The Church of England and its senior leaders colluded with Peter Ball, the ex-Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, rather than seeking to help those he had harmed or assuring itself of the safety of others.
That is the damning conclusion of Dame Moira Gibb’s review of the church’s handling of the sexual abuse committed by the bishop between 1977 and 1992. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, is singled out for particular criticism through his failure to pass on letters that he received about Ball to the police.
The most tragic aspect for me, as a Church of England Vicar, is my total lack of surprise at these findings. I’m a fervent believer in the Church of England and its mission to share God’s love with as many people within this country as possible. But none of this will count for anything until the Church of England reaches a proper clarity over safeguarding.
The review acknowledges that safeguarding procedure has improved within the Church of England over the last few years. But this is not enough. The only thing that will prevent such cases and institutional collusion with them reoccurring, will be a change of culture within the Church of England.
Keeping the institution safe
At the heart of this is the need to make a crystal clear distinction between keeping people safe and keeping the institution of the church safe.
Far too often on the safeguarding courses that clergy attend, no distinction is made between these goals. In fact I have experienced a level of annoyance when I have attempted to get the leaders on such courses to make this distinction.
Within my own diocese of Southwark, the safeguarding policy is called ‘A Safe Church’ perfectly illustrating this ambiguity. The problem here is that far and away the biggest motivation for hushing up sexual abuse is the misguided attempt to keep the institution safe. Whether it is the BBC turning a blind eye to Jimmy Savile or the Church of England colluding with Peter Ball, the fatal flaw is thinking, even for a moment, that the reputation or standing of the organisation should be factored in to the decision making.
As soon as this happens, dealing with the issue is fatally compromised because people will always find excuses for hushing things up. At these points the Church, or any other responsible organisation needs to thinking purely about the safety of the victims and completely ignore any concerns about its own safety as an organisation. The dirty linen must be washed in public and with total openness if the linen is going to be washed at all.
The Church of England is right to apologise for the appalling actions of Peter Ball.
It is right to apologise for its collusion in its cover up.
It is right in the strenuous efforts that it is making to improve its safeguarding provision and training.
But the most crucial response is still needed.
The most urgent priority
Every single person with responsibility within the Church of England needs to become crystal clear upon the fundamental difference and frequent conflict between the aims of keeping individuals safe and keeping the institution safe.
The latter mustn’t matter a jot when it is dealing with horrendous abuses of trust – or indeed any other faults within the Church’s activities that it needs to address. Complete clarity over this is urgently needed and priority placed upon bringing this about. Policies with titles like ‘A Safe Church’ should be consigned to the bin as we become wiser to the factors that have caused the most awful crimes to be tolerated by an organisation that people should be able to trust completely.
Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden
5 thoughts on “Abuse, collusion and cover-up in the C of E – by Stephen Kuhrt”
My experience sitting on Bishops Council for 6 years, is the CofE still doesn’t encourage a wholesome culture. Like Grenfall disaster they use a tick box approach to show they have complied but are not really open to scrutiny. Why do I conclude this Because Risk register was never done properly but given lip service and when I raised one question on it I received a loud “tut”- basically they were annoyed because they thought it was wasting time on the agenda. Secondly the Council I sat on was not open or transparent- it was dominated by the Bishop’s own appointed clergy (in his debt) and no culture of accountability…just a structure to rubber stamp Bishop’s staff pre destined agenda. Despite all the words the CofE , in my experience really doesn’t value or welcome the laity ….and therefore this closed world leaves itself vulnerable to abusive behavior , unchecked and unknown by the many
Here in Australia, there has been a recent book published which emphasises very much this topic – particularly in regard to one person, Cardinal George Pell. https://www.mup.com.au/books/9780522871340-cardinal The author, Louise Milligan, goes into great detail about seminary training, individual personalities, and the “protection” of the Catholic Church which, she says, was deemed to be more important than the situation of the victims of abusers. Until recently, there was no inkling that Pell himself is/was an abuser. However, there are now suggestions of two victims Pell these days is in Rome. For all practical purposes, he is The Treasurer or The Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for the annual budget of the Holy See and the Vatican. There has been discussion in the media in Australia on what might happen if police decide to charge Pell with regard to the two alleged victims. Australia has no extradition treaty with The Vatican. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-31/george-pell-if-police-charge-thearchishop-were-in-new-territory/8565204
The past week saw the Church of England in two lights. In Kensington the parish church became a beautiful focus for an outpouring of love by people of all faiths and none. The other was the official cover up of the Peter Ball affair. Both are true expressions. I am constantly enriched by the life of the parishes in my diocese but sometimes feel that at a diocesan level the best expression is the Board of Finance.