Leaders of any institution have a fundamental task to gain the trust of those they serve. Without achieving this, the institution inflicts a “death penalty’ upon itself. It cannot survive. ‘Reputation management’ fools no-one, as the Post Office has discovered, and maybe the Metropolitan Police is now discovering. It has degraded profoundly the Church I have loved and sought to serve faithfully all my adult life for 65 years, yet now no longer recognise.
Bishop Peter Selby’s article in the 8 October Church Times, if heeded, can open a way forward. He articulates powerfully the issue at stake for our Church today, speaking of two current situations, Fr Alan Griffin and Professor Martyn Percy. Sadly, these are simply the visible tip of a scandalous iceberg. There are many others equally harmed by a culture of collusion, isolation and gaslighting; and an impoverishment of pastoral care. The research report from Sheldon and Aston University details at length the way in which clergy have been isolated, confused, bullied and traumatised by the CDM system used or threatened against them. The report is, highly appropriately, entitled “I was handed over to the dogs: Lived experience, clerical trauma and the handling of complaints against clergy in the Church of England”.
Diocesan bishops chose to ignore the evidence from the Sheldon Report of the harm caused to fellow labourers in the Lord’s vineyard, focusing only on revising the CDM.
Fiddling with the provisions of the CDM process will not solve the problem of the way that whispered allegations and lack of evidential scrutiny can break a clergyperson’s spirit and resilience in the name of “clergy discipline”. This happened to Fr Griffin in the London Diocese leading to his suicide. We now hear that no-one is to be held to account.
The findings of the IICSA team showed the Church of England systems to be woefully inadequate in matters of safeguarding, pastoral care and clergy discipline. It is clear from the IICSA report, the Sheldon research as well as the responses to the working groups on reforming the CDM system, that attempting to change the scope of the CDM measures is little more than ‘moving deckchairs on the Titanic.’
The Coroner presiding over the Fr Griffin inquest revealed the shocking way in which the Church had dealt with innuendo, supposition and trivial tittle-tattle, leading to the fateful end of a highly respected priest’s life. Archbishop Justin, you have received the Coroner’s “Notice for the Prevention of Future Deaths”, and the Church awaits your response.
Through the work of the Sheldon Hub, I have been approached by many clergy and their families who have been ripped apart by the “clergy discipline” process, unfairly and without evidence. In the wake of Fr Griffin, Martyn Percy’s appalling treatment by the dons of Christ Church Oxford, and the IICSA revelations, those people traumatised by the Church and its processes are no longer able or willing to remain silent in their brokenness. They are gathering and supporting each other and telling their stories. The Church’s collusive policy to leave them isolated is no longer working.
The practice of Non-Disclosure Agreements/Confidentiality Clauses/gagging clauses must end to stop systematic abuse by process. Archbishop Justin did well to speak out against their use. It is abhorrent for a Christian organisation to seek to silence truth. NDAs prevent any meaningful learning from mistakes. They also prevent the healing process for those abused. The whole Church needs to hear the extent of the trauma caused by the processes used and abused by diocesan senior officers, both clergy and lay, and their advisors.
The extent of sexual harassment in schools and colleges was exposed by the Everyone’s Invited movement. Until that point, individual victims/survivors had to try to rebuild their lives on their own. The bravery of these young people in telling of their abuse has allowed these educational establishments to address reality. The Church of England is moving, inexorably, to its own Everyone’s Invited moment where the ugly and unacceptable mistreatment of clergy and laity at the hands of abusive processes, and people, will be exposed publicly.
No amount of reputational management will be able to stop the shame and degradation of this episode for the Church of England.
I write on the basis of first-hand testimonies I've heard from 17 clergy in 11 dioceses. There are six more I have heard about. None of these involved valid evidence of any illegal conduct. The decisions, in far too many cases, followed grossly improper processes: neglect of the CDM Code of Practice, episcopal delegation of responsibility to inappropriate persons, making judgements based on crude opinion rather than any obtaining and testing of verifiable evidence. This is a clear abuse of unaccountable power. There are damaged clergy whose health and futures have been broken, and families harmed. These testimonies are now known across countless parishes and deaneries, across our nation.
I would urge you to bring pressure to bear on the House of Bishops to address the cultural failings which have led the Church to this point. I would urge you to seek forgiveness and repentance for the House of Bishops’ part in this disgraceful situation. I would urge you to do this while there is still time to save the Church of England. Simply saying that the reform of the CDM system will “address these concerns” will no longer do. Peter, walking on the water, only began to sink when he stopped focussing on Christ (Matt 14: 25-31). Redemption can only come with acknowledgement of fault and repentance.
At the heart of the problem is a systemic failure of episcopal pastoral care, faithfully exercised in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ. It seems to have been replaced by legalism, managerialism and the undue influence of diocesan registrars and lawyers, insurance companies and reputation management consultants. Jesus excoriated the suffocating culture of the High Priests, Scribes and Pharisees through his ministry. Culture lies at the root of all these problems today.
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