If a Church values loyalty and reputation far more than truth and justice it cease to become trustworthy. The use of words – and their plain meanings – is what is at stake in an Orwellian world, and the Church of England now finds itself intoxicated on half-truths, misleading statements, PR-merchants and endless attempts to control its public appearance. In truth, this is bound to fail, as the CofE cannot be trusted, command confidence, or perhaps even enduring affection, if it is consistently found to be economic with the truth. We are at this point. This loss of authenticity is a one-way road to perdition.
Once authenticity is lost, public confidence, trust, respect and hope quickly evaporates. Clergy are joining Unions like Unite in record numbers. They can only be doing so because they lack basic human and employment rights at the hands of mercurial bishops and their whims. The lack of accountability, transparency and scrutiny in the CofE hierarchy means it can act as a despotic monarchy. Far too many Bishops behave like this.
No longer able to be shepherds, the CofE finds itself mostly led by wolves or donkeys. Few have moral courage. We also know that at the time of writing, one-third of the Bishops in the CofE have CDMs served against them. How many have “stepped aside from ministry”, pending the outcome? The answer is zero. The message to the rest of the clergy could not be clearer: one rule for you, another rule for them. There is systemic inequality.
And yet the CofE hierarchy will pontificate about climate change, poverty, injustice and ethical investment. One recent (sad) own-goal was the telling off the CofE gave business leaders for failing to have better gender and diversity representation in the boardrooms, and amongst the executives. The irony could hardly be richer. Which denomination opted out of compliance with the Human Rights Act of 1998 on the grounds that it might “force” churches to embrace equality on protected characters such as gender and sexuality? Yes, the Church of England. Once again, one rule for them, and another rule for the rest.
The upshot of this is the rapidly dwindling social, moral, spiritual and intellectual capital of the Archbishops and Bishops. What is the point of a church leader lecturing the rest of the nation on fairness, speaking out against bullying or corruption, or in favour of protections for workers, or advocating equality and rights? There is no point, surely, if the beam in your own eye is huge, and you are lecturing the rest of the population on remnant specks (Matt. 7: 1-5) in theirs. What is the moral and spiritual point of a Bishop, Archbishop or the NST straining the gnat, but swallowing the camel (Matt. 23: 24)? Why should anyone listen to Archbishops who say they will do something exhaustive and immediate about John Smuth QC or Jonathan Fletcher and their abuses, yet refuse to match any of these (sincerely-sounding) words with absolutely no action at whatsoever? If you cannot believe them, you should not trust them.
If the CofE wants to be trusted as a public service and servant of the people in what remains of this century – rather than becoming a members-only-sect – then we need a bold, radical and revolutionary reset. Alas, I cannot see the CofE reforming itself from the inside. It lacks the courage, expertise, moral will and intelligence to do so at present, and all the signs are that things may have to get a lot worse before there can be any realisations that lead to repentance.
In all this, the CofE wants to grown its numbers and multiply congregations. Yet it is apparent that this is little more than a membership – sign-up, pay-up, but shut-up – ruse. There is no mechanism for bringing a Bishop, senior boards or Dioceses to account. The combination of abuses, cover-ups, incompetence and the lack of any accountability or transparent governance renders the CofE an unsafe space. If you complain or protest, you will be victimised.
If – or perhaps when – you eventually take your leave, there is no Bishop to ask you to reconsider. Nor even to dispute your sense of being unsafe. There is no apology, repentance, contrition or remorse. The Bishops and Archbishops will, I suspect, explain that they cannot apologise for reasons of insurance liability, precedent, the optics of public image and reputation. But they will tell you it was not their fault, and there was nothing they could do. Think: bowl, hand-sanitiser, and Pilate – and there is the episcopal template for today.
The Bishop of Oxford has told all and sundry that the seventh safeguarding allegation made against me had “nothing to do with the previous six”. Leaving aside this apparently omniscient assertion, does any neutral person believe this, bearing in mind the same lawyers, PR agency and complaints were behind all the others, including the seventh? What do we make of the lawyers writing to the NST to ask “how can we (i.e., the lawyers) make this (7th) allegation [into another] safeguarding complaint?” Perhaps the Bishop ignored the email that records his own Diocesan lawyers boldly stating that they been “instructed to act against the Dean”.
What does the Bishop think the clergyperson who escalated the 7th allegation meant by “was this big enough to become the final blow against the Dean?” Does the Bishop find it surprising – or perhaps disturbing – that his own lawyers part-ran the investigation into the 7th allegation, yet deliberately sought to conceal their role in this?
No matter, the Bishop of Oxford expresses confidence in his lawyers. He does not tell his Diocese that this law firm is now deep into the third year of an investigation by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, probing allegations of malfeasance and misconduct in this case. That would be embarrassing, because the same lawyers represent other dioceses, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Should the Bishops or Archbishops be concerned? Well, in fact, the only thing that would concern them is all of this being known. They’d rather keep it “confidential”. Personally, I think the Bishop would rather turn back to the Ministry of Truth for some help.
Indeed, his statements maintain I have been well cared for during this four year ordeal. Yet the allocated clergyperson for this care has never once heard from the Bishop asking after my welfare. But you must remember that the Bishop is omniscient, and all of his assertions should be treated as truth. Apparently, I’ve had “plenty of compassion” too, and the Diocese also made “significant contributions” towards my counselling and therapy during this abuse (NB: it came to 3.5% of the total financial outlay). But in 1984, words like “plenty” and “significant” don’t refer to specific quantity or quality. These are just words.
You can perhaps see why it makes such perfect sense to those in power to set-up something badged as the “Independent Safeguarding Board”, and in so doing deliberately dupe unwary clergy and laity into believing that this might mean the CofE has grasped the nettle of integrity, honesty, accountability, transparency and external regulation. But the ISB is a venture in the PR-led campaign of distraction and deception. The ISB is not “independent” – because the very people who set it up have no wish to be accountable or regulated.
In 1984, the totalitarian regime makes all awkward evidence disappear into “memory holes”. Surely this would never happen in the CofE? But who can forget the “unfortunate flood in the basement” of Bishopthorpe (York) on safeguarding records? Or a fleeting memory of timely bonfires in Chichester. Or that senior officials in the Diocese wrote to me requesting I destroy or return evidence of their sixth allegation “weaponizing safeguarding” against me.
Of course I complained about that too, but was informed that my possession of evidence used against me was a data breach, and I would be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office. When I further complained about this further injustice and the cover-ups, I was not surprised to be informed by a lawyer acting for the Bishop that if I continued to protest at these injustices, I would be subject to another CDM, and that I should (“at all times and in all places”), keep everything confidential. This is the Church of England in 2022. But it might as well be 1984?
The Archbishops’ Council is currently presiding over the most significant failure of trustee responsibility and governance ever-known in the charity or public sector. Nobody seems to be in charge. The Archbishops say they can do nothing about the parlous state of safeguarding. Privately, they will admit it is awful. Publicly, they will assert the opposite.
So to what extent is safeguarding safe, fit for purpose and moral – rather than a dangerous reification of Orwell’s 1984? I fear that the CofE is run by a Ministry of Truth that has lost all touch with reality, sincerity, honesty, integrity, care, proportionality, probity, truth, compassion and virtue. The objective of the Archbishops’ Council is to maintain an image and stay in power – but at any price. Anyone can pay this price; just not them. I believe that a church with leaders who are now so economic with the truth is no longer worthy of our trust. But never mind me: what do you think?
Note: For ToR drafted by retired lawyers on behalf of the Dean, requesting a thorough Independent Inquiry are referred to at: www.nineveh.live You can also read the ToR from the ISB at the same address. Please note, the ISB took instructions from the respondents to complaints. Who in turn, made sure the complaint was turned against the complainant, and “weaponized”. Let us hope that other complainants do not receive threatening letters from the Bishop of Oxford’s lawyers, as others have done. We will let you know if we do.
Appendix: A Blueprint for an Independent Safeguarding Board
A regulating body that was fully compliant with all the Nolan Principles for Conduct in Public Life, and could tackle the systemic incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance and abuses in the delivery of safeguarding in the Church of England would need to be completely independent of Lambeth Palace, the Archbishops, the Archbishops’ Council, the Bishops (i.e., college and house of), staff and structures at Church House Westminster, all Dioceses and their DSA’s, the National Safeguarding Team. It would need to have its own Headquarters and possess:
The key question for the hierarchy of the Church of England is whether or not they are serious about regulation and understand that to be effective, authentic and trustworthy, they will need to place CofE, Dioceses, Bishops, the Archbishops’ Council and the NST under a body that can investigate, censure and penalize the stakeholders.
Without this, however, the CofE will cease to be regarded as a compliant and trustworthy public body. The reputation of the CofE, if it is to survive at all, let alone be maintained, depends on the leadership demonstrating the moral courage and intellectual capacity that has so far been entirely lacking. The Church of England cowers behind the Ministry of Truth. I hope you can see that the clock is still firm stuck at 1984.
The Very Revd. Professor, Martyn Percy, Oxford