Monthly Archives: October 2017

‘Jo’, victim of church abuse, finds justice

Last June (2016) we covered in three sections the story of ‘Jo’ who had been sexually abused by a distinguished and senior churchman, Garth Moore. This took place when the victim was 16. The facts of the abuse were never in question as the offender admitted to the offence before he died. There was also a further incident of abuse by a Franciscan who later became a Bishop in the Church of England.

As the result of this blog covering Jo’s story which had been the subject of a special report, the Elliot Report, I was contacted directly by Jo. Jo wanted the bishops to address directly the numerous other issues which arose from the report, pastoral care, support and communication. He entrusted this blog with the task of printing an open letter from him to the House of Bishops. This was printed on the 21st June. http://survivingchurch.org/2016/06/21/jos-letter-to-the-anglican-house-of-bishops/ Although he had been awarded a modest sum of money from the Church’s insurers, he felt that money alone would never make the situation in the future better for other survivors. In particular, he felt that the attitude of the Church’s insurers, Ecclesiastical Insurance, towards survivors like himself was making a bad situation worse. They were, apparently, forbidding communication between church officials and survivors, presumably as it was thought that this might complicate the legal aspects involved with financial pay-outs. (This may have come about as the result of a misunderstanding between insurers and church) Survivors like himself needed to be heard, not shut out of meaningful communication with church people who can make things better and offer proper spiritual and emotional care

Today we can reveal from a piece of Thinking Anglicans website that Gilo (Jo’s real name) has achieved a complete and proper response from the church. In a process of mediation that has been going on for 18 months, Gilo’s complaints or suspicions about Ecclesiastical are being addressed fully. A letter is being sent from the Bishop in charge of Safeguarding, Paul Butler and Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth to Ecclesiastical asking them to make their policies in dealing with survivors clearer and pastorally appropriate. Also, the letter was signed by the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson who has acted as a supporter of Gilo during this process of dialogue. In addition, Justin Welby has expressed his deep regrets over the way that the Church failed Gilo, both in the abuse and subsequently.

What we are recording is the beginning of a real shift in attitude by the Church towards survivors of abuse. Gilo’s clear sense of the proper way that things should be has won through. He, in other words, is a pioneer in the cause of justice not only for himself but for other survivors who may come in the future. I would like to think that, even if the Bishops never saw Gilo’s letter that he wrote for this blog last June, we have been able to play a very small part in supporting him along this courageous journey of seeking justice for himself and for many others.

As the news of this important meeting only broke today, I have not had the chance to consider the implications. But important developments will take place, no doubt. The first thing is that the greater openness of church leaders to episodes that may have taken place decades ago but are still wreaking havoc in individual lives will take up an inordinate amount of time. Now that stones are being looked under, who knows what nasties will be found there? Quite apart from the financial implications of so many new horrors that may be revealed, where are the resources, psychological and pastoral, to deal with the flood that could emerge?

Gilo’s victory is to be applauded but there is still a need to have a far better understanding of how any kind of power abuse, spiritual or sexual, takes place in the church. Insight as to why some people choose to dominate and exploit others for reasons of personal gratification is not difficult to uncover. Examples of political coercion in the States are being extensively studied and these can provide important parallels to our own church power issues. Meanwhile our church seems pretty inept at spotting the dangerous situations and people that create the disasters which come upon us thick and fast. Today’s announcement is an important stage along the road of understanding power and abuse. But there are still too many humps ahead along this road for me, at any rate, to believe that we are yet getting it right.

On recovering from Trump addiction

Over recent days I have come to realise that my interest in American politics had become addictive. I have now decided that I will no longer read anything more about Donald Trump. The sheer awfulness of reading about his lying, his lack of empathy and his complete lack of at self-insight has become a distracting burden. Although it is not Lent, I find that I am giving him up anyway.

There is one thing that I take from my addictive reading about Trumpian American politics which will not be lost to me. That is a clear understanding of the way that certain individuals like Trump use power for utterly self-centred ends. The book I referred to when I last spoke about Trump, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, has now been published and I have downloaded a copy. It is a book that describes in layman’s terms the various psychological dynamics that the authors agree are at work in the President. The reason I can withdraw from my obsessional interests is that the book gives me all I need in my desire to understand the Trump phenomenon. The reason I had been reading all about Trump was because I recognised in him so many of the troubling and disastrous facets of certain charismatic leaders. It is not unfair to describe both Trump and the most notorious of these leaders as being both tyrants and controlling manipulators. The same dynamics are at work for these religious leaders as for power-obsessed American presidents. What has been written in this volume of essays gives me all I need to understand and describe such tyrannical and narcissistic religious leaders like Michael Reid of Peniel Brentwood.

Why the sudden determination to wean myself off American politics? A further answer also lies in this book that I have been reading. Psychotherapists describe the way that many of their clients have started to present a kind of a ‘post-election syndrome’ which has many similarities with post-traumatic stress. It would seem from what has been written that many people in the States are quite severely affected by the simple fact of having a president who is totally unpredictable and lacking either conscience or sensitivity towards anyone except himself. I decided that there was no reason for me to join these hundreds of thousands of Americans who show trauma caused by Trump’s behaviour. We have had him around for long enough to know the kind of man he is and the way he behaves. Events may move on but there is little more that is new to be learnt by being shocked and dismayed by following the detail of his antics.

I have already mentioned that the psychiatrists who have studied Trump from a distance have remarkably similar descriptions to give of his personality. Words like sociopath and narcissistic personality are to be found everywhere. It is impossible to summarise their conclusions except to say that the consensus that is achieved is remarkable. Because I detect so many parallels with some religious leaders, these simplified summaries of contemporary psychoanalytic thinking are valuable for me if ever I need to do some writing or description of the problems inherent in certain areas of religious authority. Trump of course has massive powers over the free world which makes him uniquely dangerous in his mental instabilities. Religious leaders do not of course have anything like the same power but the territory they do control is firmly theirs. No one can challenge some leaders because they claim their authority is given them by God. Now that we have in Trump the most authoritarian political leader since General Franco of Spain, the press that covers this story has had to acquaint itself with the psychological profile of tyrants. The educated public are being taught to recognise words like sociopath and antisocial personality disorder. Because these words are explained, religious leaders who possess these traits are also able to be better understood. Where there is knowledge, there is an increased power not to be controlled. When an ordinary Christian has insight into the dynamics of the church they belong to, those in power will find it harder to abuse that power.

In the past few days I responded on the blog comments to a woman who was trying to escape from a fundamentalist environment. I suggested that education is one way to begin to free oneself from the tyranny of an ideology or a religious leader. The power that a leader possesses is often afforded him because of the ignorance and consequent vulnerability of the congregation. Education and new insight will always help to undermine the power of a leader who wishes to control others. The overthrow of Trump in America would be much easier if the ill-educated among the population could be persuaded to think for themselves rather than feed on biased information coming from social media. But both in a political and a religious context we also need people to have a greater understanding of the way that other people work. In both politics and religion there are cheap psychological tricks available through which to control people. One technique practised by some religious leaders is to cultivate an air of mystery about themselves. To do this they remain above ordinary interaction with their followers. They are only seen in carefully staged settings. The Michael Reids of this world could withdraw into a place of remoteness and privilege. The followers seem to have understood this to be a form of greatness. It was of course nothing of the sort.

The ability to think logically and have a common-sense insight into the way people function, will help enormously in defusing the dysfunctional power dynamics created by narcissistic and sociopathic leaders. The American public, after their experience of post-election trauma, will perhaps gain the necessary psychological strength to challenge the president. They will then show that they are not prepared to tolerate his volatility and his version of craziness. We might also hope that congregations and the individuals within them will get better at challenging their dysfunctional leaders when necessary. President Trump has, paradoxically, made it easier for more of us to see the way that dysfunctional leaders operate. We now have the vocabulary and categories to discuss these things. We can see the problems more clearly. We are far less likely to be tolerant of these kinds of antics whether in Church or in politics. But for the time being the struggle goes on.

Does the church really understand sexual abuse?

Back in February 2017 the Archbishop of Canterbury made an important statement on the topic of child sexual abuse in the church. He said that in future victims of such crimes were to be the priority over the institution. Also around that time Bishop Sarah Mullaly spoke to the House of Bishops and suggested that it was high time that the Anglican church operated according to identical procedures when dealing with cases of sexual abuse committed by church people. It was not good enough to have different dioceses responding in different ways. The time for a standard professional protocol was essential in dealing with these cases.

Last Saturday the Archbishop made an extraordinary claim on the Today programme on Radio 4. He suggested that the BBC through the Savile affair had a worse record over dealing with child abuse cases than the churches. This was arguably an exaggerated claim in the light of all the scandals in the churches that have come to light, even in the period since February. The first thing that the church simply does not seem to understand is that child sexual abuse is just as serious whether it happened 40 years ago or last week. The effects of that abuse are felt for the rest of the victim’s life.

In August the press made public the existence of an alleged perpetrator when the suicide of Father Martyn Neale from the Guildford Diocese in August was reported. In the account one senses that there are many aspects of this story that are not being shared with the public. Neale had been suspended from his parish two weeks before his tragic death. At the time of his death we are told that there was ‘an ongoing investigation by the Hampshire police’ and he had also been scrutinised by the Metropolitan Police. One needs to ask certain questions. Were the diocesan safeguarding authorities that far behind the process that there were no sanctions available to them before July? The allegations of historic sexual abuse, true or not, must have been circulating for some time. Does the church have no means of investigating such accusations or is it dependent on the police to deal with this sort of crime? All these questions are suggestive of an institution that is powerless on its own to tackle a sexual abuse accusation. This is what makes the Archbishop’s comments about the BBC arguably out of order. Someone suggested to me that the Church of England is at present engaged in a process of putting out fires connected with abuse all over the country. Few of the allegations reach the public domain. If this impression given to me by my well-informed source are indeed even partly true, then there must be a cascade of new victims being discovered all the time. Who is caring for them? Is the Archbishop in fact satisfied with the performance of Safeguarding Officers across the country? The suggestion is that identified victims are numbered in the hundreds. Each one of these victims deserves professional care. If this is being provided by the Church or its insurers, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent in ‘putting the victims at the centre of the Church’s concern’. One suspects, from the evidence of survivors known to the media, that this is not in fact happening. Many feel let down, not only by the perpetrators, but also by the crass way by which their voices are being left unheard even now. Bishops, Archdeacons and other senior clergy are accused of pushing aside many victims. Even today the rule seems to be keep everything hushed up as much as possible so that the institution will not suffer.

Behind the child abuse scandal in the church, there is another scandal to be explored. This is the seemingly complete ignorance about the way that power works in the church. I have been blogging on the topic of power and its abuse in the church for a full four years and I am amazed at how few people understand the problem. In a nutshell the issue for the church, as with any large institution, is to recognise how much power it possesses. Those in positions of responsibility whether bishops, clergy or ministers, have much influence at their disposal. They can use it, if they so wish, to bully or intimidate others. The spiritual power delegated to them by the institution is capable of being exercised in such a way that crushes others and renders them powerless. A bishop who simply rides roughshod over his clergy, in particular the ones that he does not like, is an example of authority abusing power. The minister who tells his people that they are going to hell unless they tithe their income is also abusing power. What the bishop and the minister choose not to understand is how their power is experienced by those below them. Simply having this power has, in far too many cases, created a narcissism which makes them insensitive to the feelings of those they are supposed to serve.

In my ideal theological college, there would be a course on power management in the church. By this I am not talking about leadership training. This would be a study of the issue of power, both in the way it is exercised and as it is experienced. Every student would be practised in the analysis of role play situations. They would be encouraged to identify and describe all the different ways that power was being exercised (or suffered) in these scenarios. If there was a general heightened sensitivity to power dynamics in the church, individuals within the structure would be better able to call out examples of the abusive use of power when it occurs. Bullying, abuse and coercion could be stopped in their tracks if we gave every member of the church permission to name and shame these abuses of power immediately when they occur. Every case of sexual abuse was possible because the victim or those around felt powerless to challenge authority. In other words, the structures of power in the church, because they were unchallengeable, facilitated bullying and in some cases sexual crime.

It was not good enough for the Archbishop to criticise the BBC when there is still so much wrong within the structures of power in the church. These often hold people back and sometimes crush them. There is a further narrative to be told by women clergy over the way that church structures have often oppressed them and demeaned them. Such appalling treatment has been made possible by the way that male clergy and others have sometimes applied their institutional authority. The Archbishop declares that the church has robust structures to protect the vulnerable without any apparent awareness of the way that criminal abuses take place alongside a multitude of other bullyings and abuse. These latter are little understood. Victims will hear the Archbishop’s statement as saying, we want everything to go on as before. Those in authority must be allowed to continue to use their power as they think fit. The right to enjoy power must continue because that is the way it has always been. If the weak, the children and women are abused in this system, then this is simply bad luck. The show must go on, the power that belongs to the powerful must continue to be exercised. If this is the message that is heard by church members or those outside the church, the rate of decline in membership will continue inexorably. One hope for the church is that it can rediscover the use of power as taught by Jesus. Then the church could be a place of liberation because those who have the institutional power have learnt how to serve others and wash their feet. That would be a church worth joining.