From all evasion and “coverup” – Good Lord, deliver us
Should we be looking to the Liturgical Commission to propose inserting this new petition into the Litany?
This article is not primarily about politics. However, there is no doubt, in my mind, that the present political and cultural contexts are a significant dynamic in an issue that needs to cause us real anxiety. It is this – what should be our Christian response to what is wrong – or even scandalous – in our church as well as our national life? I refer to the temptation to “hush things up”, let “sleeping dogs lie”, “brush things under the carpet”, to hope it “will all go away”, “sort itself out” or gradually be forgotten.
I’ve been reading the remarkable biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Here was a pastor, prophet and theologian from a privileged background who, despite the most enormous pressures and dangers, utterly refused to evade the painful issues of Nazism and the Church. Unlike so many German Christians he just would not sweep under the carpet the (at first) unpleasant and (later) blatantly evil actions of Hitler and his team. Bonhoeffer paid the martyr’s price with execution in April 1945.
Evasion and “cover-up” is much in the news. Further inquiries into the roles of the police after the Hillsborough football ground tragedy are in hand as a result of the report from the group chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool. Will they get on with it quickly? Already the most senior currently serving police officer involved has “jumped” (before he was pushed, some suggest). The Jimmy Savile revelations/allegations have prompted major police and BBC inquiries. Will they get on with them quickly? The child-abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church continue to unravel – dogged by evasion and “cover-up”. When will it end?
On a smaller, local scale, I was until March minister in a War wickshire village. There were significant problems in, and allegations about the leadership of, our village church school. It took a long time before we were able to get the church (Diocesan Board of Education) and state (local Education Authority) to take it seriously. Finally, an investigative team was set up and speedily produced a report. No sooner had that been completed, but (surprise, surprise), the Head Teacher went on “sick leave” and then resigned (without returning for a farewell). The Chair of Governors and several colleagues immediately resigned too. But the Report was never made public, and the governors and two “Authorities” agreed to treat it as confidential. But, note the consequences –
1. To this day, concerned parents, teachers and villagers do not know what had gone on 2. There was no disciplinary action taken 3. The departing Head Teacher was, within a few months, Head Teacher in another county (and more problems developed there!)
4. The children/parents/staff/PCC who had formally registered complaints including allegations of bullying (and withdrawn children from the school in significant numbers) have received no justice.
Here we find a culture in society and in the church that is loath to grasp nettles properly and secure justice for the oppressed. God has something to say about that!
A wider church example is seen in the child-protection procedures of Chichester diocese. When is that to be finally cauterized? It is, again, seen in the troubles at Wycliffe Hall (Theological College) Oxford. Amidst a confusing cloud of rumour, criticism by students and allegations of bullying/heavyhanded management, the Principal suddenly takes leave of absence and then resigns. At the height of the crisis, the Chair of the Council (the Bishop of Chester) also resigns. Then the Council imposes on itself and the staff a “Confidentiality Agreement”.
One can sympathise with the motives – who wants “to wash their dirty linen in public”? But it smacks of evasion to the College’s supporters (I speak as a former member of staff), alumni and the wider church. Is there a cover-up of inadequate governance? We may never know – but a smell lingers. And the wider Christian world is unable to learn from mistakes.
Now, thank God for the courage of the (relatively) new Bishop of Lincoln who commissioned an independent review of his diocese. That took some nerve! I can think of other dioceses that might well profit from the exercise. In fact, why don’t the archbishops expect this to be repeated (say) every five or six years in every diocese?
A final point. We now know that, too often, Roman Catholic clergy guilty of abuse were moved to another parish. In the Church of England, too often, clergy who simply do not exercise their ministry with the proper attention and efficiency (as required in the Ordinal, Canons, etc) are quietly moved to another position. It is often described as “let’s give him/her another chance” (I know. I’ve been in dozens of bishops’
staff meetings up and down the country), but, so often, it is fear of grasping the nettle. It is evasion of the real issues. It is a “coverup”!
After all, Jesus came as the light! – into dark places. And “the truth will set you free”.