Power and Abuse – Press accounts

churchhurtAfter writing a blog post on one of the psalms yesterday, my Church Times arrived with four stories relevant to the concerns of our blog. Following the problems at Exeter Cathedral last week I found that issues of power and management seemed to have extended to Peterborough Cathedral. The story in brief is that the Dean, Charles Taylor, is resigning at the age of 63. This is not in any way a situation of scandal even though there have been some problems with the cathedral finances. These resulted in the Bishop of the Diocese announcing a Visitation. The cash flow situation had resulted in a threat to the Cathedral’s ability to pay its staff in July. In his final sermon the Dean revealed a number of the tensions that he was experiencing. He spoke about ‘envious people at the centre of the Church of England who resent “uppity” cathedrals and wish to impose a monochrome blandness on the church’. He also paid tribute to prophetic church leaders of the past including David Jenkins. Such figures, who had the power to excite public imagination, would be unlikely to arise in the future. In a wonderful purple passage the Dean spoke of ‘colourful clerics and turbulent priests, the prickly prophets, the rebels and reformers’. The ‘monochrome blandness’ that was referred to was clearly a reference to the new management training offered to bishops, deans and those who have been identified for positions of responsibility. Dean Taylor was articulating the unease he was feeling about the way that the job of Dean was now being seen as like the manager of a business. Perhaps this monochrome blandness also represents a model of cathedrals which requires them, above all, to be smoothly running, financially successful, enterprises. This would have little in common with the past where cathedrals were valued for their rugged independence, together with an ability to generate a quite distinct vision of the Christian faith for those who attended. In the blog about the problems at Exeter, we saw how the new Cathedrals Measure of 1999 was creating a requirement for efficiency and management skills in its staff rather than for maverick prophetic independence.

The second story also concerns a cathedral, this time Christ Church Oxford. On Friday, 30 September Dr Steven Croft was consecrated as Bishop of the Diocese in the Cathedral. Dr Croft was one of the bishops approached by ‘Michael’, a sexually abused survivor of a priest in the diocese of Bradford during the 80s. There were several bishops seen by Michael and ‘Jo’, another survivor and contributor to this blog, and none of them did anything with the information or even make records of the meetings. During the consecration both Michael and Jo held a protest outside Christ Church about the failure of Dr Croft to act on Michael’s information. During the protest they handed out leaflets to those attending the service. The Dean of Christ Church, Martyn Percy, not only knew about the protest but actively facilitated it. While I am pleased that this protest took place, I should mention the actions and non-actions in 2013 by Dr Croft were part of the culture of the time. We noted how the church as a whole as well as the House of Bishops was following the advice of its insurers. We are still in the early days of a period in which the Church is promising to put its house in order in this area. It remains to be seen whether the care of victims is actually allowed to take priority over financial and reputational considerations. In a statement to the media, Dr Croft did say that it was vital that Michael should receive proper pastoral care, even though this was not offered in 2013. In my comment in the previous blog on this subject of historic sexual abuse, I suggested that there may well be a rising sense of panic among the bishops at what may come up in the future in terms of new revelations. The failure of Bishop Croft to do the right thing in 2013 perhaps may have been more a reflection of this institutional panic than any personal failure of concern on his part.

Another story which involves Dean Percy and the subject of abuse is that of continuing support for the late Bishop George Bell who died in 1958. He was accused of sexual assault against a young girl. The Bell Society, the lobby group set up to defend his memory, has delivered a petition to Lambeth Palace with 2000 signatures asking that the case be re-examined. The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who has responsibility for Safeguarding, has in the past refused to open up the enquiry once more. He fears that sensitive information that was gathered when investigating the original claim of the victim, cannot be shared without causing distress or a betrayal of the victim’s privacy. The situation thus has reached an impasse but my comment remains the same as before. The conclusion that Bishop Bell was a child abuser appears to have been arrived at with a speed which was totally lacking in the cases of Jo and Michael. The observer from outside, such as myself, can only wonder whether the speed and finality of the Chichester enquiry reflects an over-enthusiasm for coming to a quick decision for financial reasons. Historically the Church has been far more notable for dragging its feet in these situations.

A sentence or two should be given to yet another allegation of historic child sexual abuse in the diocese of Chichester during the 1980s by a member of a church at a place called Warnham. It has to be commented that the Diocese seems to have been the home to so many child abusers that one can almost talk about a culture of abuse in Chichester. Another way of saying the same thing is to suggest that this horrible crime in some way had become almost institutionalised. In saying this one has to suspect that guilt lies not only with perpetrators but with other non-abusers who chose not to see what was going on in their midst. Among those have to be the leaders of the Diocese whose lack of care of the parishes makes them, in part, complicit in the horrors of the time.

I should record that information from Trinity Brentwood, the subject of an extensive report in November 2015, has dried up. I have attempted, without success, to contact Nigel Davies the blog master. If anyone reading this blog has any information about what is going on in Brentwood or with Nigel Davies, I will be very pleased to hear from you.

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.

One thought on “Power and Abuse – Press accounts

  1. I missed this post before. All abuse is institutional sin in my view. Pace our local Bishop, who thinks there’s no such thing! It’s not that there are likely to be more abusers in Chichester, though it is possible. It is possible because people stay where they feel safe, and if there was a culture of not asking questions that was noticeably worse than elsewhere, then you would end up with more abusers. But it’s almost just as likely that the “protective” culture of saying nothing was extra strong there. So those who were that way inclined did more. Whereas if you have a culture of listening, some, at least, potential abusers will hesitate in case they are found out. I venture to suggest that where you have a Bishop who thinks there’s no such thing, and I bet ours is not alone, more abusers will gather.

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