IICSA concludes – for now

CaptureI was in London this week for other reasons, but being there meant I was able to attend the IICSA hearing in person on Wednesday. I sat in the public gallery as Archbishop Justin and Bishop Peter Hancock, the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding (disclaimer: my former boss) gave their evidence.

One or two people have said they were grateful for my reflections on the first week of the IICSA hearings into safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester, and disappointed I had not repeated the exercise for the second week. That was the week in which there was some fairly detailed – and horrifying – evidence:

  • about the dysfunctional relationships in the senior team there
  • from some survivors of abuse, one of whom (Professor Julie MacFarlane) was willing to waive her anonymity.  She has campaigned publicly about the shortcomings in the Church’s response to abuse, as well as recounting what happened to her.  (You can read her evidence here – scroll down to p 99)
  • the former Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, was quizzed about his actions in specific cases where abuse by clerics was known, or strongly suspected, to have occurred.(His evidence is here – it’s a long and hard read)
  • his then Archdeacon, Nicholas Reade, was also quizzed, giving an account headlined in the Church Times as “I could not believe a priest would lie to me”. (Read it here)
  • A member of the Archbishops’ Visitation group also gave evidence that week. Rupert Bursell, priest and canon lawyer, was forthright. (Read his evidence here – scroll down to p 26)

All in all, much light was shed on what went wrong, and what one witness described as ‘a paralysis of indecision’ which prevented even those who were ‘on the case’ from taking action.

IICSA panel

Professor Alexis Jay is Chair of the IICSA Panel

But back to this week, and my visit. It was all very clinical and polite. There was no cross-examination. The day had begun with continued evidence from Elizabeth Hall, a former National Safeguarding Adviser.  It’s a sign of how much things have changed that when she was in post, she was the only national-level safeguarding member of staff, and she was shared between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. There are now 13 full-time staff for the C of E alone. She painted a picture of trying to ensure that Chichester’s problems were being properly addressed in Chichester, while trying not to get drawn into a local matter when her responsibilities were both national and inter-church.

Capture Justin

Capture Justin shame

Archbishop Justin’s shame

She was followed by Archbishop Justin, whose admission that he has a sense of shame about it all was one of the few things that the mainstream media have reported about this scandal. Although he made it plain that an Archbishops (whether Carey, Williams or himself) has very little power, only a lot of influence, the lines of questioning continued to be those that implied he could change things if he, so to speak, clicked his fingers.

This lack of understanding of the complicated polity of the Church of England will not, I hope, carry over into IICSA final report and recommendations. To be fair, there was a lot of talk about ‘changing the culture’ as well as ‘changing the Clergy Discipline Measure’ and other ‘mechanical’ changes.

This emphasis on the Bishops’ supposed ability to fix things irritates me, having spent ten years working alongside Bishops. In safeguarding matters, while you can set out all sorts of procedures and legal requirements on Bishops and clergy, in the end, it is down to what happens in a parish. Which means that the volunteer Parish Safeguarding Officers and ordinary parents and volunteers are in the front line of blowing the whistle or reporting that ‘something is not right’.  In my view, good training is what changes the culture, and that has changed beyond measure in the last four years. And that applies at all levels, from parish people to senior clergy and laity.

Archbishop Justin did, by the way, confirm something that Elizabeth Hall had said: that he would refuse to consecrate any new Bishop who had not undergone the appropriate safeguarding training before taking up office. In fact, as they both said, he did plan to cancel a consecration at a few days’ notice in one case – though Ms Hall saved the day by giving the candidate some intense 1:1 training, and the consecration went ahead.

Capture Hancock

Bishop Peter Hancock gives his evidence

Bishop Peter Hancock followed the Archbishop. As the Lead Bishop on Safeguarding, he  was pressed on what disciplinary processes are in place for clerics who offend or do not attend training/ The lawyers’ phrase that a priest “must have due regard to” safeguarding policies came under attack as too weak.

He was the last witness to be interrogated, and so Ms Scolding rather gave him a Cook’s Tour of every issue under the sun, which (to my mind) meant that the whole examination was rather unfocussed. He did put the emphasis on people in parishes by referring to the Government’s current publicity about potential suspicions of terrorist activity: “See it; say it (to the safeguarding professionals); sorted” Is an appropriate motto for anyone in a parish with suspicions.

A couple of grumbles (well, three, actually)

  1. One of the problems I observe with the Inquiry is that while it has had chapter and verse on the Chichester cases, most of them occurred before the general tightening-up that has happened in the last three to five years.  Lawyers and witnesses alike have fallen into the trap of assuming things are still done that way. I know this has frustrated some of those who deal with safeguarding and canon law on a day to day basis. Whatever legal structures are – or may be –  put in place after IICSA, my own experience is that nowadays allegations are investigated and reported, and Bishops and archdeacons do not sit on them, hide them or try to deter Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers from doing the right thing. But maybe I have just been lucky…
  2. On some details, the lawyers have not properly assimilated their briefs. For example, on the matter of priests with Permission of Officiate (PTO), there was a presupposition that no proper recruitment checks are being done, when in fact, for the last few years, since the Chichester Visitation, all PTO clergy must have a detailed reference from their former Bishop. This reference (known as a Clergy Current Status Letter, or CCSL) sets out eleven evidence-based specific areas in which the ‘sending’ Bishop must reassure the ‘receiving’ Bishop about the priest’s good standing. Discussion at IICSA has been all about much close monitoring of PTO clergy (which, at detailed level, I am not persuaded will either work well or help much) – whereas it is recruitment and checking that matters, and that has been revolutionised since the Chichester Visitation.
  3. Capture online docs

    IICSA and the web (from today’s transcript)

    If like me, you have been puzzled by the absence of a number of witness statements and other documents on the website, today’s opening remarks will help: the Inquiry’s counsel, Ms Scolding, explained this morning that most of the missing evidence will be available very shortly. And lo and behold, the IICSA website has been populated with vast numbers now of witness statements and documents adduced.

Mind, you finding your way through the masses of reference numbers is not easy. You need to be even more dedicated than I am to get very far into it all.

  • The Youtube channel is perhaps the easiest way to get a flavour of it all.

If you do want to read stuff, this is probably how:

  • the ‘timetable of hearings’ page covers each day, but doesn’t tell you who was called on any particular day. I can only find the list for Week 1 online.
  • Open the ‘hearings’ page, which gives you the transcript and documents for any particular day.
  • The key to seeing individual witness statements is probably to download the ‘list of documents adduced’ which appears on some days – that gives you the name and reference number. Good luck.

They think it’s all over…

The three weeks of hearing ended today. Lest we forget what this is really about, the lawyer’s summings-up today were preceded by a very clear account from a survivor (whose name has not been made public) of abuse by a priest-schoolteacher. You may not want to read it, but it does bear witness to the way abusers can operate ‘in plain sight’, and how communities can rally round them, being unwilling to believe that such a nice man could so such awful things. (Today’s transcript is here – scroll down to p 11)

In the closing statements, Mr Scorer, representing victims and survivors, re-presented a comment made recently by the Bishop of Buckingham. It’s pretty blunt. Mr Scorer also re-ran a comment made by several witnesses to stress that although the focus in these hearings is Chichester – it’s not just Chichester. He suggested that every diocese has its Roy Cottons and that offenders are everywhere.

Capture Buck quote

Bishop of Buckingham’s comment, quoted in closing statements today

I said in my previous IICSA post that for me, this is personal. In fact, much of it of this had a touch of ‘All Our Yesterdays’. Events that cropped up during my time as a Bishops Chaplain appear throughout the verbal hearings, and even more so in the witness statements and other documents now online in which former colleagues and friends’ names appear.

It does seem incredible that it has taken such a number of internal and external reports over (effectively) twenty years to get us to this point where the Church’s complete safeguarding apparatus seems to be on trial. And in Chichester, that apparatus and the management of it has been shown to be grim – to the detriment of survivors and victims. In his characteristically sharp way, the Bishop of Buckingham puts it pretty clearly. Bishops Benn and Reade’s evidence rather supports his view. And Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, in her evidence read today is excoriating about Bishop Benn’s response to her when she interviewed him as part of her inquiry. Again, I commend reading the transcript. (Read it here – scroll down to p4)

But it’s not all over. The panel will now start the mammoth task of preparing their report on the evidence submitted to them as regards Chichester, but it cannot be completed yet. There will be a week of hearings on July looking especially at the way in which the Church handled the case of Bishop Peter Ball. I know a bit of the history, and if you search diligently through the evidence handled this week, or read the Gibb Report, you ‘ll realise that it will be an exceedingly complex, but interesting, examination of how everything is even worse when the allegations relate to a high-profile person.

Just this one ‘smoking gun’ document will cause a sharp intake of breath. The week of hearings into how Peter Ball was handled will be from 23-27 July.

Media coverage – or lack of it…

UPDATE: this next paragraph has been rewritten in the light of a comment from Andrew Brown. (see comments).

As Andrew Brown points out in today’s Church Times media column, the mainstream press has kept away from this, to our surprise. That is partly because of Brexit and Russia dominating the news agenda. The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood has been able to report clearly, if briefly, although her editorial colleagues had a rather ham-fisted comment piece yesterday (Thursday) which turned two horror stories (about Dean Treadgold of Chichester burning papers in the back garden and Bishop Bill Westwood of Peterborough burning papers on retirement))  into visions of serial evidence-suppressing conflagrations across the land: “Bishops quite often burned all their confidential files on leaving office, to ensure there was no evidence to trouble their successors.” That was in a Guardian editorial yesterday:  “Quite often” is an exaggeration of the evidence given and should be corrected.

I continue, then, to give three cheers for Hattie Williams at the Church Times, who has given details summaries in the paper and online.

And talking of the Church Times, there was a sad paragraph in last week’s paper about a clergy discipline case in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.  That diocese, it seems, has only belatedly made a public announcement that a priest who has been convicted of sex-related charges has been removed from his post and prohibited from ministry.  The penalty was imposed after a court case in 2017, but did not become public knowledge until this month. CDM guidance is that penalties should be published. So in some dioceses, it seems that the commitment to openness and transparency about clerical misdeeds has not yet taken root, it seems.

The American Justice Louis Brandeis said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

However painful IICSA may be, it is shining a light.




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10 Responses to IICSA concludes – for now

  1. Claire Robson says:

    Thank you once again Stephen. Your commentaries are always insightful, accurate, honest and so helpful. IICSA has been a searingly painful light shone into our past. My prayers continue for all involved and for the whole Church that we may truly learn the lessons from our shameful past.

  2. Andrew Brown says:

    Eh? There was a reference to several bishops burning their papers in the transcript, including, by name Bill Westwood. I think it came in Elizabeth Hall’s evidence.

    • Ah! Thank you. It was not in the references I looked at (or heard in person on Wednesday). I will look a little harder tomorrow.

    • Andrew, I’ve checked now. There are just two references to file-burning: Dean Treadgold (as I wrote about) and also, as you point out, Bishop Bill Westwood (in a memo from Andrew Nunn referred to by Elizabeth Hall in Wednesday 21’s hearing. (Embarassment: I was in the room, should have remembered that one).
      I’ll amend my post, but I still think the editorial is incorrect by exaggeration.
      Thanks for spotting it.

      • Andrew Brown says:

        Thank you. I’ll have a poke about myself. But I still believe that the reference to Bill Westwood came up in a discussion of the practice among several bishops of burning their confidential files. I could of course be wrong.

      • It’s page 21 of Weds 21 March. They are referring to a memo sent by Andrew Nunn which is part of the IICSA paperwork. It’s effectively ‘hearsay’, and he only mentions Bp Bill in the context of Bishops routinely clearing out files on retirement.
        Nowadays there is guidance on what Bps should do on retiring – and it does not include bonfires! ‘Blue Files’ have a very strict regime and are not ‘Bishops personal papers’.
        Bp Bill retired in 1995 before any current document retention rules were in place.

  3. Palace Pastor says:

    Good blog ……. well done! Book that week in July for lots of prayer for your former boss.

    Sorry to have not said hello to you last week. I came to find you, but you had escaped. Thanks for helping out (again).


    Anne Roberts
    Palace Pastor
    01749 672341

  4. Andrew Brown says:

    Yes: I think we’re looking at the same page here, literally as well as metaphorically – she says:
    I used to hear these stories about different people who destroyed their documents before they moved on, in both churches. It was always a great concern to me. Sometimes there was a theological underpinning to this, that people deserved a new start, so they would let them have a new start. Sometimes it was like the dean in the cathedral that I spoke about yesterday, [Chichester] who simply destroyed everything that he had because he believed all these men had seen the light and were no longer a risk. And sometimes it was like the bishop here, who just wanted to, as I understood it from this email, clear the decks and move on”

    Which I think quite justifies what I wrote, even if you want to call it hearsay. She was in a position to hear it said, and no one seems to have thought it very remarkable.

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