See our earlier article Senior Blackburn clergy reflect on IICSA reports on Chichester Diocese and Peter Ball.
The BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme carried an interview by Donna Birrell with the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North (starts at 32 minutes, 45 seconds).
BBC Radio Cornwall has a longer version of this interview, listen over here.
A transcript of this (longer) interview is copied below the fold.
Transcript of full interview with Bishop of Burnley, Philip North. (Shorter interview broadcast on BBC Radio 4, longer version on BBC Radio Cornwall.)
Jesus puts a child in front of the disciples as a model of discipleship, Jesus cared for children, put them at the centre of His community … and yet … as a church we’ve been complicit in appalling acts of abuse and of cover-up of children and I think we need a spirit of repentance now and to change the language and think through the structural changes this might entail.
DB : It’s very interesting you say that because you also make the point that this is about the whole Church and it’s about today…..
I do not doubt that things are infinitely better than they were 10/20 years ago in terms of training of clergy and parishes and safeguarding policies and procedures and good structures and systems in place, BUT to try and think that everything is historical and there are no longer vulnerabilities is just the kind of complacency which allows manipulative people to abuse children. We MUST look very honestly at the Church today a see what further steps we need to take and I think there’s a whole series of structural changes that we still need to consider, which is what we’re pointing to in this letter.
DB : Well you certainly have, in fact, in the letter, and I quote the letter, you say ” Does a de-centralised structure with independent parishes, diocese and cathedrals, create gaps that manipulative people can hide in? So therefore, Bishop Philip, would you be in favour of an independent safeguarding structure and mandatory reporting?
I think in terms of an independent safeguarding structure, that is where we need to have a very serious debate and personally, I would, because separate structures in each diocese don’t allow checks and balances that are needed and it means that safeguarding teams can always be prey to budgeting cuts. There is no evidence of that, but it is going to be a temptation in straightened financial times. It seems to me that an independent national safeguarding team with locally deployed safeguarding officers working in dioceses but answerable to the national team, is going to provide the kind of checks and balances that we need.
I think in some churches there is excellent practice, in others, safeguarding is still a matter of ticking boxes and we need to be very clear that every single local church is absolutely safe for children and families. And I think also we need to look at the way we engage our clergy, so does common tenure allow the level of accountability that is required now?
Is the Clergy Discipline Measure efficient and speedy and fit for purpose? These are big areas that we need to look at.
Evasive talk of culture change just won’t do, because culture is determined by appointments and by structures and by decisions and that is what we’ve got to look at.
DB : Well indeed, in fact the letter refers to “vague and evasive talk of culture change.” So you’re also suggesting that there is an inappropriate culture of deference to clergy, especially senior clergy, which has resulted in “cover-up” and I’m quoting your letter again, and the voices of the vulnerable being silenced?
That’s a significant concern. I think clergy are often unaware of the power they hold, but actually especially senior clergy, occupy extremely influential powerful positions. Abuse is all about the abuse of power and I think we need to be very aware of the power we hold. And I think we need to be much more serious about the checks and balances on power – an unhealthy clericalism, an unhealthy deference to clergy, especially in senior positions, undermines that.
DB : Very interesting. that you as a diocese have chosen to write this letter, it’s been signed and put together by all the senior clergy within the diocese…and a few weeks back, other Bishops, including the Bishop of Bristol, Vivienne Faull, also came out and was scathing in response to the Independent Inquiry report into the Diocese of Chichester and in her words, she said that that culture of tribalism and clericalism still exists today. So it’s quite something that senior figures such as yourself are beginning now to speak out against the culture within the Church, but do you think you will be listened to?
Yes, I think we are. What I’d love to see is that people are beginning to see survivors not as a nuisance that needs to be managed, but people speaking with a prophetic voice to the Church. And I think they need to listen to the voices of survivors and hear very clearly what they’re saying to us. It’s absolutely essential. It’s one thing I’ve learned in 25 years of priestly ministry, it’s the voices that are most worth hearing are the ones that are the most difficult and the most grating. Those important voices, I think if we can hear those who have been abused multipley, because survivors have been abused by a priest or a church leader initially, but then the slowness of the church response, a culture of cover-up, all these things re-abuse and re-abuse and those are the people that I think we now need to hold in the centre of the Church, just as Jesus held that child at the centre of His community.
DB : Why do you think its taken so long to reach this point then, when senior figures such as yourself will actually speak out about it?
I think we’ve been ashamed of our past, I think we’ve blamed and scape-goated perpetrators, rather than thinking about our own structures and about our own culpability and responsibility. I think this is an issue the Church of England has not wanted to face up to and it’s high time we did.
DB : Right, well Bishop Philip, let’s go back to the culture and the structure of the Church, because survivors do indeed say that the process of bringing a case against the Church for sexual abuse is so damaging that it is almost a type of re-abuse. They talk about the process of going through the insurers, of going through the forensic psychiatric reporting which many survivors, I’ve spoken to, have said it is so damaging that effectively it has caused mental health problems, in some cases, it has also caused them to consider taking their own lives, how can the Church try to look again at the way it deals with survivors and their claims?
I am embarrassed by some of the stories that I’ve heard from survivors – people being told they have a pre-disposition to mental health problems, people being told that the priest who abused them was not acting in his capacity as a priest at that time. People being told they are simply chasing the money – all of this is re-abusive. And I’m embarrassed to be honest, to be part of a Church which has said those things to people. And I think one thing that IICSA, I hope, will look at clearly is the relationship between the Church and its professional advisers – its lawyers and its insurers- to ensure that what comes first is the pastoral response, so survivors are treated properly as victims, so that their voices are heard and they have much easier access to the compensation that is their due.
DB : But there’s a lot of money involved isn’t there? the whole structure and the whole insurance culture s worth millions and millions of pounds. Do you really think that in reality, the Church will go some way to reforming this system?
Compensation needs to be moderated to the level of what happened to somebody, but if church leaders have been responsible for ruining someone’s life, then there needs to be financial compensation and that needs to be generous and appropriate and if that has financial implications for us as a Church, then that’s something we have to swallow, I’m afraid.
DB : And will you be asking the Church as well and in the light of IICSA indeed, to perhaps look again at the way it responds to survivors, particularly with regard to the insurers?
What I’ve read from some survivors is alarming and I do hope that those in those positions will look seriously at those relationships.
DB : OK and we touched upon a little earlier the Clergy Discipline Measure. You suggest that it needs reforming, what would you like to see done to that?
I think it needs to be sped up hugely and I think we need to be much more aware of voices of survivors who are involved in often very long processes. From the point of view of a Bishop, it’s a very, very difficult process to implement, it’s very slow and it’s particularly difficult where there is ambiguity, where the level of evidence is uncertain, where you’re sure in your heart that things aren’t quite right.
DB : And as you mentioned, the Independent Inquiry is about to hear another two weeks of evidence into the way the Anglican Church handles allegations of child sexual abuse. How hopeful are you that its findings and recommendations will lead to a safer Church?
I’m sure there will be critical engagement with whatever they find, I’m sure there’ll be proper debate,but I think the mood is changing. I think in the Blackburn Diocese, it’s interesting that it was not difficult to get the six senior clergy to sign up to a letter which said some quite far-reaching things and I’m hearing other Bishops and other senior leaders speak similarly, so I think the culture is changing . I think we’ll be very receptive to what IICSA has to say.
DB : How much notice will the powers that be..for example, Church House and Lambeth Palace, how much notice do they take of something like this do you think?
I think they listen very, very seriously and we look to see what happens. It would be good to see perhaps other dioceses writing similarly and responding similarly to keep the debate going, but the response we’ve had so far, has been a positive one.