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 . . .
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.