On the Naughty Step

A genius moment in this morning’s interview on BBC Radio Sussex. When I was asked about the news that Lambeth Palace would continue to review child protection issues for Chichester Diocese, my reply was that my four year old son sometimes had to sit on the naughty step when he’d done something wrong. “Chichester Diocese is now on the Naughty Step”, I continued, “and they need to demonstrate that they should be allowed off again”.

Naughty steps are useful for a number of reasons. In the Ould house they allow three things to happen which facilitate moving on from the misdemeanour that first provoked their invocation. Firstly, they provide space that is physically and temporally removed from the crime committed. The culprit is placed in a location that indicates that not only have they done something wrong but also that there is a consequence for that misdemeanour. Temporally the naughty step also provides a few minutes for the immediate heat of the moment to dissipate and both parties (child and parent) to return after a deliberate pause to conclude whatever incident led to the step in the first case.

Secondly, the naughty step allows time for reflection. For both parent and child the few minutes apart lets each of them revisit the events of the past few moments and consider their next actions. For the child, familiar now with the routine from previous visits, there is opportunity to review what they have done and to prepare an apology. For the parent there is reflective space to make sure that their next engagement with their child is one that full of the right attitude, ready to accept repentance and offer grace in return.

Finally, as a completion of the other two reasons, the naughty step is the route to contrition, repentance and re-acceptance. The child only gets off the naughty step when they accept the wrong they have done. However, the path off the naughty step is always, always into the arms of the parent who reassures the contrite child of their love for him and their desire that he gets things right next time. Once off the step the child is forgiven, the sin forgotten, the future clean.

Chichester Diocese

Chichester Diocese is at the moment on the naughty step. The interim report of the Archbishop’s Commissaries, retired Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC, reads as a damning indictment of fundamental organisational failures by an institution that should have done much better. The failures stretch back over decades and are alleged to have continued until very recently. Indeed, the fact that as of a month or so ago well over a 100 CRB checks were still outstanding indicates that despite best efforts, the Diocese is struggling in 2012 to make sure its processes and procedures are up-to-date.

And so the sanctions. Lambeth Palace will “supervise” the child protection processes and the visitation continues indefinitely. Of course, that probably doesn’t mean that someone in the Archbishop’s Office will be handling every single CRB check, but they will very likely be wanting to see clear evidence of compliance with accepted national guidelines. On top of this 32 separate recommendations have been made and once again the Commissaries will want to see proof that action is being taken on them.

But this is in some sense the beauty of the naughty step. No-one can now say that Chichester Diocese is getting away with it, that there are no consequences for incorrect behaviour, for sin (for at the end of the day that is what has happened, not just the perpetrators of abuse but also those who failed to put the processes in place to either stop it or respond to it properly). The Commissaries’ report allows for a clear marker to be seen – the offences have been committed, the Diocese are clearly seen to be in the wrong, they have been placed on the metaphorical naughty step for all, including themselves, to see. The process of contrition and restoration is underway.

And so stage one of the step process is achieved. As for step two, that has been under-way for a while but now with fresh Diocesan leadership can move into full gear. The huge advantage of the arrival of Bishop Martin Warner is not so much that it allows the past to be left behind as the Diocese moves forward (that would be a mistake of the gravest order) but rather that it permits fresh eyes, impetus and leadership. The person in the Diocese now ultimately responsible for improving the practices and image of Chichester is untainted by the issues of the past decades. Though he embodies the ecclesiastical body collective in Sussex, he is not constrained by past mistakes. No-one can point a finger at Bishop Warner and say “It’s all very well you saying we’re changing, but you were responsible for the mess we’re in”. In the next few months +Martin may be joined by a new suffragan in Lewes (Wallace Benn retires today, the 31st of August) and together with Bishop Mark and a team of Archdeacons and others wanting to see the best possible future for the Diocese in the area of child protection there is every likelihood of getting Chichester’s act sorted in this area.

The two areas that Bishop Martin will already know he needs to concentrate on are communication and transparency. Communication, because too often as the report claims this has been woefully lacking in the Diocese. For example, it is alleged that emails were sent asking for information on certain clergy which were never replied too. Assumptions were made that the lack of a reply indicated no information, but this was not necessarily so. The Diocese needs to be very clear that every single piece of correspondence around the issue of protecting children and vulnerable adults must be acknowledged and responded to appropriately and swiftly. The Commissarries’ report claims that at some points communication broke down so much that such interaction was nigh impossible.

Transparency is also vital. Everything must have an audit trail. There must be no sense of sweeping things under the carpet, however unpleasant. It may be that there is more pain to be endured by Chichester Diocese as revelations continue to emerge (the Commissaries’ report indicated that they heard allegation of abuse not covered by Butler-Sloss) with some cases still ongoing (and therefore dear readers possibly sub judice, so be mindful in your commenting below). Whatever the next few months bring there should be no denials, no distancing from events, people or times. Only with truth comes purification and only with purification comes sanctification.

I genuinely believe that Chichester Diocese can manage this. The appointment of Bishop Warner is genuinely exciting and offers the opportunity to achieve these two goals. With the right people working with him, there is a genuine opportunity to start afresh, not in denial of the past but in confidence of the future. Yes, there are immediate issues to address such as the alleged number of CRB checks still outstanding, but the opportunity to move to step three is close at hand.

That step is the combination of contrition, repentance and re-acceptance. For the child on the naughty step it is the moment that the recognition of wrong-doing is accepted, forgiven and wiped away. Now that there is a clear framework in place for Chichester Diocese to move forward, the path is open to a point in the future where the Commissaries report that the child protection processes in Sussex are exemplary, that the relevant agents and stakeholders are communicating openly and effectively and that those still damaged by previous failures are being helped as much as the Diocese is feasibly able to do. There will be some who will never allow Chichester to move on from the events of the past decades, but there are many more others who long to be able to mark the Diocese with a healthy seal of approval in this area.

The Wider Church

The Commissaries’ report raises issues for the wider Church of England and allows us corporately an opportunity for collective reflection. Are our child protection policies adequate? Is there anything we can do better? Expect a flood of Ad Clerums from Diocesan bishops reiterating local and national policies. I am personally far too aware that too often local parishes are caught in the “Cult of Nice” and don’t want to think the worse of people, leading to mistakes and then the covering up of those mistakes or the refusal to admit that mistakes have ever happened. The Commissaries’ report gives us all opportunity to make sure our current practices are the best they can possibly be. We owe the victims of the mistakes in Chichester Diocese nothing less.

But permit me to also indulge in a small bit of politics. There is a fascinating section of the report on pages 22 and 23. Permit me to copy it for your perusal below (together with the relevant footnotes).

As we have just indicated we are aware that permissions to officiate have been granted to some members of the clergy who have in the past been found guilty of child abuse. We entirely accept that any person may be truly repentant and that forgiveness may in particular circumstances be entirely appropriate. Nonetheless we are strongly of the view that in at least one case of which we are aware insufficient or no consideration was given to what perception the grant of a permission to officiate might have (and has) created in the minds of the victims of that abuse and of the wider public. This is true however historic the abuse may be. In our view only in the most exceptional cases should any person guilty of abuse of children or vulnerable adults (however historic) be granted permission to officiate30 and then only by the diocesan bishop with the concurrence of the diocesan safeguarding officer. Repentance and forgiveness are private matters; the exercise of a clerical ministry, even in a restricted form, is a public matter affecting the ministry of the whole Church. Indeed, the exercise of clerical ministry holds out to the public (and especially to children) the expectation that the cleric concerned is trustworthy and to be relied upon31. In the past this has not been sufficiently appreciated by the senior clergy in the Chichester diocese.

We are also aware of at least two clerics in the Chichester diocese who have permitted other clerics to officiate in their parishes without a proper licence or permission to officiate32. It should be made abundantly clear that (i) to officiate without a proper licence or a permission to officiate or (ii) knowingly to permit another cleric so to do is an ecclesiastical offence33 and that any breach should lead to the immediate consideration of a complaint being laid under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. On one of the occasions of which we are aware no such complaint was brought nor, as far as we are aware, even considered but such a failure undermines the integrity of safeguarding within the diocese.

It is clear that both within and outside the Chichester diocese there is an expectation34 that a permission to officiate will automatically be granted to a cleric (whether retired or not) residing within the diocese. Although such an expectation is understandable it should be made clear that a permission to officiate should never be granted as of right and will only be granted after due consideration and after the necessary safeguarding checks have been completed. In our view this should apply to any cleric however senior.

30 We note that in the Clergy Discipline Commission Guidance on Penalties (revised in January 2009) it is stated at paragraph 5: “Clergy who commit sexual misconduct should be dealt with firmly, and in a way which will protect those who could be harmed if the respondent were otherwise to be allowed to remain in ministry. Indecent assault on children is a gross violation, and can cause insecurity and lasting trauma to the victims. Removal from office and prohibition for life are normally called for. … Anyone convicted of possessing child pornography should be regarded as complicit with the original abuse involved in the making of the images. There can be no realistic expectation that a convicted cleric could be safely restored into ministry. Removal from office and prohibition for life should normally be imposed.” (emphasis supplied)
31 This observation equally applies to those who are invited to preach or to give public testimony; if such a person is a regular attender at a church (either as a member of the congregation or as a preacher) that aura of authority may be used by an abuser to assist in the abuse of children or vulnerable adults. We believe that all bishops should therefore make it clear that no-one should be permitted to preach or give public testimony who is not the subject of a clean CRB check. In this regard Canon B 18, paragraph 2, may be utilised in relation to Anglicans (although as presently drafted it only applies to preaching in parish churches). Canon B 43, paragraphs 1(c) & 2, applies to preachers from other Churches and the same approach should clearly be taken in relation to such persons who regularly preach in a particular Anglican church. In this regard it would seem that a clean CRB check made by that other Church and communicated to the Anglican bishop should be sufficient although we are aware, for example, that the Methodist Church does not obtain CRB checks for its local preachers. See, too Canon B 43, paragraph 9. Consideration also needs to be given to the application of safeguarding procedures in relation to Canon B 44.
32 We do not ignore the provisions of Canon C 8, paragraph 2(a) which allow a minister having the cure of souls or sequestrator, etc. “to allow a minister, concerning whom they are satisfied either by actual personal knowledge or by good and sufficient evidence that he is of good life and standing and otherwise qualified under this Canon” (emphasis supplied) to minister for a limited period of time. However, this does not mean (as one retired Chichester cleric has maintained) that he can minister under the provisions of that Canon although he has no current licence or permission to officiate from any diocese at all: see the words underlined above. In addition we are aware of a related and equally worrying situation that has arisen in another diocese, namely, an incumbent permitting a cleric who had no licence or permission to officiate to sit robed in the chancel although not physically taking part in the actual service. (Such robing is, of course, not a requirement of Canon C 27.) In law such passive presence was not regarded as ‘officiating’ but what occurred was nevertheless sending clear messages to those present in Church, namely, the person was one held in high regard and to be trusted. Although we are aware of only one similar case (where the cleric was at the time prohibited from officiating), we believe that urgent consideration should be made as to the amendment of the law, either by Canon or by the redrafting of the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy (Church House Publishing, 2003).
33 See Canon C 8.
34 This applies both to senior and junior clergy.

It strikes me that those that complain the loudest about “hypocrisy” in the Diocese of Chichester fundamentally misunderstand the issues at stake. Those who operate pastorally without a PTO (and therefore most likely without a valid CRB check) and those who support them are, unwittingly perhaps, perpetuating the exact fundamental malpractice that landed Chichester Diocese in such trouble. To complain bitterly about an institution that didn’t practice valid child protection procedures and then to blatantly flaunt those very same procedures or to defend those who flaunted such procedures is itself an act of utter hypocrisy. There can be little excuse for supporting those who operate without a PTO when the Archbishops’ Commissaries themselves confirm that it is the presence (or indeed specifically the lack of it) of the PTO which is the fundamental issue.

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