May 2018

First Thoughts: Derek

It’s not been a comfortable time for our Diocese as it was used as a case study for enquiring into child sexual abuse in the Church of England.

As Professor Linda Woodhead commented in the Church Times:

“Listening to the evidence of abuse and cover-up in Chichester diocese has been a miserable experience. The experiences recounted by survivors were harrowing, the explanations offered by senior clergy were shocking, and the juxtaposition of the two was a lesson in inhumanity.”

And Bishop Martin wrote in that same Church Times issue:

”When decisive action was needed in response to allegations of abuse, our diocesan processes of accountability and the capacity to act were too weak or had become mired in an atmosphere of
fear, with the shifting of responsibility from one person or organisation to another.”

Amongst all the publicity it was not clear that steps to expose and begin dealing with the failures had begun some time ago.

Long before the Independent Inquiry into child sexual abuse revelations was established Archbishop Justin wrote to the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to establish an inquiry, and once established, he asked that the Church of England be one of the first organisations to be examined.

In his evidence to the enquiry, Archbishop Justin said:

“You can’t read the transcripts, you can’t read the statements without being moved, or at least you shouldn’t be able to be. And the Church does wonderful, wonderful things across the country, extraordinary things, and the most stressful job in the Church is to be a good parish priest, and that a small minority have betrayed that is horrifying. I want to put on record again – I don’t know how to express it adequately – how appalled I am and how ashamed I am of the Church for what it did to those who are survivors and are coping with this. Apologies are fine, but we have got to find ways of making it different and we have got to do it as quickly as we can.”

Current safeguarding procedures and practice in our diocese have been transformed. When I was secretary to the Diocesan Readers’ Committee the child protection team was one part-time staff member. Now there’s a staff of three, headed by Colin Perkins assisted by an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor who works for Survivors Network.

There is more to do but, hopefully, this marks the end of the beginning. Wounds have to be exposed before healing can start and, however painful that may be, it’s a price that has to be paid.

The sadness is that, in doing so, it can so easily obscure that reality that, as Archbishop Justin says, the Church does wonderful, wonderful things.

The surprise of Pentecost was the birthday of the church and on our birthday this year, Revd Jane will celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in our church.

A time of new beginning.

Derek


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