A load of un­holy cobblers

When QUENTIN LETTS, like all Church vol­un­teers, was forced to at­tend an abuse preven­tion course, he en­tered a chill­ing world where ev­ery­one is as­sumed to be evil . . .

Daily Mail - - One Day To Go ... - By Quentin Letts

LAST Satur­day, when there was no short­age of lawn­mow­ing to be done, I was obliged to spend four hours with a for­mer de­tec­tive. If that sounds alarm­ing, it was, though not for the rea­son you might sup­pose.

The re­tired fe­male cop, who in the name of Chris­tian dis­cre­tion we will call Wendy, was the ‘safe­guard­ing of­fi­cer’ of our lo­cal dio­cese of the Church of Eng­land. Her creed? ‘I as­sume noth­ing,’ she said. ‘I be­lieve no one. I tend to sus­pect the worst in peo­ple.’

As deputy church­war­den and a mem­ber of our vil­lage’s parochial church coun­cil, or PCC (a group of about 15 vol­un­teers), I had been or­dered to un­dergo Wendy’s C1 Learn­ing and De­vel­op­ment Frame­work Safe­guard­ing Core Mod­ule.

Apolo­gies for the jar­gon. I am afraid there is go­ing to be rather a lot of that. And this from an Angli­can hi­er­ar­chy that has largely aban­doned Thomas Cran­mer’s Book of Com­mon Prayer be­cause ‘ no one un­der­stands it any more’.

For the next four hours, my fel­low church vol­un­teers, one aged 100 and one a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian Aus­trian count­ess, and I were bat­tered and splat­tered by gib­ber­ish. It was like stand­ing in front of some muck­spreader loaded with stink­ing bu­reau­crat-ese.

The thrust of Wendy’s mes­sage was that there could be a ped­erast be­hind ev­ery church­yard yew tree. Just as sta­tion Tan­noys com­mand us to ‘see it, say it, sorted’ and re­port any sus­pect pack­age, Wendy told us to be alert to all forms of abuse — sexual, in­ter-mar­i­tal, even abuse of vul­ner­a­ble church­go­ers by over-zeal­ous preach­ers — through­out our com­mu­ni­ties.

‘Lis­ten, hear, pass it on. But don’t ever go into the judg­ment bit,’ in­toned Wendy.

If we heard neigh­bours squab­bling at night, chil­dren with bruises or a church mem­ber tak­ing a lot of pho­tos on his mo­bile, we should si­dle up to the au­thor­i­ties and sub­mit a re­port. We should not our­selves reach any con­clu­sion, mind you. We must al­low ‘the ex­perts to carry out an in­ves­ti­ga­tion’.

The Stasi se­cret po­lice in com­mu­nist East Ger­many used to get cit­i­zens to snoop on their neigh­bours. Now this mes­sage is be­ing pushed by the Church of Eng­land. THE Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, Justin Welby, sees safe­guard­ing as his mis­sion. Past arch­bish­ops have been known for their em­pha­sis on litur­gi­cal nov­elty or in­spir­ing church mu­sic or even, Heaven help us, pro­mot­ing Chris­tian val­ues. Yet Arch­bishop Welby — for, I am sure, the best of mo­tives — has put his trust in a belt-and-garters ap­proach to spot­ting wrong ’uns.

So it was on Satur­day that, af­ter in­tro­duc­ing our­selves like at­ten­dees at an Al­co­holics Anony­mous meet­ing (ac­tu­ally, most of us al­ready knew one an­other), we were given leaflets about safe­guard­ing strat­egy and ac­tion plans, a dioce­san work­ing group, in­de­pen­dent safe­guard­ing au­dits and about the team (mod­ern cler­ics love the word ‘team’) of ‘ex­pert safe­guard­ing pro­fes­sion­als’ at Church House, in Lon­don.

There was a list of safe­guard­ing pol­icy and prac­tice guid­ance, publi­ca­tions such as ‘Re­spond­ing to Do­mes­tic Abuse’ and ‘Re­spond­ing Well to those who have been Sex­u­ally Abused’.

We were urged to mug up on ‘man­ag­ing safe­guard­ing con­cerns or al­le­ga­tions against church of­fi­cers’ and force­fully told we should ‘ for­mally adopt na­tional safe­guard­ing pol­icy and prac­tice guide­lines on a yearly ba­sis and dis­play a safe­guard­ing pol­icy state­ment in a prominent place’ at our place of worship.

Look closely enough at the no­tice­board out­side your par­ish church and you may spot it: along­side the yel­low­ing ad­vert for last year’s bring-and-buy there will be your church’s manda­tory small print about how it’s on the look­out for kiddy-fid­dlers.

Let’s hope the wind doesn’t rip it away, or the church’s in­sur­ance pol­icy may be ren­dered in­valid.

On Wendy’s course it was drummed into us that the Church’s main in­sur­ance com­pany will pay out on claims only if PCCs have fol­lowed the na­tional safe­guard­ing pol­icy and prac­tice guide­lines, as en­forced by the Safe­guard­ing and Clergy Dis­ci­pline Mea­sure 2016.

The lawyers and their friends in mod­ern of­fi­cial­dom ( and the in­sur­ance busi­ness) have plainly got the sys­tem roy­ally gummed-up.

The mod­ern Church hi­er­ar­chy may not be much good at in­spir­ing wor­ship­pers, it may have a ban­joBilly tin ear for hymns and it may have presided over a cat­a­strophic slump in church­go­ing, but when it comes to mak­ing sure vol­un­teers darn well do as they’re told and en­sur­ing that a for­tune is spent on bu­reau­crats who are paid much more than vi­cars and or­gan­ists, it is hor­ri­bly ef­fi­cient.

Had I re­fused to at­tend this course, I would have been sacked, in­so­far as any vol­un­teer can be sacked. I would have been told that, un­der re­cent laws which sailed through Par­lia­ment with min­i­mal de­bate, I could no longer be a church ‘of­fi­cer’. That term ap­plies not only to clergy and pro­fes­sional em­ploy­ees of the Church, but also to lay vol­un­teers.

There are some 12,500 par­ishes in Eng­land and each has a PCC. The Church could not say, but there are prob­a­bly about 180,000 PCC mem­bers in the coun­try, all un­paid, most of them (ex­cept for me) kindly, pos­i­tive- minded, pa­tient peo­ple.

As Wendy churned through her litany of mod­ern sex- crime ten­den­cies and ex­treme in­stances of abuse by church­go­ers, some of my fel­low at­ten­dees started to twitch.

OK, one or two seemed pre­pared to be­come un­paid snoop­ers for the pro­fes­sion­alised nanny state, squeal­ing on neigh­bours who were un­kind to their wives or who left their chil­dren alone at home when they went to the pub or to work.

But oth­ers, in the po­litest way, started to bri­dle. The Aus­trian count­ess told me after­wards, rather per­plexed: ‘I thought the English be­lieved in mind­ing their own busi­ness.’

Wendy said we should never let vol­un­teers ( such as flower ar­rangers) work alone in the church. If un­ac­com­pa­nied, she said, they could lay them­selves open to false al­le­ga­tions. Visi­tors might in­vent some story that a vol­un­teer had abused them.

And that would lead to the po­lice swoop­ing in and ar­rest­ing Mrs Bog­gins! ‘Gotcha, sun­shine, you’re com­ing to the nick,’ says PC Plod.

‘Oh dear, Con­sta­ble,’ says Mrs Bog­gins, ‘do you mind if I just put this sprig of gyp­sophila in the oa­sis be­fore we are taken to the high­se­cu­rity unit for sus­pected sex of­fend­ers?’

Have the Justin Wel­bys of this world ever run the vol­un­teer side of a church? If so, they might know it is far from easy to find enough souls to cover the ba­sics, let alone to ‘dou­ble up on your ro­tas, guys’, as Wendy in­structed us.

Until re­cently, the only riskassess­ing we did was try­ing to cal­cu­late if our lit­tle church would go bust in the next few months. Most of the money we raise (about £8,000 a year from col­lec­tions, fetes, etc) goes to the dio­cese, to pay for the Church hi­er­ar­chy.

Here is the same Church spend­ing mil­lions on safe­guard­ing job­sworths who tell us to re­port sus­pect ac­tiv­ity and thus cre­ate more work for their self­per­pet­u­at­ing bu­reau­cracy.

As a mere lay per­son, I am no author­ity on moral­ity, but I’d call that wicked.

How can a Church built on faith al­low one of its rep­re­sen­ta­tives to boast, as Wendy did, ‘I be­lieve no one and I sus­pect the worst in peo­ple’ and to tell us to keep our eyes per­pet­u­ally peeled for ‘Mr Nasty’?

Wendy spoke ap­prov­ingly of a pos­si­bil­ity that the Church will soon tell priests no longer to do solo home vis­its, such as when they give Com­mu­nion to the dy­ing or of­fer spir­i­tual con­so­la­tion. SHE wanted such vis­its to be ac­com­pa­nied to pre­vent ac­cu­sa­tions of rape or theft be­ing made against a priest.

The an­cient rite of the con­fes­sional may soon be trumped by the de­mands of to­day’s man­age­ri­al­ists. That is ap­palling.

Un­less, that is, the de­cent, pushu­sonly- so-far PCC mem­bers — the back­bone of Angli­can Eng­land — go on strike. With­out its vol­un­teers, the Church of Eng­land would close in a week. We PCC mem­bers main­tain the build­ings, or­gans, pews, grave­yards.

We spread the word, find the or­gan­ists and raise the funds. Yet now we are be­ing told to waste our spare free time at­tend­ing al­most mean­ing­less safe­guard­ing cour­ses, just to tick bureau­cratic boxes.

I know sev­eral PCC mem­bers in our dio­cese, in­clud­ing a church­war­den who is a pil­lar of the county, who in­tend to quit rather than suc­cumb to any safe­guard­ing course. ‘ The bishop can get stuffed,’ I have been told.

Wendy is de­mand­ing that I soon sur­ren­der to an­other course, and then re­peat the whole ex­er­cise in three years’ time.

I love our church. De­spite a wob­bly faith, I have a de­sire to serve our par­ish. But if I have to lis­ten to church rep­re­sen­ta­tives spout­ing the doc­trine of po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, self-en­rich­ing bu­reau­crats, I’m not sure be­ing a PCC mem­ber will be worth the al­tar can­dle.

Picture: SWNS.COM

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