For those of us in the Synod, and for those watching from outside, the most significant item of today (Wednesday 25 November) was the Safeguarding debate. As has been the case before, hearing from victims and survivors of church-based abuse, brings everyone’s attention to a peak. And much of what we heard was about saying ‘sorry’ is not enough.
So this morning we heard from Jane Chevous, Ros Etwaria, and Gilo. Jane is from Survivors Voices and Ros, from Little Ro works with them too. They gave us few statistics, but much heartache as they told part of their stories. And these were less about the abuse than about the awful way in which the Church – at every level – had handled it.
Rather than me re-telling their accounts, I will link to their text or audio. If you have any position of responsibility in a church, or are simply an ‘ordinary Christian’, you should, perhaps, look at them to hear for yourself what they had to say.
For me, the most telling was Jane – perhaps because it was not an account I have heard before. She spoke of a childhood where she was abused in the home; and of the church that, as a teenager, had been her refuge, and the parish deaconess who listened, and helped make the church a safe space for her. But then she was sexually abused by two priests: and the crime was compounded by the spiritual abuse as they told her “this is what God wanted”.
Inevitably, it was many years before she could report this abuse. Two Bishops did not believe her. So she was left with the abuse, the betrayal, and the loss of a relationship with a Church that should have been a safe place for her.
Gilo’s message was aimed at the structures in our church that have let victims and survivors down, and continue to do so. He is someone who has publicised our failings in a book Letters to a Broken Church. But he does not criticise from the outside only: he is a member of the Survivors Reference Group that works with the National Safeguarding Team. Some bullet points:
- The persistence of survivors that has brought us thus far
- The “centralised contrition” offered by the two Archbishops is insufficient. Genuine apologies mean repentance and atonement – he wants to see a public act of repentance and discipline for those in authority who, over the years have silenced people, walked away, and covered up.
- Atonement in this context, means a redress scheme, which is currently being devised in an interim way, and he pressed Synod to ensure it was properly resourced -noting the public commitments made at past Synods by Bishop Jonathan Gibbs and John spence saying “the money will be found”
- Reconciliation will mean to offer restorative justice to all survivors and victims – recognising that some may not wish to take it up
UPDATE: Andrew Nunn has written about the significance of these contributors to our meeting in his blog – read it here.
Then it was the turn of Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding to propose the motion. It’s worth repeating the exact text, and he highlighted the three elements
- We accept the IICSA recommendations
- We apologise
- We implement the 6 specific recommendations
His approach was pretty direct: we need to get on with this.
- We have been apologising for a long time and it is wearing thin with victims and survivors.
- IICSA has shown up a sorry saga of protecting our own reputation rather then listening to victims.
- Abuse is still continuing, despite much good work.
- The culture of deference to clergy still exists, and it is to our shame that it took IICSA to voice it
It was a speech full of determination to get to a point where “abuse cannot be hidden, and abusers cannot hide”, and he reminded us that it will cost. (Note that the national safeguarding budget figures for 2021 is planned to be £3.5million. Five or six years ago it was in the low hundred thousands.)
It seemed to me that part of his speech was aimed not at the general church public, but at central church decision-makers.
He agreed this post-IICSA motion was a milestone in church safeguarding, but flagged up the risk that the Church will not rise to the challenge to be bold and generous now, hoping that the Synod “would hold us to account” because there are obstacles in the way. By “us” I suspect he meant the finance and operational teams at Church House, and the Church Commissioners. They are the ones who hold the purse-strings and who can allocate resources and effort to making progress.
I think his cause was helped by the fact that the first speaker called in the debate was the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was an uncharacteristically sober and thoughtful Justin Welby who came onto my screen. He looked lost for words, saying he had not prepared a speech as he wanted to hear Jane, Ros and Gilo before saying anything.
What he said was fascinating:
- we must get rid of the clergy deference (despite being introduced by the Chair as His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury…)
- IICSA and Living in Love and Faith (LLF) have shown up our lack of transparency over sexuality. (The IICSA Report’s discussion about the ‘hiddenness’ of homosexuality in the church makes interesting reading – see it here)
- He is frustrated at the lack of speed in getting the interim redress scheme operating
With that barely coded support from Jonathan Gibbs’ pleas, the floor was open to others.
- Julie Conalty, an Archdeacon in the Rochester diocese made a forthright contribution, bouncing back some of the vocabulary used yesterday in the presentation about Strategy and Vision. For the Church to be “Christ-centred and Jesus-shaped”, she said, we need to acknowledge our failings and our sin. Clericalism, tribalism, and concern for our reputation have corrupted us. She suggested changed ‘humbler’ in the Vision concept with “broken”
- Paul Cartwright joined the pleas for further independence of diocesan safeguarding teams
- Professor Judith Maltby apologised for sounding like an old gramophone record by saying we must have joined-up thinking about human sexuality as part of part of the LLF work, as IICSA and now Archbishop Justin had said
- Senior ecclesiastical lawyer Peter Collier, involved in the current review of the Clergy Discipline Measure, said the CDM is not always understood. In a thoughtful analysis he reminded us that the CDM is relevant to serious abuse, or failure to follow guidelines, but lesser misconduct is better dealt with by reconciliation or mediation.
- Bishop Sarah Mulally, the Bishop of London said that we must engage survivors as co-producers of any changes we make. There is an LLF “next steps” group, which will want to make the LLF process of the next couple of years safer for LGBTI people. We have more to do than simply Need to do more than just supporting the 6 IICSA recommendations
- Martin Sewell, a passionate and articulate campaigner for victims and survivors said we must dare to reach out to those we have wronged. “You will find them welcoming.” He went on to criticise the ‘Kafka-esque’ core groups that have operated at national level in some high-profile cases. He described them as a bunch of amateurs with no experience what are dealing with fragile complainants and clergy at risk of losing their homes and jobs.
- Archdeacon Pete Spiers paid tribute to Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers and their teams: they are hard-working and compassionate. When we talk of failures, we need to need to recall that DSA’s work for victims, and are distressed when there are bad outcomes. (I would back that up from my own experience working with them.) He also flagged up a capacity issue withthe many audits and case reviews that happen: they all take DSAs away from their primary roles – casework and training.
A couple of heavyweight contributions followed on, before a range of views were expressed:
- The Archbishop of York said that 30 years ago he was ordained into a church that ignored abuse and protected reputations. Now we don’t ignore it, and we train clergy. This is progress, but a further stage of change is needed – and he, too, referred to the culture of clericalism and deference.
- John Spence, Chair of Finance at the Archbishops Council said he had been hauled up over his previous statements saying, “the money will be found”. People were contacting him to say getting new systems into place has taken time; and some are unconvinced about how much money needed for a redress scheme. His words would have been music to Bishop Gibbs and Archbishop Justin when he said if funding is to be put in place, we need a whole-church approach: we cannot have endless arguments about who pays what. As Bishop Gibbs must be aware, that is easier said than achieved.
- Jayne Ozanne self-described as a long-standing campaigner on sexuality issues. She said it took a public enquiry to see the dark underbelly of the C of E. The lack of openness about sexuality prevented reporting, as evidenced in the IICSA report on Peter Ball. We have a toxic culture that needs changing. She concluded with a call to the House of Bishops to be honest and open – and to stop pretending there is only one gay Bishop in the College.
- Mike Smith spoke of the concentration of effort on high-level cases and systems: he wondered just how effective parish safeguarding is.
- Rachel Mann made a combative contribution, reminding us that middle-aged white men are at the centre of the culture of deference that IICSA referred to: “this is not a culture of Christ. Where are the other members of the Body of Christ?” In a tweet, David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s summed her approach up by saying “The church has followed and enjoyed imperial public-school culture instead of challenging it in the name of Jesus Christ”
- In a maiden speech, Helen Dawes spoke as a parish priest, saying how much time and energy safeguarding takes up. “Getting this right will mean clergy, laity and survivors working together so that local churches have the courage to step forward together to recognise pain and to move towards truth and hope.”
Finally, Jonathan Gibbs summed up the debate. The word ‘co-production’ surfaced again – putting survivors at the heart of our response. He then ran through many of the issues confronting him as Lead Bishop. He will need to line up the various bodies involved in making change and redress happen. He will have taken comfort from the support offered publicly today by both Archbishops and by the Chair of Finance.
The Church Commissioners were not part of the debate today, but he did reveal that he is meeting them later this week. No pressure on them, then…
For a moment, jokes about the US election were running on social media, when, for the second day running, William Nye came to the screen to talk about problems with the Crystal voting system. It had been discovered overnight that there were errors in the vote counts – some votes had been counted twice. Fortunately, the discrepancies could be checked, and revised voting figures issued. The actual statistics were published on Notice Paper Six. They show, in some cases, as many as 20 or 30 votes being double-counted.
Fortunately, none of the ‘fake’ vote totals were sufficient to alter any decisions made by Synod. It’s probably fortunate that we had little contentious business : otherwise we would have had to go and re-vote on some debates.
Education, education, education.
The affairs of church schools are overseen by Diocesan Boards of Education (DBE’s), and last year we started on a revision of their governance, as the existing legislation predates the invention of academies, and does not provide an appropriate way of structuring a DBE in its relationship to the diocese it serves. There is normally some connection with the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF).
It’s dreadfully complex stuff, and I don’t propose to try and explain it. You need to delve into the world of unincorporated bodies, conflicts of interest and charity law. If you wish to know more, you need to read these two documents: GS21312B and GS 2131Z
The proposed Measure has been delayed by the pandemic, which we were told gave a degree of urgency to passing this now. However, a procedural wrangle developed over the fact that a significant proposal about the aforementioned incorporated bodies was never discussed in February: fewer than 40 members stood to ensure debate on it.
Carl Hughes drew attention to the sparse attendance (only 124 members) during the revision stage in February 2020 when proposed amendments were not even debated.
- David Lamming, endorsing Carl’s concerns, noted that the second meeting of the Revision Committee was also poorly attended, and he led a charge of members wanting to vote the Measure down to enable Synod to give it proper consideration at a future meeting.
- The platform party’s position was to say that we must pass it, as there are time-critical issues involved, and changing the law is complex.
- Perhaps equally significant, Clive Scowen intervened to say that he had been at all the meetings criticised by David Lamming, and they were all quorate and legal.
- It all got quite exciting for about ten minutes. Professor Muriel Robinson pleaded with us not to abandon this important and urgent Measure. We heeded her words, and the vote was won.
The lesson to be learned from this is that, as much as many members find it difficult, we need to take legislation debates more seriously, and not leave them to the ‘synod nerds’ whose ability to get into the detail can lead to members heading for the tea-room (or in the Zoom world, their kitchen…) But persuading people to sit through and understand technically challenging matters needs to be something done with a carrot, not a stick. I am not sure how to design such a carrot.
As an interesting aside, our suffragan Bishop, Ruth Worsley, was attending Synod (she is the Bishop of Taunton), as our diocesan, Peter Hancock is undergoing treatment for cancer.
She had intended to speak (she is vice-chair of our DBE), and had a prepared speech supporting the Measure. But she was told that she did not have speaking rights.
A delve into Standing Orders shows that under SO 93, a deputising suffragan may speak, but not vote – but only if the diocese is vacant: that is, if there is no Bishop of the diocese. This does not apply if she or he is only there because of illness. Oddly, such a ‘stand-in’ suffragan may speak (but not vote) at House of Bishops meetings.
Anyway, there was a flurry of emails around our group, and Christina Baron bravely volunteered to a) speak from Bishop Ruth’s hastily-emailed notes and (b) mention this anomaly publicly in doing so.
After a tough morning, we broke for lunch.
Conservation: the V& A meets Wall Street
The Churches Conservation Trust is a body set up over 50 years ago, supported jointly by the Church and the Government to care for some redundant churches, which are ‘vested’ in the CCT when they go out of use. There were two pretty sharp Questions on Monday night about its overheads and spending, when compared with other bodies such as the Friends of Friendless Churches and local church preservation trusts. Andrew Gray, from Norwich was the questioner then, and today he objected to a routine motion to renew funding for the CCT. (It was ‘deemed business’, but any member may ask for it to be debated.)
Eve Poole, the First Church Estates Commissioner was proposing the renewal motion (the money comes from the Church Commissioners, but General Synod has to approve it each year).
She explained that in recent years, the C of E has closed around 20 churches per year. But she warned us that COVID might be the last straw for some churches that were hanging on by a thread. So the number of churches the CCT might be called on to help may well increase very soon. More funding will be needed, but sources are uncertain.
She had to be on the defensive in the face of Andrew Gray’s campaign. He stated that the CCT overheads have increased , asking why would we ‘write a cheque for £3m’, citing 19 extra staff taken on at CCT. His figures suggested that the Friends of Friendless churches cost £875 per building in their care: the CCT figure was £9000 per building. (You can see his figures at Questions 16 and 17 in this document.) Having analysed the metrics, he spoke of a failing organisation, incompetence, more pay to execs, falling numbers of volunteers and fewer legacies.
There followed a series of speeches praising the work of the CCT – though I don’t recall any of them actually answering his catalogue of waste (as he would see it) or justifying the budget at any level of detail…
Eve Poole summed up by again warning warned of the likelihood of more churches seeking to be vested the CCT after COVID, and on voting, the motion went through.
Andrew’s approach was a master-class in tackling an issue at Synod: two sharp Questions, followed by a well-informed and clear speech. However, Eve Poole had plenty of allies. It felt like a debate between a Wall Street analyst (Andrew Gray) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (the ranks of Archdeacons and heritage experts who spoke against him). However, he did extract from Eve Poole an undertaking to take his concerns back to the CCT, the Church Commissioners and the DCMS. So I hope he went to bed a reasonably satisfied campaigner.
When the roll is called up yonder…
Lastly, after lunch, we finished off with the proposed Register of Ministers. This is another spin-off from IICSA and other safeguarding reports. The Bishop of Bristol, Viv Faull, told us that 400 years ago, and Archbishop had attempted to get a list of al the licensed clergy in England, but had failed to achieve it. Since then, all records of who is authorised to minister stay within the diocese where they work. Such records may be incomplete -as was found in the Inquiry into Chichester diocese and in relation to Bishop Peter Ball. There has been no simple way for one Bishop to check on the bona fides of a priest from elsewhere – and it is possible for people to pretend they are authorised to conduct worship when, in fact, they are not. The implications for safeguarding are obvious.
Here I made my only contribution to the three day Synod, drawing on my experience of eleven years as a Bishops’ Chaplain, and the difficulties I had in making checks when (for example) somebody wanted a priest they knew to come into the diocese to take a wedding or a funeral. An online updated Register would have saved innumerable phone calls, emails, and paperwork. As parish loyalties diminish, and networks become more prominent, I said, we need something to cope with the fluidity of ministry today. I also hoped it would be a foretaste of a project to digitise clergy HR files (the ‘blue files’ to make them easier to access when needed.
- There were some tidying-up amendments to ensure the Register will cover clergy in the Ise of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, as well as that (small number nowadays) of clergy who hold their office on freehold, rather than Common Tenure.
- As debate wound down, concern expressed as to whether clergy contact details will be open to all. (For their own well-being, and sometimes protection, some clergy do not put an entry into Crockfords Clerical Directory). But we were told that clergy must remember that to hold a public office is to be accountable to the public.
The work can now go ahead, and will take a while to come to fruition – there will be lots of IT and Data Protection issues to think about.
And that was that…
Three days on Zoom. Did it work? On the plus side, we coped with the pandemic:
- some urgent and mission-critical business was done: the budget, legislation on safeguarding, schools and more
- The Archbishops took advantage of us being in session to introduce the Vision and Strategy concept (see yesterday’s post for details)
- We reflected on COVID (see Monday’s post) and pushed the government on opening churches and not cutting overseas aid. (That was a no-score draw, I think, and in media terms overshadowed by vaccine news and Rishi Sunak).
- Several tens of thousands of pounds of travel and accomodation expenses have been saved
On the negative account: it’s not the same as a flesh-and blood gathering:
- Worship on Zoom – however thoughtfully led – is not the binding force it is when the three or four hundred of us are all in the same room
- Everyone is muted, so there’s no fluidity in debate, or corridor chat about the benefits or otherwise of a particular piece of business
- The informal conversations that build fellowship and defuse tensions simply cannot happen – except on social media, which is useful and fun, but no substitute
- People working in an intense way while being at home were pulled in several directions and getting very tired
Depending how the pandemic and lockdowns proceed, we may have to do it all again in February, instead of gathering in London. For me, that is not a thrilling prospect. The levels of engagement are low when you are staring at a screen. That will lead to a ‘democratic deficit’ as a few members will have the stamina and commitment to ‘take control’ by over-contributing, while the huddles masses in thir homes , disengaged, sit and watch.
The Business Committee and the Church House staff deserve medals for making this work as well as it did. I hope they don’t have to do it again, for their sakes, and for Synod’s.
Once again, the bathwellschap blog has reached extraordinary numbers of people. As of Wednesday night, the number of visitors has climbed from 217 to 350 per day, with the usual concentration in the UK, but with readers in the US, New Zealand, around Europe and in Israel.
Long-stay patients will know I started this blog as therapy, in the heat of ‘women bishops’ debates back in 2012. It’s now a kind of pseudo-journalism, and I’m grateful to those who put up with my errors – and the ancient pop song lyrics trope.
With Synod elections now postponed until September next year, I continue to hope that the blog offers an insight into how Synod works and what it feels like to be a member – in the hope that people will stand for election when the time comes, knowing what it’s about.
* Who’s sorry now? 1958 weepie from the lovely deep clear voice of Connie Francis. There’s a lot of talk about breaking vows in it: somehow appropriate for today’s main debate.