Joe’s letter to the House of Bishops of the Church of England

bishops of C of EThe background to this powerful letter to the House of Bishops from ‘Joe’ is as follows. Joe was sexually abused by a senior churchman and emotionally abused by another nearly 40 years ago. His experience of trying to bring these episodes to the attention of bishops in the Church of England was constantly frustrated and he was met with massive obstacles. Eventually a report was commissioned into Joe’s case by the Diocese of London, and the Elliott Review was duly produced in March this year. A meeting of the House of Bishops last month (May 23-24 2016) was addressed by Bishop Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton. She had been entrusted with the task of implementing the Review and making sure that all the Bishops understood its implications for future practice. The House, according to reports, has agreed to a number of sweeping changes in the implementation of safeguarding practice by every diocese. Two particular issues came out of Bishop Mullally’s presentation. (See the blog post written on the 5th June) The first was that safeguarding procedures must be made standard right across the church. There can be no room for a local bishop to deviate from following best safeguarding practice. The second principle was to ensure that pastoral care for survivors must take priority over the demands of the church’s own insurance company. This company, Ecclesiastical Insurance (EIG), seems to encourage bishops and other church officials to clam up when faced with crucial questions in historic abuse cases.

Joe’s letter must be read against the background of knowing that at least some of his expectations have been met. Initially Joe had been told the Bishops were planning to delay changes, hence this passionate letter. We await to see whether the Church of England can indeed move to make the changes demanded by the Elliot report. Quite apart from what happens in the future we have in this letter a powerful emotional plea which gives us a strong sense of the frustration and powerlessness of the survivor when facing a brick wall of official intransigence over many years. Joe’s persistence has, we would claim, significantly cracked open the logjam of colluding official power structures that today exist in the Church of England. The Goddard report, when it finally appears in five years time, may well deliver another blow to a system of power and patronage which so often protects the powerful against the weak.

We are very grateful to Joe for letting survivingchurch publish this letter. It is of historic interest as well as being a testimony of the strength of a survivor when facing almost impossible odds. The partial victory of David over a Goliath of official inertia, indifference and protection of privilege is to be celebrated and applauded.

Letter to Church of England Bishops

I call on the House of Bishops to repent at your meeting in York at the end of this week. Others in the survivor community are saying the same. Repentance implies action and not just words – it is about turning around 180 degrees and starting again. The crisis this senior layer has brought upon itself has finally woken the church up to need for real change. If the bishops hope to delay changes as we are told you might, the situation will be acutely embarrassing. It is a worrying indication of a culture in denial and paralysis that no bishop has commented on the Elliott Report since it came out in mid March -100% silence. Perhaps your strategists have given instruction to ignore it and ride the storm out. I think their advice present in much of your hidden structure of response to survivors has been spectacularly bad. It has led you away from the values of your own gospel and narrative.

I am urging Bishop Paul Butler, Bishop Tim Thornton and Archbishop Justin Welby to lead a call for repentance across the whole House of Bishops. All these bishops have involvement in my case. Denial of disclosures to senior figures (“no recollection”) and blanking of crucial questions by the bishop I reported to were main features of the church’s response in the findings of that report. Along with reckless compliance to the demands of Ecclesiastical, your own insurer. And silence from Lambeth Palace to more than a dozen cries for help. Similar experiences of many other survivors from what MACSAS* tell me – indicate many other bishops know the same powerful criticisms apply to them. This cuts across the board.

The House of Bishops needs to show clearly that you are finally able beyond the eleventh hour to work rapidly for profound change in your culture and structure – arising from honest acceptance of the mess you have made. Survivors will know the weight is lifted when we see the church willing to buckle beneath the weight of the questions and all the impact – that we carry on the church’s behalf. When we see the church being honest and transparent in its answers to questions – then we’ll know the weight is shifting to where it belongs. The senior layer needs to dig its way out of the hole you have dug yourselves into. Cover-ups, denials, obscuring of issues, intentional inertia, fog, smoke and mirrors, blanking of questions, unchallenged power of bishops, legal games, incestuous dependence on your own insurer to limit liability, unethical closing down of cases and withdrawal of support on the instructions of EIG, bewilderingly adversarial settlements – all of which I and many others have experienced – all this must come to an end in real repentance. So that survivors, those of us currently on the way through a process and many others yet to come forward, are responded to safely and sanely. You can no longer operate a mirage in which Responding Well can be torn in two to suit the interests of your own insurer – especially when the aims and actions of EIG run so malevolently counter to your own stated guidelines. This mirage is rotten, can only do further harm, and must now stop. You need to disentangle your response to this problem from your own insurer – it has led you into deep complicity and does enormous damage to both survivors and yourselves.

But you know what to do. You have been told many times through regular visits of survivors to Lambeth Palace and repeated challenges to your Head of Safeguarding. Challenges to so many of you in fact – from survivors and others, both in person and through growing number of articles in the press. You cannot wait for more waves of crisis to hit you before finally doing the right thing. If you continue to rely on the tenacity of survivors to do all the painful work of trying to transform your structure – the Goddard Inquiry will be over and the church you lead will look powerfully diminished. Senior leaders and bishops need to show tenacity yourselves and act quickly now to transform the situation for everyone. This starts with repentance and real action arising from a commitment to change. If you can make this collective decision at this critical House of Bishops assembly – you are likely to move forward through the Goddard Inquiry and everything yet to emerge with greater grace and much less pain. And better prospect of healing for everyone, including yourselves. The church can hold its head high knowing it is doing the right thing. If you make the wrong decisions – well, it seems obvious to survivors that there is no grass left to kick changes into. The crisis will be acute and can only deepen. The Elliott Report into my case could be repeated across so many survivor experiences – as similar issues have appeared again and again elsewhere. I don’t how more embarrassing you need a Report to be .. so it astonishes me and other survivors I am in contact with – to hear that the House of Bishops might try and delay changes. I urge you not to. I urge you to repent.

‘Joe’ of the Elliott Report

*MACSAS is an acronym for the Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

7 thoughts on “Joe’s letter to the House of Bishops of the Church of England

  1. Dear Joe,

    I am so sorry to hear what you have been experiencing – and you still are, I have no doubt.

    Betrayal of this magnitude is difficult to take in. What is the collective noun for a bunch of bishops who betray the vulnerable, and for over such a long period of time? Then have no memory of a startling complaint! As the Guardian put it:

    “While some of those Joe spoke to had clear recollections of his disclosures, none of the senior figures had any memory of such conversations. Elliott describes this as “a deeply disturbing feature of this case”.

    And indeed it is disturbing. Do the surviving clergy just toddle on as if nothing has happened? And as part of a system, isn’t making notes a standard operating procedure in an office job? Do clergy really have the option to ignore note-taking then forget a message that held information of a sadistic nature? For how long has accountability been so absent?

    I am glad that Bishop Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton has been “entrusted with the task of implementing the Review and making sure that all the Bishops understand its implications for future practice.” However, while two particular issues came out of Bishop Mullally’s presentation there are two views that I brought into a previous Guest Blog that are relevant here. The safeguarding procedures that are standardised across the church – these, in a safety system are called, ‘Corporate Climate’. This offers the written consensus. It can look pretty good on paper.

    The main point about a safety system is that it should be proactive.

    The second deals with ‘Corporate Culture’. It is here that a safety system can most easily break down. It is typified by the phrase, ‘how WE do thing round here’. Here, we would hope that there would be no room for a local bishop to deviate from following best safeguarding practice. The time for a Bishop to think of his patch as his personal local fiefdom is over.

    From the ground upward, pastoral care for survivors must take priority over the demands of the church’s insurance company; who would think otherwise! If that can be achieved in Australia, why not in the UK? If Australia can provide care within a couple of hours of hearing a complaint, why not Britain? But again, as part of a safety system, I wonder how this is to be audited? How transparent is this system to be? (Please Sarah Mullally, come and visit Australia.)

    Ecclesiastical Insurance (EIG), did what insurance companies do, seemingly encouraging bishops and other church officials to clam up when faced with crucial questions. I particularly liked your point about how ‘Responding Well’ and Ecclesiastical run counter to each other. A kingdom divided against itself, eh? Those of us who have watched the insurance industry in relation to aviation have watched some alarming failures for ordinary folk – in this instance the ones the church espouses to help. I would like to hear how the Church is to change its cosy relationship with Ecclesiastical in this area.

    Your letter – I understand that some circumstances have changed but what a masterful letter. How cleansing to ‘tell it as it is’. And how right to call for repentance. I would hope that the Archbishop will respond positively to that and send out the call for repentance to the Church at large.

    Thank you,

  2. I think the insurance thing is like when you have a car crash. Never admit fault or apologise or you may find you are not insured. It wasn’t intended particularly to prevent the target from receiving proper pastoral care.
    Five years before they’re prepared to do anything! Well, it seems my suspicions that the report would have no effect were well founded. That says “We don’t care” loud and clear, doesn’t it? No chance of spreading the good news if there is no evidence of God’s love. Poor Joe. But good for him.

  3. So you seem to be alleging that the insurance industry has more to do with mammon than holiness? And even then accident victims get the care they need (in the uk – I am not always 100% sure about that in other countries.} And, as you say, ‘it wasn’t intended to prevent the target from receiving proper pastor care’. In the aviation safety model attention to ‘unintended consequences’ plays a role in preventing accidents. It won’t do if there is no will so to do. It seems to me that between the aftermath of the Elliott Review and the coming Goddard report there is much to be done. As in the Australian example we need not wait until laws are enacted in order to push for justice. BLAB anyone?

  4. So sorry this comment is again out of date……As explained previously, I am a newcomer so am catching up on past posts.
    It’s relevant to Joe’s case…How he asked in vain for help and support from Anglican Bishops.
    I am from the Manchester area where there is a “helpful”retired bishop who has given some very helpful lay training on the subject of “prayer ministry”.
    Several months ago , during a time of bullying and control by a Christian lady friend, that no one in my church would believe, I emailed the Anglican Bishop, asking him could he please recommend a local person who could help me cope with this abuse in a Godly way.
    My email was low key, undramatic and polite.
    In response, the Bishop responded as follows :-
    “Who are you, where do you live”?
    No niceties such as “,dear” or ” so sorry to hear about your problem”
    No “yours sincerely”….None of this… Just the 7 blunt words I have just quoted.

    I had heard such good reports about this man from one of my friends who had attended one of his wkend training sessions.

    So what you say or teach, isn’t always what you get!!!

    As a result of this off hand rejection I was left to handle he abuse on my own….It did not go well and I have now been ostracised for speaking up about the abuse.

    Come on you Anglicans..Isn’t it time you got your act together… from the top down!!!!

    1. There was a letter under “questions” in the Church Times recently. The question was, how much abuse should you have to take from an assistant curate before someone should take action? The replies printed were both, “None”. Good. But the second question is, what do you do when even the Bishop has been approached, and no action has been taken? Common in every Diocese I’m afraid. The rather terse reply may not have been meant as a rejection, though. After all, you can’t help someone if you don’t know where they are or who they are. But having said that, I wouldn’t really be surprised. Welcome, by the way. At least you are not alone.

  5. Thank you for your welcome, English Athena.
    Perhaps I was a little thin skinned with regard to the Bishop’s terse reply…. but it had taken all of my courage to approach him in the first place, so I was too intimidated by his lack of grace and manners to pursue my original request….I wonder how Jesus would have responded?

  6. Welcome Tess. I don’t think it matters if you’re ‘out of date’ with comments. Much of this stuff is still very much ‘up to date’ inside us. I’ve not posted much recently due to outside circumstances but if I see something that triggers a memory I might go back to the subject.

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