of England — achieving what the National Secular Society has failed to do in years of earnest campaigning.
How trite has been the little trope that “The Church is people, not buildings,” which totally misses the point about the public and institutional nature of the Church. We are now a domestic, members-only Church, with nothing to say to the nation about death, sacrifice, or charity, and nothing to plead before God on behalf of us all.
What we are left with is what the narrator in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India describes as “poor little talkative Christianity”, delighted with itself for having mastered Zoom meetings, and talking excitedly about new mission opportunities, while refusing, in some cases, “for safety reasons”, even to put the church notices through the doors of those who have no access to the internet. There are many priests, of course, who have battled their way through this, still finding ways to connect with the needy and vulnerable — even, sometimes, and with a bad conscience, creeping into their churches to pray…
…Such a concession – the apparent lack of conviction that the Church of England has anything to offer the situation – is deeply disheartening. The Church of England’s experience of the disasters of 2017 shows it also to be wrong.
Why is it that the Church of England now appears to be content to throw away the green shoots of its new life that everybody else seems to have noticed in 2017?
The parallels between the Queen and Aberfan and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Covid-19 are not, I suggest, superficial and they are not coincidental. As valid and cogent as the five reasons articulated by the Archbishop may be, they do not paint the full picture. The Bishops’ decision, the Aberfan story suggests, is motivated, at least in part, by fear. The fear is that the Church of England has little to offer to Covid-19 society, and that if offered, it would likely be judged irrelevant, and therefore self-indulgent and dangerous.
Ironically, the Archbishop’s decision to withdraw to his palace, away from public consciousness, and to direct his bishops and priests to do likewise, just as in the case of the withdrawal of the Queen after Aberfan and the death of Diana, raises the spectre of precisely the outcome the Archbishop and the Church of England are keen to avoid. Like Oedipus and the Queen, the Archbishop, in his attempt to ‘do the right thing’, risks bringing about the very disaster of which he himself has often warned – that the churches might be empty by the end of his unexpectedly long tenure at Canterbury….
…However, this means that the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what is happening is denied [the bishops] – and therefore perhaps the responsibility for this falls on those of us who are retired and on the sidelines in this situation, locked down with nothing else to do but think and write (the excellent article by +Peter Selby in the Tablet last week was a superb example of this). In that spirit I offer these reflections in an attempt to “speak the truth in love” to my episcopal friends and former colleagues – and pray that they might be able to receive it, although I say hard things, in that same spirit. And I also apologise for any offence or hurt caused by the previous circulation of these reflections – that was not my intent, sorry.
This is because I find the Statement profoundly worrying in its use of language. It would have been a golden opportunity, in an admittedly extremely complex and fast-moving situation to give the nation an example of how Christians can admit to having made a mistake, change their minds (which is what ‘repentance’, metanoia, means in Greek), apologise, and seek forgiveness and a new way forward in life – as indeed I am trying to do in this amended version. Instead, I fear that its use of language, with its ‘doublethink’, is regrettably typical more of the approach being taken by leading politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, than that of teachers of the faith and shepherds of Christ’s flock…
I do recommend that you read the whole of his article, carefully.
House of Bishops backs phased approach to revising access to church buildings
The House of Bishops met via Zoom this afternoon, as it has done regularly throughout the current pandemic, and continued to review advice to clergy on the Church’s efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, to protect the vulnerable and health services.
In a discussion led by the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, who chairs a group examining how the Church of England might proceed once the current restrictions for COVID-19 are relaxed or lifted, the House of Bishops recognised that there have been some welcome signs of improvement in the current situation, including a reduction in new cases and hospital admissions giving evidence for hope.
While church buildings remain closed for public worship, in line with Government advice, the Bishops agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions, in time and in parallel with the Government’s approach, with three broad stages as infection levels improve:
An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken
Subsequently access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions
Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this
The Bishops agreed that the decision on the timing of when to implement the revised advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation.
The Bishops were clear once again that this is guidance – not an instruction or law – and that it will be constantly reviewed depending on the national situation.
National Church of England guidance will be updated in the coming days with further advice on how the staged process could be implemented and with factors and information for dioceses to consider.
Bishop Sarah said: “We are hugely grateful for all that our churches and clergy have been doing to support the Government’s message to stay at home, to support the NHS, and to save lives.
“While it is clear there will be no imminent return to normality, the emphasis is now turning towards how and when aspects of social distancing can be eased, although we remain mindful of the potential risks of a second wave of the virus.
“Nevertheless, it now makes sense for us to start to look ahead to the potential easing of restrictions so that our clergy and churches can be prepared.”
As the Bishops of the Church of England meet to consider their next steps in response to the pandemic, we call on them to change their current policy, which prevents clergy from visiting their churches to pray or broadcast a service. Bishop Peter Selby in The Tablet last week (‘Is Anglicanism going private?’, 30th April 2020), speaks for many laity and clergy about the Church of England’s current approach. We fear, like him, that ‘this may mark a decisive point in the retreat of the Church of England from the public to the private realm’. We regard what has happened to be a failure of the Church’s responsibility to the nation, stifling our prophetic witness and defence of the poor, and ask for open discussion and accountability through the Church’s structures and other forums regarding the processes and thinking which led to these decisions.
It is widely agreed that the temporary closure of churches for public worship is necessary in the current crisis. However, the broadcast of services from a closed church is explicitly permitted by government guidelines, yet unlike almost all other Churches in these isles, the Church of England has gone beyond this advice. Without detracting from the excellent worship offered by many clergy in their homes, domestic settings cannot replace the church buildings whose architecture, symbolism and history represent the consecration of our public life. Moreover, Church of England clergy have also been prevented from ministering in schools educating the children of key workers and to the sick and dying in hospitals.
As the government is talking about the hope of easing the national lockdown could the Church of England now offer similar hope to its people with this first step?
There has been some confusion about the statement published by Titus Trust on 3rd April 2020 responding to the settlement of claims by three victims of John Smyth. I hope these facts will clarify the situation.
John Smyth’s known victims currently number in excess of 110. The Titus Trust has settled with just three of them. The three men initiated a civil action because, after several years of being blanked and ignored by the trust, they felt that this was the only way to force the trust to confront its responsibilities.
In response, the Titus Trust has spent well in excess of £100,000 in legal fees defending the civil claim. This is many times the amount that the claimants will receive in settlement. In addition, the trust has retained one of the most expensive secular Public Relations consultancies in the UK to manage their profile. The Titus Trust had an income of £1,934,000 last year, of which £1,078,000 was donations.
The three claimants were given no prior sight of the statement, which was released by the Titus Trust without warning on a Friday evening, 3rd April 2020.
The Titus Trust statement, and the settlement itself, contains no admission of liability or involvement in Smyth’s abuse, no reference to the involvement of key members of the Iwerne network in arranging Smyth’s removal to Africa, no acknowledgement of his continuing abuse there over three decades, and no reference to the covering-up of Smyth’s abuse since it was disclosed in 1982. Indeed, the settlement repeats several times their assertion that the Titus Trust was not and is not responsible in any way for Smyth’s abuse. This is in spite of the fact that there is a significant continuity in activities, personnel and culture between Titus Trust and its predecessor. In terms of apology, all that the statement says is, “We are sorry that the Titus Trust’s earlier public statements were inadequate as explanations of the relevant facts and history and that some of the language the Trust has used in public statements about these matters has prompted anger on the part of some survivors and others.” They are sorry for their language.
The Titus Trust continues to maintain that the Iwerne camps network was the responsibility of the Scripture Union.
Reviews and inquiries
The Titus statement describes three “actions” that they say that have taken, or are taking, in response to the revelations of abuse by John Smyth.
i) A full independent review of safeguarding practices
A review was conducted in 2018 by the reputable independent safeguarding consultancy thirtyone:eight. It examined safeguarding on camps and activities currently run by the trust. Titus Trust has not published this review. The trust is within its rights to keep such a review confidential, though in the circumstances it might have helped public confidence if it had been published.
Their statement of April 2020 says that “among other things, [the review] has included receiving training in pastoral care and supporting survivors of abuse.” It is not clear what this means, since I am not aware that any survivor of abuse has received any pastoral care or support from the trust. The three men who brought the civil action against Titus Trust have received no contact from the trust at all since the abuse became public knowledge.
ii) An internal Cultural Review
The statement says that “an internal Cultural Review has been carried out that considered aspects of our traditions and practices.” No information about this review has been published. This review was not conducted by thirtyone:eight. It is not clear what aspects of culture this review covered, who conducted it, what was concluded, or what if anything has changed.
iii) An independent Cultural review
The statement says that “an independent Cultural Review will begin shortly” that will “enable us to look honestly at our culture and its impact on individual behaviour.” This review has not yet taken place, and no information about it has been published. It is not clear what it will cover, what form it will take, who will conduct it, when it will take place, or whether it will be published.
The statement also makes reference to “the Review into John Smyth led by Keith Makin.” This review was announced by the Church of England in August 2018, commissioned in August 2018 and begun in October 2019. The Makin Review was originally due to be completed by April 2020, but this was put back to June 2020. The current best estimate is that it may be complete by early Summer 2021.
The Makin Review is one of three inquiries currently being conducted into the abuse by John Smyth. Clearly the existence of three separate reviews is far from ideal, and causes additional suffering to the victims. It became necessary to conduct separate reviews because The Titus Trust refused to cooperate with one overall review when it was first proposed, insisting that they had no connection with John Smyth. Smyth was the chair of the Iwerne Trust, which was the predecessor of the Titus Trust.
More recently the Titus Trust has agreed to cooperate with the Makin inquiry, the civil claimants having made that a condition of the settlement of their claim. We cannot yet know what the extent of that cooperation will be. The Titus Trust is not conducting its own review into the activities of John Smyth.
In addition to the well-publicised abuse by John Smyth, there have been at least four other corroborated instances of abuse against boys and young men by members of the Iwerne network. Others are under investigation.
Victims of John Smyth continue to believe that the Titus Trust should close.