On Wednesday I wrote to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York putting a question to them arising from the blogs exchanged by a number of bishops’ chaplains: “How are you going to ensure good practice in the future, practice that at least meets the legal requirements, to avoid a repeat of the concealment that led to the shameful abuse of children in the Church of England?” This is but one example of the bad practice within the Church of England that has been the subject of recent reports. Below the letter, I comment on the Archbishop of York’s failures, the incompetence of the Clergy Discipline Commission and the disregard for proper process exhibited by William Nye, Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council.
Emails between four bishops’ chaplains asking questions about whether priests can be shown their Clergy Current Status Letter (CCSL) have been sent to me. Some bishops and bishops’ chaplains are acting illegally and in ways designed to withhold information (to which they are legally entitled) from clerics, and from receiving bishops. I was shocked by the chaplains’ emails. Am I naive? overly optimistic? Clearly I am. After 25 and more years of involvement with Anglican attitudes to LGBTI people I know what the culture and practice is like. It’s abusive, manipulative, dishonest, unchristian, self-serving, often designed to protect the reputation of the church and individual bishops above the protection of victims.
We human beings can feel guilty enough about ourselves and the things we have done without the need for the church to amplify the effect on our shame and guilt. I think feelings of guilt can be hauntingly present all the time and are not easily dismissed by the act of confession of sins and absolution in the context of Sunday worship. Where are the systems that can help people process their feelings of shame and guilt and relieve the pain they feel? One is the process of long term psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and the other is the charism of spiritual direction, also long term.
Last Friday the Church Times published a number of articles reflecting on the three weeks of hearings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) which focused on the Church of England in general and the diocese of Chichester in particular. Linda Woodhead named inadequate theologies as being part of the problem. She noted that everyone who spoke at the hearings agreed that procedural and structural change was insufficient without a change of culture, but none of them drew the obvious conclusion that this must include theology. There is a second critical element that is part of the problem, which again, no one seems to have identified at the hearings. The lack of interior awareness, a failure by the abuser to be conscious that what they are doing is abusive, is a fundamental reason for abusive activity.
I feel I am surviving church in multiple ways. A survivor of abuse in childhood, my experience of the Church of England continues to be one of surviving systemic abuse. The church has the greatest difficulty understanding this, at the national and local level. What seems to be totally absent is awareness of the human reality of abuse, the human pain and suffering that can be so intense as to be life threatening. The IICSA hearings reveal a church in which the hierarchy fails to understand the multiple ways in which the culture of the church is systemically abusive and how this abusive culture is directly related to Christian teachings understood to be orthodox and traditional. I challenge that belief.
The Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri wrote an article for Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper about citizenship, arguing that the failure of a nation begins with the abdication of responsibility to political leaders. Citizenship, he says, is one of the most vexed issues in the human story. Okri is writing about the citizen as a member of the state but he provoked me to turn my thoughts to the intense anger and resentment that erupted following the House of Bishops utterly inadequate response to the debate and vote at the July Synod requesting them to produce a liturgy specifically for trans people.
Fr Bill Kirkpatrick died two weeks ago after a long illness. In his final years of life Bill lost his ability to communicate and relate to the world around him, which itself was a slowly diminishing space. These years were in marked contrast to his ministry of ‘Reaching Out’ lived in Earls Court, a ministry open to the God within who is Father and M other, a ministry to all who happened upon him, universal ministry to everyone because Bill believed our birth right is to love and be loved, regardless of who we are. Bill’s Requiem Mass will be held at St Cuthbert’s Philbeach Gardens SW5 9EB on Monday 29th January at 12 noon.
To live into life in all its fullness, we human beings have to let ourselves go ‘into something’ more than where are at the moment. We cannot move on without letting go. What will we be moving into? Into the next moment, for a start – the future moment, the new year, and a future which is always and inevitably a future of uncertain, unknown, mostly unpredictable events. We make New Year Resolutions in the hope that we might assert some control over the events of this new year. New Year Resolutions also express some hope that we will move in some way more deeply into ourselves, if we can – the person we would like to be in our idealised hopes and dreams – knowing that at the moment we are not quite who we dream of being and hoping to be, in 2018, more fully the person we could be.
In Liturgy Coming to Life published in 1960 John Robinson said the Communion should be an event of revolutionary fervour, “social dynamite, if we really take seriously the pattern of community known at the altar. Robinson imagined Holy Communion as the event where matter is redeemed, recharged and revalued as the carrier of God’s new life to men and women. The power of Christ in any person’s life will depend on the dynamic of the Christian community of which they are members. This work of radical transformation requires vision, courage, relationship skills, creative skills, and freedom from the patrolling presence of the gatekeepers.
The creation, evolution and reimagination of the Eucharist in partnership with the congregation that was a core dimension of Christian life and witness that energised and inspired me in the decades prior to 2000 has been diminished in the Church of England. The bottom upwards freedom that so inspired me to create living liturgical reform and controlled experiments in the local worshipping community, experiments that John Robinson described as so vital to the health of the Body of Christ, has been all but vanquished.