I am livid, and ashamed at the levels of hypocrisy of the Church of England. I am part of a Church that allows the most dangerous in our churches continue to abuse the most vulnerable in our society. This has been going on for years, let’s not pretend that it isn’t the worst kept secret of the Church today. Don’t let what the PR Svengalis tell you fool you.
As an ordinand training for the priesthood, the last few days has solidified for me something that has been bugging me for some time. How can I, with my integrity intact, be a part of an institution that behaves in this way? An institution which allows this behaviour with no accountability by its Bishops. You can already hear the wagons circling, ready to excuse its behaviour, but not before the empty platitudes and fake repentance. Because, believe me, whatever you see on social media from the Bishops and the clergy and laity that suck up to them say, this won’t be all there is. There will be more who have suffered at the hands of those who believe they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want. And the punishment – nothing more than a slap on the wrist from their Bishop; if anything at all.
The IICSA Report published this week – which every member of Clergy and Laity should read- names a number of clergy who not only allowed this to happen but were complicit in what I can only describe as a cover up. They allowed systematic abuse to flourish and caused (in some cases) irreparable damage. They won’t be the only ones by any stretch. The abuse by clergy is the worst kept secret both in and outside the church. I know some of those named, and I am relieved that they have been named publicly, because from my interactions with them, they are Teflon – nothing sticks! The attitude of these clergy, and their responses to the those who had been abused, is, and was quite frankly abhorrent, and as my grandfather would have said, ‘they should be horsewhipped!’. Now whilst I don’t condone the use of violence against anyone, it is easy to understand the anger and thought that goes behind that that statement. You see my grandfather was educated by the Church, Nuns to be precise and I can tell you that by the time he left school, he had had his faith beaten out of him; literally!
If he were alive, my grandfather would be well into his 90’s, and so you can see how far back the abuse of the church has been tolerated and explained away. Some will say, ‘oh well, that was a long time ago, its different now’. No, its not, and it is shocking that with everything that we know and have seen – from the latest IICSA report and other reports into abuse by the Church – that not enough has actually changed.
It’s all very well showing a picture of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, lighting a candle with a look of sadness, even repentance (although perhaps that picture should be described as smug). That look comes from a man who is notoriously petulant, and I can only assume that the only thing he is sorry about, is that his incompetence and complicity thus far has been found out and made public. He hasn’t learnt a thing from his predecessor ++Careys behaviour with the Peter Ball case. In the real world, withholding information from a police enquiry is an offence, however Carey made up some spurious excuses as to why he did that, and it wasn’t until 2017 that he apologised to Balls victims; an apology that no doubt was less than gracious or meant. I can see the same pattern of behaviour in Welby. There are many who like Welby, but I have neither faith in, or respect for, him or his circle of sycophants; the sooner they depart the church all the better.
Safeguarding responsibility must be taken away from the Bishops. They have proved time and time again that they are at best ill-equipped to fulfil this vital role, and at worst they don’t care and knowingly allow the worst behaviour to be meted out, without consequence to the perpetrators. Safeguarding needs independent handling, by those trained and equipped to take it seriously. That, I don’t believe is possible within the current church structures.
Whilst I am angry, I am also sad. Sad that this was allowed to happen at all, and for the effect on those who have been abused. To those who were brave and spoke up, and to those who are unable too; I am sorry. I am sorry that you weren’t believed. I am sorry that you were made to feel less than you are. The effect of having to relive those traumatic events, only to be fobbed off for so long, I can only imagine.
The Church is a place in which everyone should feel welcome and safe. But the reality is that it is a place of darkness and despair for many, and so we have to ask ourselves: How has this been allowed to happen? This isn’t of Gods making, this is most definately of human making. The God whom I love doesn’t abuse, or lie, or cover up. The God whom I love, is not the one you see on social media making excuses for bad behaviour, covering up for colleagues who stretch and break the rules of morality. My God is not one who hunts the vulnerable and exploits that vulnerabilty, for his own personal gratification. God was incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to show his love for us, to care for us and each other – I am failing to see that love, the love for which Christ died, shown by the Church.
We are taught about ethics and Christian living as part of our training, what a joke! This is a church that tells its clergy how to order their households, who they can and can’t marry, who you should be in order to protect THEIR reputation. But if you want to abuse a child or a vulnerable person, then go ahead, they’ll cover that up for you just to keep that reputation intact. Appalling isn’t it. And so, I return to my question: How can I, with my integrity intact, be a part of an institution that behaves in this way?
The truth is, I don’t know that I can. I choose to continue training because I love the people I am training with. They are amazing and loving and will be the priests and deacons who you can trust and find God with. But that isn’t enough to be ordained. Ordination is a gift of Gods grace and love. I don’t doubt that God has called me, I don’t doubt that I am supposed to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what I am doing. However, I have to be able to look God in the eye and account for the things I have done and the decisions I have made throughout my life. I believe God is calling me to ministry, but maybe not within the institution that is the Church.