PREVIOUSLY I have reviewed (Books, August 16, 2019) three stimulating books on safeguarding in the Church of England and concluded that senior clergy officials continue to prioritize the reputation of the Church versus those who have been abused. Too many senior clergymen go into hiding and are then discovered when the attackers (including a few senior clergymen) are successfully prosecuted or posthumously exposed.
Have things improved? Unfortunately, these two passionate books suggest not.
Jesus’ most severe punishment in the Gospel of St. Matthew is directed against child molesters. Mark and Luke have similar condemnations, but less contextualized, whereas, in Matthew, Jesus specifically refers to the children just before the warning: “If any of you put a stumbling block in front of one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were attached to your neck and you drowned in the depths of the sea ”(Matthew 18,6).
Fiona Gardner has a long roll call of these blatant abusers – including Bishops Victor Whitsey and Peter Ball, Dean Robert Waddington and Priests of Chichester Colin Pritchard, Roy Cotton, Gordon Rideout and Meirion Griffiths, as well as evangelical John Smyth QC . What behavior of a church leader could be a more anti-Christ stumbling block?
She concludes: “None of the abusers. . . took any responsibility for their abusive behavior, apparently believing that they had the right to satisfy their sexual interests in children and young people. We have, of course, heard these stories before, but we need to hear them again and again.
What is new and striking, however, is his account of being sidelined by members of the clergy who felt they knew best how to deal with abusive colleagues. She was a safeguard counselor in the diocese where Peter Ball eventually returned after a police warning (requiring an admission of guilt) and forced resignation, but where he was allowed to continue a ministry that included youth work .
She initiated several attempts to have a risk assessment done and asked her PTO:. He spoke of Ball’s great spirituality and kindness, and my findings about his past were dismissed as less important. Subsequently, an “approach came from an official at Lambeth Palace, who called me to tell me that I could be considered to be inappropriately persecuting an elderly man.” Yet Ball was someone who masturbated while sexually assaulting and nudging teenagers and young men in search of spiritual enlightenment. Disgusting and moralizing behavior.
She identifies the factors that can lead to such spiritual and physical abuse, including imbalance of power, social status, institutional secrecy, self-protection and sadism in the boarding school. However, at the base, she detects a worrying “spiritual illness”:
“The way the church hierarchy has failed to respond adequately to allegations of abuse from the clergy is a form of illness – a spiritual illness. The disease is caused by institutional narcissism. . . the Church is bogged down at the level of survival to the detriment of self-fulfillment. . . dominated by its own internal concerns, insofar as it is increasingly disconnected from society, and dependent on self-generating authoritarian structures. . . At the root is the question of who can join the elite hierarchy.
Julie Macfarlane, law professor and survivor (files, October 9, 2020), is not more encouraging. As a survivor of Griffiths abuse, she is well aware of the “role models for those who constantly harass and assault women,” including threats that “if you complain you will lose your job. . . no one will believe you. . . I’ll tell everyone you’re a slut. . . your parents will be deeply grieved.
A school friend of the daughter of Eric Kemp (Diocesan Bishop of Griffiths and Ball), she now realizes that he “was suppressing complaints against Peter Ball.” . . [and] hired a private investigator to undermine the credibility of the plaintiffs ”and withheld evidence from the police. She is particularly scathing at “powerful decision-makers” who “at best minimize sexual violence and its consequences and at worst (and this is not uncommon) adopt the same behavior themselves”.
As a lawyer, she is also scathing about Church of England legal tactics. She recounts that in their unsuccessful 2014 efforts to defend against her civil case: “The church claimed that when the pastor forced me to give her a fellatio at sixteen – my first sight of a man’s penis, telling me that “God” wanted me to do this – it was consensual. As with all of the clerical abusers Gardner cited, this is not consensual sex, but a deeply manipulative use of power motivated by lust.
Further, given the close relationship between church insurers and higher clergy, she is also scathing at the response from Archbishop Justin Welby’s office to his lawyer, who said: “As a lawyer you will be very aware of the constraints in which we in the profession must work to deal with these miserable issues. The scope of personal and sensitive engagement is very limited. For her, it is “voluntary hypocrisy. . . and lack of sincerity. . . pretend that they had no choice as to their adversarial strategy ”- and, she adds, “maybe someone else without my past would have swallowed it.”
The two books of public shame are much needed. I doubt that any protective training or protocols will deter some highly manipulative clergy or senior clergy from protecting and covering themselves. The prospect of public disgrace might. All power to Fiona Gardner and Julie Macfarlane for shaming both the abusers and their protectors.
Canon Robin Gill is Professor Emeritus of Applied Theology at the University of Kent and Editor of Theology.
Sex, Power, Control: Responding to Abuse in the Institutional Church
Lutterworth Press € 17.50
Going Public: The Journey of a Grieving Survivor to Action
Between the lines £ 15.95
Church Times Bookstore € 14.35