Resurrection People

Last week was not a good one for the Rochester Diocese.

One of the smaller dioceses of the Church of England, it does not make the news very often, yet it managed to do so last week in ways that make it almost emblematic of the Church of England as a whole.

First, the Archbishop Cranmer blog highlighted its financial difficulties. Like the national Church, Rochester is suffering from declining numbers of Church goers and with it declining revenues, yet as befits one of the nation’s oldest dioceses, it has its full measure of historic village churches whose small congregations have to struggle disproportionately to maintain our national heretage.

Unlike the church in France, whose revolution seized both the assets and the liabilities of the Church, the Established Church of England is fast becoming heritage liability with a missional church attached. Rochester tried to address the problem in two ways, both noble in themselves, but worth noting if only to draw lessons.

It held to its ideals, perhaps in retrospect for too long; Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali was committed to ” one priest- one Parrish” which is ideal -but meant that if the church numbers did not respond to the financial  needs of the diocese, the financial reserves -never great – were depleted quickly.

The Diocese has recently moved from a “Parish Share” system to one of local congregations making offers to address the published diocesan budget. Many, perhaps too many, who once struggled to meet their quota, may have taken this as the opportunity to ‘bid low’ with the promise to do more of they could. Where, in a harsher regime, they might have pulled more weight in order to ensure they kept their individual priest, under the twin influences of benignly assuring them that they would keep their priest anyway, whilst freeing them from a fixed figure contribution, such parishes probably relaxed in the early transitional period.

There is an  “elephant in the room” ;  some richer parishes, capable of paying their  full  share, for doctrinal reasons, choose not to do so, diverting the monies to projects of their preference, rather than supporting smaller churches outside of their tradition. Perceiving some churches as excessively liberal/inclusive/lax they preferred not to offer a subsidy.

The Rochester difficulty is not entirely a financial problem, but partly a fellowship issue. It emerges early in Rochester, it may may be seen elsewhere. The wider Church needs to take note.

If that were not enough, within the same week,  Rochester hit the news for all the wrong reasons with the publication of the independent report into the historic problems of a girls residential home, Kendall House in Gravesend, where the distinctive feature of the report was the misuse of powerful prescription drugs to render residents more compliant, with devastating effects. There was also some sexual abuse; it is worth highlighting that some adult females are abusers: that is easily overlooked.

If there is any ” good news ” in these stories, it  lies in the response.

Financial nettles are being grasped: a new financial regime has been adopted under the aegis of a former Local Authority Chief Executive , financial stringency is being embraced and some clergy posts may not be filled, as previously.

The Kendall House Report was published for all , in all its embarrassing detail.  The victims acknowledge and take comfort that anyone can read and understand what went wrong. Those in the town of Gravesend who know the woman who ran the home and respected her, are shocked, but not forming a committee to protect her memory: the reason is simple.

Rochester has been transparent.

You can read the story without identifying the victims. Chichester should learn the lesson as it continues to struggle with its handling of the  Bishop George Bell controversy.

In both these Rochester crises, transparency and accountability are at work. Knowing what must be addressed will enable us to do what is right.

Difficulties come to all peoples, and all institutions.

In an entirely different context, Archbishop Justin recently said ” truth is better than doubt”: St John wrote ” The truth will set you free”.

Rochester Diocese is facing some difficult truths at present but we are nothing if not the people of the resurrection.  We still have a mission “to put Christ in the centre of this country’s life where he rightfully belongs” as Canon John Spence has periodically and powerfully reminded General Synod.

We may have to go about things in different ways, we may be chastened by past failures but in a fundamental sense, nothing has changed. We have fallen but we are called to renewal. That is our hope, that is our mission, that is the task ahead

 

Sympathy for the Bishop of Chichester

Brother Ivo once knew a soldier who confessed that his greatest fear was being bayoneted to death by someone whose heart wasn’t in the job.

If he was going to be killed, then let it be by a professional who took pride in his efficiency, someone who got on with the job, and did it properly.

There are many jobs which we might find emotionally difficult; amongst these are trauma surgeon, funeral director, and slaughterman.

Lawyers too are used to delivering bad news. Sometimes they have to revisit their initial opinion and advise that a case that once look promising has been fatally flawed by new evidence; sometimes it is worse, that there is a known injustice, but the proof is just not there. Cancer specialists have to add a similar grim dimension to their necessary skillset. They become practiced and case hardened.

That is not the same as being cold and heartless, but professionalism comes from exposure to such problems on a regular basis.

It is worth reflecting on these examples when one contemplates the predicament of the Bishop of Chichester as he hears calls for a comprehensive review of the George Bell decision which inevitably carries the implication  that Bishop Bell’s accuser may not have the closure of which he assured her.

He will have spent time with, gained her confidence,  assured her that  all would be done properly and all that is now in question.

It is clear that he feels deeply for all victims of abuse. That is entirely right, proper and to his credit.

As he contemplates the moves at General Synod to question the processes by which the Church reached its conclusions, his mind will inevitably go to her individual need and he may well have a desire to protect her. It is hard for him, and we should be kind in our judgment and supportive with our prayers.

Yet, “Carol’s” wishes and needs cannot be determinative.

None of us know how this matter will unfold, yet the one thing of which we may be sure, is that those seeking to establish openess of process believe that this is a fundamentally important to the future integrity of the Chuch and its safeguarding responsibilities.

Pastoral care for those who come to us matters hugely but so does justice.We are enjoined to be as gentle as doves -but also as wise as serpents.

If the church leaders decide to be obdurate, we are headed for a prolonged campaign. If the Church limits it review of the case to an unsatisfying restrictive review of its processes,  without allowing fresh evidence and the possibility of a different conclusion, it will not satisfy those who have a wider and important perspective. The pain and the uncertainty for everyone not least for ” Carol” and Bishop Martin will be prolonged, and it will be prolonged because of a lack of professionalism.

As Shakespeare’ Othello agonises having resolved to kill his wife ” If ’twere to be done, tis better it be done quickly.

The Lord, St Thomas, and Bishop Bell

This morning we shall be celebrating the Apostle St Thomas, of whom little is known , but who is most famous for his displaying of doubt when told by the other apostles that Jesus has risen from the dead.

When they had told him of what they had seen, he found it inherently implausible and declares that unless he sees the evidence for himself, which he can test, by putting his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the wound, he will not believe.

Jesus has pity on the doubting friend and makes an appearance especially for him, inviting him to do exactly as he declared he must in order to believe. ” Come, put your fingers in the holes in my hands, he says , put your hand in my side” he says.

Paradoxically, in proving that he was no wraith, no figment of their imagination, Jesus could not have been more “transparent”.

Later this coming week the Church of England General Synod will be meeting in York. Amazingly the vexed question of human sexuality to which half of its time will be devoted, may not prove to be its most heated issue.

Bishop George Bell will be defended, or perhaps more accurately the integrity of the Church will be defended. People will be asking that the Church explains openly the processes by which it came to believe that one of its 20th Century “saints” had let them down in a dreadful way, by abusing an innocent child.

It is a terrible thing to abuse a child; it is also a terrible thing to accuse somebody of the crime. To assert their guilt is hugely damaging, many would rather be accused of murder. It is not ignoble to publicly ask for proof.

The House of Lords considered the matter last Thursday, and in the course of the debate the Church’s handling of the case was described as ” slippery” and “disingenuous”. A former Archbishop, Lord Carey described the secret process that led to the conclusion as a “kangaroo court”.

In the course of the debate, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss reminded the Lords of a legal principle in such cases. The more implausible event, the more cogent will be the evidence needed to establish it.

Survival after crucifixion was inherently unbelievable. Resurrection from the dead was not credible. To believe such a thing required the most undeniable of evidence, so Jesus gave it to him, gave it to us, and today we celebrate the fact that Thomas doubted, that Jesus understood how very human it was to do that , and gave him the certainty that Thomas and we needed.

One hopes that the Church might relent in this most difficult of matters and provide as much transparency as may be consistent with protecting victim identity. It can be done and it can be done well by those who know what they are doing.

Doubt is human; it is not unreasonable where human institutions are concerned. It is especially justified in the case of a Church whose record of investigating such matters so dreadfully poor.

We need our doubting Thomas’s, for by their questions truth is revealed,

#Brexit? God Save the Queen!

Brother Ivo loves exploring paradox, and the time since Britain voted to exit the EU has left him èmbarrased for choice; where to begin?

Let’s begin on a musical note.

As the remarkable news came through, one might almost have expected Nigel Farrage to celebrate the UK ” Indpendence Day” with the words of the French National Anthem- ” Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé!” – “Children of the fatherland, the time of glory has arrived” It has all the bombast of the Euro-Elite who believed in the Bonapartist vision and project which is the EU, but Mr Farrage had rejected the substance whist perhaps entitled to appropriate a little of the sentiment.

Elsewhere we might enjoy the irony of young progressives demonstrating their radical credentials by joining Jeremy Còrbyn as he supported the power of unelected EU Presidents doing the bidding of lobbyists from Goldman Sachs.

As the morning extended, advocates of the new ” gentler less divisive” politics gathered outside the home of Boris Johnson to abuse him for the temerity of being part of a multi-party coalition that had just contested a binary choice referendum and – Quelle horreur – emerged with the support of the majority of UK electors. Paradox abounds.

As he and others were castigated for their “right wing” stance, their opponents were seemingly ignoring the fact òf that success being rooted in the Labour heartlands from Bury to Boston, from Swansea to Hartlepool. It may not suit the narrative of many of the liberal elite but the result transends politics, classes, regions, origins and generations.

However confident anyone may be in the majority decision there will be uncertainty; that much was always inevitable.

There is one further massive paradox.

The United Kingdom has an unelected Head of State yet unlike the EU Presidents, our Queen does not attempt to steer politics in any direct form. She stands quietly outside the fray but represents a formidable asset on the side of her peoples in these uncertain times.

Whilst young people may hold on to a high opinion of their own importance in these matters, it is the nonagenarian Queen Elizabeth who will see us through. It is worth spending a few moments counting our blessings.

Our Queen learned her “trade” from Winston Churchill ; she saw us move from an Empire spanning the world, to a Commonwealth of Nations that even countries never part of the Empire have wanted to join. She remembers the inception of the EU, its idealism and its initial purpose, she knew De Gaulle and Adenaur. She discussed potential nuclear war with JFK. She has overseen wars and negòtiated peace. She remembers the Windrush, the Notting Hill riots and was on friendly terms with Nelson Mandela. US Presidents shuffle nervously as they await an audience with her.

So here is the greatest paradox.

Our young express anxiety about the future. Our Queen draws on her experience, wisdom, and faith, and whilst others hesitate she will greet our new a Prime Minister and ensure that he or  stay on the path which is best for her peoples.

So never mind EU grandiosity La Patrie and la gloire -” God save the Queen”!

When #LoveWins is not enough.

Many years ago, when political slogans first became fashion accessories, Brother Ivo used to occasionally wear a badge bearing the slogan ” Wearing badges is not enough”.

The badge was lost somewhere along the way, and probably would not be worn now in any event, yet its recollected message was a useful reminder as images have emerged in the media, following the dreadful murders in Orlando.

Nobody can can blame those who have been lighting candles, holding vigils, and joining hands in Great Compton Street singing ” Bridge over troubled water” ; we instinctively want to do something, to show solidarity with the bereaved, and to reassure ourselves that we shall overcome.

Yet wearing badges is not enough. Hashtags do not cut much ice in the councils of Daesche, and the sad individuals trawling the internet to feed their homophobia or misogyny will view all this as confirmation of our moral weakness and national cultural degeneracy.

Terrorism is not new. Russian anarchists took to it in the 19th century, so did Irish Republicans. The tactic of the suicide bomber was developed, not in the Middle East, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Yet the present virulent strain began when a couple of thousand fighters were marauding around Iraq with little more than heavy machine guns mounted on pick up trucks, as the leader of the free world dismissed them as the ” JV (Junior Varsity) Team”.

The ISIS phenomenon was allowed to grow, when a decisive response by a more experienced or resolute US President might have prevented them from capturing vast military resource and, crucially, over a billion dollars in cash which has been used to swiftly mount a social media operation to outreach to the second generation immigrants in first world countries, who seem especially susceptible to their encouragement to actions such as we have seen in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

The old adage ” nothing succeeds like success” applies in this field and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ” glamour” of the Waffen SS attracted recruits from France Holland Norway and Sweden. Even a few British prisoners of war joined them. There is something horribly attractive to young men in such gross and violent organisations, yet the converse is also true. Failure is not a great spur to recruitment. Young people especially, disassociate from it.

It is with this in mind, that Brother Ivo sadly concludes that the destruction of all semblance of ” Islamic State” is essential,: until it is, it will continue to function as a focus for Muslim youth when it wants to demonstrate its rebellion.

This sounds shocking. Many want to choose different “enemies”, less frightening ones. So the Orlando killings are blamed on the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, Christian cake makers and those who disturb student sensitivities with challenges to their complacencies.

Yet one does not have to spend long considering the attitudes of militant Islam to start joining the dots between the extremist pulpit and the smell of cordite.

Though many kindly tolerant people find it deeply uncomfortable to associate their decent Muslim friends and neighbours with what -in other contexts -would be called ” hate speech”, it is unquestionably true that anyone looking for theological texts to justify the destruction of gay people, will not find the Koran lacking in such material.

We in the Christian Churches are struggling with a a handful of texts in our Bible as we try to be inclusive. Ours are less trenchant than those confronting moderate Muslims. Those seeking to read the Koran in a more ” gay friendly” fashion have infinitely more problems. One does not hear of “shared conversations” in UK Mosques; if they occur, it would not be safe to publicise them. Once that might have been conceivable; not anymore.

A recent international survey of attitudes to LGBT lifestyles shows that the Islamic world is resolutely hostile, with the percentage spectrum ranging from the high 70’s to 99%. Even in the UK 52% of Muslims believe it should still be illegal. In at least 10 Islamic countries there is a death penalty for gay behaviour.

Unless addressed, it must surely be the case that a growth of Islamic identity and population within the UK must have a potential for a cultural collision with the gay-friendly zeitgeist within the UK.

In parts of a London and other cities, we are seeing the defacement of public advertisements depicting females with less than Islamic modesty. The New Mayor of London is banning certain images from Transport for London for reasons couched in feminist terms yet congruent with Islamist attitude.

The likelihood is that “Culture Wars” may get worse before it gets better.

So how are we to head this off?

The !eft of politics in particular has been keen to attract support from sectional interests; they have not wanted LGBT people or Muslims to feel excluded from mainstream society. That sounds reasonable enough. It is an admirable aspiration. Yet what will be required of all sections of society if that is to be achieved? What if they are not interested, but inflexibly prefer to assert their religious and cultural rectitude?

Defeating Islamic State whilst holding the confidence of the UK Muslim population and simultaneously advancing gay rights, looks an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

Wearing badges is not enough.

 

Chichester Diocese can learn from its own lessons

The Anglican Church has been considering the Elliott Review into its handling of child abuse matters,  hot on the heels of the Archbishop of Canterbury feeling obliged to issue an apology over such matters in Jersey. At the other end of the country, a victim of abuse has called for the Bishop of Durham -the Church’s lead Bishop in the field – to undergo retraining following mistakes in the North.

In Scotland a 2 the secular world, in Scotland  a 2 year old has suffered dreadfully through institutional Child Protection systemic weakness, and in Northern Ireland, the Kincora Inquiry is beginning its work into  accusations of State Agencies looking the other way to protect the abuser, who, it is suggested, was a security asset.

We never seem to get away from this terrible subject, and when stories come so quickly, one after another, it is easy to glaze over, switch off, and hope that lessons will be learned.

Only, they are not. They never have been, not since the dreadful case of Maria Colwell in 1973, and not following the dozens of case inquiries since.

Everytime we have these tragedies looked into,  the same problems are identified. Case files are neglected, social workers are changed too often, multiple reports are dismissed or not connected, neighbours speak once and when nothing happens assume all is well. The other side of the road is a well trodden path.

The Institutional Church is in just such a mode, even now, despite all the failures within the Church, and outside. Too easily we issue the apology, assert that “lessons have been learnt” , raise our eyes to higher things and move on.

“Moving on” includes a complacency about too many clergy who have avoided attending necessary training and only undertake it with astonishing self confidence in their own ability in this complex field,, despite the plain evidence that better trained and more experienced social work specialists, doctors, lawyers and Judges are constantly falling into error.

On the ground, too many Church folk still believe ” it couldn’t happen here “: in the hierarchy, too many subscribe to the belief that they know what they are doing;and yet, without in the least decrying their bona fides, it has to be said that the story of institutions in many fields across our culture is one of recurring amnesia in this difficult area.

There have been over 30 child protection Public Inquiries concerning child deaths, and the depressing theme that runs through all of them, is that they all say the same thing. Procedures are not complied with, files are transferred and continuitity lost, “dots are not connected” at the vital time, and yet in retrospect, once the tragedy has occurred, it is usually blindingly obvious that any halfway competent review would have seen where it was heading.

Heavens, even Brother Ivo’s writing tends to become repetitive when he returns to this theme!

A culture of complacency creeps back in, and those raising critical and discordant commentary are told to relax, they are assured that lessons have been learnt, and urged that it is unhelpful to draw attention to the Church having a poor history of managing child protection.

This is is why the campaign to review the case of Bishop Bell is so important.

It is of greater importance that simply restoring a historical legacy: in truth, it  is a challenge to the very culture of the church hierarchy, which is one of being instinctively opaque, deferential and unaccountable.

The fact that the Bell case seeks to question poor process in relation to the accused is irrelevant. A Church that can get it right in secrecy, can get it wrong in secrecy, and will have all the necessary tools with which to bury its mistakes

That cases has been made before, both here and elsewhere.

What is new,and that can be said now, is to highlight the amnesia.

We have ” got it right ” and then promptly forgotten the lesson, and this can be demonstrated in the very Diocese of Chichester in which the Bishop Bell controversy is playing out.

Whenever questions about the inquiry process surrounding Bishop Bell are asked, the official response is that nothing can be said because to answer any question would be to breach the right to confidentiality belonging to the complainant. It is deployed as a shield to silence  even those questions touching upon the actions of the institution rather than the circumstances of the accuser. Apparently the cloak of secrecy is drawn so tightly, that even members of the Cathedral Chapter are excluded and frustrated.

Yet there is a double absurdity.

Chichester Diocese is primly refusing to answer questions at the same time that a Public Inquiry into the Kincora Children Home is openly exploring the role (if any) of the security services in covering up abuse.

Victims testimony will be disclosed and agents of MI5, MI6, and Army Intelligence will have to account for their their actions and policies, and yet, according to the Church hierarchy, the Bell case is so impacted by the law of confidentiality, that we cannot even be told whether the accuser’s medical records were examined to determine if her own publicly acknowledged history of mental health fragility shed any light on the story. It is not the content of those records that is sought, but simply confirmation of the fact  that such evidence was considered by a suitably qualified expert ,capable of evaluating the relevance – if any.

That is not a matter of confidentiality; it is a matter of procedural competence.

Yet one does not need to reference the Northern Ireland Public Inquiry to flag up the contrasting absurdity.

On the Diocese of Chichester’s own website, one can read a 54 page report into a previous child protection scandal. Worried at what went wrong in the case of Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard  the Diocese commissioned a report from Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss, whose  report into Child Protection failures at Cleveland as long ago as 1987 set the benchmark for transparency and clarity about how such cases can be investigated and the conclusions put proportionately in the public domain.

On Chichester’s own website, Dame Elizabeth sets out a textbook template which shows how it is possible to balance the public interest in open justice, with due care for the privacy of the complainant. It can be done, it has been done. It can be read in all its transparent fullness here

Chichester  must revisit its own archive and draw suitable conclusions.

Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

This is the lesson that must be drawn from all these past tragedies. We have short term memories but highly entrenched corporate instincts towards secrecy.

This matter will not go away. It will be raised at Question Time at the next General Synod in York. If transparency does not begin thereafter, we shall have to seek a full public debate about the Church’s instinct against openness, by which the default position of “Trust me I’m a Bishop’ is exposed for the absurd foolishness that it is.

 

 

 

 

 

That “Ed Hotchner” moment

Most people have never heard of AE Hotchner which may be a pity because he lived a very colourful life as the trusted friend of interesting people.

Latterly he was the partner of the late Paul Newman in the marketing of culinary sauces which were sold in the film star’s name, and at the end of every financial year,  the two  friends would sit and work out how to distribute the very significant profits to charity; something like 350m dollars found their way to good causes in this way, so Mr Hotchner did a lot of good.

He was also a companion of Ernest Hemingway, and in his auto biography tells of a rather splendid story of their “hell raising” days together, when they were friends of the Bull Fighting fraternity.

After drinking with two of Spain’s finest matadors one night, they hatched a plot to smuggle Hotchner into the bull fighters’ entourage and send him into the grand parade of matadors before a prestigious corrida. They appreciated that making a mockery of this great Spanish institution was risky in the Spain of General Franco, but high spirits prevailed.

The following morning, Hotchner was dressed in a “suit of lights” and took his place as the 2nd reserve bullfighter and was soon hugely enjoying the joke and the adulation of the crowd as he entered the ring and took his place on the bench.

It was only at the entry of the bull that the full precariousness of his position came to mind.

If the bull killed the greatest matador in the world, it was the reserve bull fighter’s job to finish the job.

If the bull despatched the two greatest bullfighters in the world, the time would have come for Hotchner to make his bull fighting debut.

It is perhaps as well that this all took place before Leicester City defied the 5000/1 odds against winning the English Premier League.

This anecdote came to Brother Ivo’s mind as he heard US commentators opining that the effective winning of the Republican Presidential nomination meant a ” shoe-in” for Hillary Clinton to become the next US President.

Frankly, Brother Ivo is not greatly enamoured of either candidate, but he tries to be objective and “interesting” and it is worth pausing to consider Mrs Clinton’s position if she eventually shakes off the dogged campaign of Senator Sanders, who has made her expected ( and significantly engineered ) coronation a less comfortable process than the party bosses planned.

As she takes the plaudits before the adoring Convention might she too have her ” Ed Hotchner moment”?

Might she reflect that having beaten Mr Sanders with some some difficulty, she will next be facing a man whose brutal political populism has relatively effortlessly despatched, not one unknown Senator, but sixteen highly resourced opponents, several with significant records of  years of hard campaigning and executive experience?

Campaigning, andtaking part in a grand procession is one thing; delivering the final performance is a very different proposition, and all of us in greater or lesser degree have experienced that “Ed Hotchner moment”.

A curate securing her first living, the newly qualified doctor approaching his first shift in A&E , even the newly elected member of General Synod preparing to make the maiden speech – we all have such doubts and reminders of our own fallibilities.

Many Churches will be having their own collective ” Ed Hotchner ” moments as they hear another call to evangelism , and consider the exhortations to follow Christ’s great commission to make disciples of all the world. We will all feel inadequate to the task ahead.

Some may doubt their strength, others their technique. Many will feel their own faith incomplete – few of us have all the answers – but Jesus was ahead of us, telling is not to worry what we will say, he will give us the words if only we get alongside people like ourselves and start the conversation.

But there is yet another reason to set aside our fears in such circumstances.

Our Archbishops Justin and John have launched an online video not simply calling upon us to prepare to evangelise the nation, but giving us the watch word that will enable us to fulfil our part in the great commission,

it is encompassed in two small words that might have served A E Hotchner well as he confronted his doubts and fears in that bull ring all those many years ago –  Just Pray

Where are the French Human Rights Lawyers?

Brother Ivo was listening to a Conservative MP speaking on the radio who discharged her responsibility towards holding Government to account by challenging the policy not to accept unaccompanied children from the Calais migrant camp known as ” The Jungle”.

Readers may may know that Brother Ivo has advised that such acceptances must not be based upon an arbitrary number but calibrated to the recruitment of suitable foster carers who are properly supported and resourced.

The State is notoriously a bad parent, and the ranks of the homeless, the depressed, the imprisoned, the suicidal and the parents of children taken into care, are disproportionately represented by those who were once children in the care of institutional parents.

Children from war zones who are let down by poorly managed processes will be especially vulnerable to future radicalisation. By all means be generous, but let us recognise that compassion on the cheap will not end well. If it is going to be done. let it be done with competence as well as compassion.

The lady MP  pressing her Government was very persuasive however, especially as she spoke of children being abused daily in the camps and needing to be ” sewn up ” after abuse. That was a “game changing image”.

Who could not be moved to act as the nature of the problem was thus described? Two small words, but  a horrific and unforgettable image imparted.

The Government has shifted under such advocacy: one only hopes that they will heed a Brother Ivo’s warning and do what is necessary to make the policy a long term success and not just a short term sop to the public conscience.

Yet, the description of the lady MP – whose name Brother Ivo regrettably did not catch – raises two important collateral matters.

First, it does impact on the view which ordinary people may have of the adult inhabitants of the Jungle: if this is happening on a nightly basis, why is not the adult population of that camp not taking some responsibility for the war zone young?

We are told that they are talented people who, given the chance, will be net improvers of British society.  Doubtless there will be those who are acting to protect the young, but evidently there are many whose resonse to vulnerability is to exploit it.

“Open borders” is not a policy assisted by such stories.

There is a second implication.

If this is what is so widely and blatantly occurring to the very young, what are the French authorities doing about it? If the French State is protectively absent where is the French outcry?

More specifically, where is the French Human Right lobby and it’s associated lawyers?

French jurisprudence has traditionally been very strong on ” The Rights of Man”. They may have been inspired in this by the English Thomas Paine, but we’ll let that pass.

When Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Belgium, he was immediately assisted by a lawyer there,  and when he was transferred to France, a French lawyer was promptly engaged. This tradition of leaping to the defence of the unpopular is deeply engaged in the legal/political class of France

The late french Left wing Lawyer Jacques Verges was legendary for his defence of human rights violators from terrorist “Carlos the Jackel” through ” the butcher of Lyons ” Klause Barbie, to the head of the Khmyr Rouge Khieu Samphan. Maitre Verges volunteered to represent each of them. He inspired generations of politically motivated lawyers.

Human Rights lawyers are very good at defending monsters creatively against  perceived threats to their human rights violations, real or imagined .

So where are they, in calling to account the French Government for its failure to protect these unaccompanied children? In England, Social Services would not be allowed to stand idly by such “no go zones” whilst small children are nightly abused; they consider removing children from foster carers who smoke or flirt with voting UKIP.

So what is the story in France?

Advocates of the UK remaining in the EU are currently suggesting that were we to leave, UK Human Rights jurisprudence would grind to a halt. So here is the question-

if European Human Right Jurisprudence is so superior, so activist in defence of Human Rights, so confronting of State injustice – why is it not being deployed to protect the children of “The Jungle”?

 

Lessons for the Church from Hillsborough

The vindication of the Campaign for Justice for the 96 Hillsborough dead has touched the nation, and is causing many to re-think how one views such pressure groups.

Historically it should not surprise us. The campaign to free the Birmingham 6 was similarly lengthy and convoluted, and it is not only victims who receive justice belatedly;  perpetrators of abuse are also found out in time, as some of the nation’s well established celebrities are  discovering.

Yet for every guilty Jimmy Savile, there is an innocent  Nigel Evans: Stuart Hall was properly found guilty, Leon Britton went to his grave under an unjust cloud of suspicion because  police officers were too enmeshed in the virtue of their investigation to retain objectivity.

Even the disgraced footballer Ched Evans – who undoubtedly behaved very badly towards a young woman – has been granted a re-trial because the procedure which convicted him has been considered by the Court of Appeal and found  to be unsafe.

So this is the first lesson for the Church. Justice matters, even historic injustice must be righted, even if it takes time and erodes confidence in an important institution.

This brings us to the late Bishop George Bell.

From the little they knew, the Hillsborough families were not able to accept that what they were being told by the powers that be, was safe and based upon a transparent process of integrity. For such temerity, they were characterised as “whining scousers” who were unduly inclined to embrace victimhood. Such claims look pretty shoddy this side of the Inquest verdicts.

This is the second lesson which we can draw from Hillsborough for the Church. Ignoring legitimate concerns is wrong. It will also be a fundamental error to characterise those scrutinising the Church’s  investigation of the Bishop Bell case as “strident”.

Nobody in the campaign is denying the possibility that the complainant in the case is telling the truth, yet what is attracting objective people to support the campaign, is an examination of the information currently in the public domain which draws experienced lawyers and public figures to the inescapable conclusion that one cannot see a fair- and therefore a safe  – process at work.

In the past the Church has often applied an unfair opaque process leading to injustice for the accusers; it is no improvement to replace that with an unjust opaque process leading to injustice to the accused.

This is the third lesson of Hillsborough for the Church. Those campaigning for Justice do not go away quietly

The Church authorities have tried to close the debate by refusing to answer questions. We are told that they have conducted a comprehensive enquiry and have been advised by experts. They refuse even to confirm the area professional expertise of those experts. We must trust the process because the Church says it has been thorough.

Nothing will alarm anyone with expertise in Child Protection Law more than such a patronising assertion.

Over the past thirty years, there have been many public Inquiries into issues of child protection; that history is littered with discarded , confidently asserted  expert opinion.

There are fashions in child abuse practice just as there are in skirt lengths.

The existence of widespread ‘Satanic Child Abuse’, has dropped off the agenda and the nature of  “Munchausen Syndrome” and “False Memory Syndrome” have been downgraded from the status of medically diagnosable syndromes, to that of a  loose description of phenomena to be considered –  but only with with a great deal of caution.

For anyone acquainted with such matters, “Trust me I am an expert” cuts no more ice than ” Trust me I am a Bishop’. An expert opinion is only as good as the facts made available and not all are as intellectually curious outside of the brief presented.

Once, Freudian Psychiatrists would earnestly tell the Courts that many little girls fantasise over having sex with their fathers; we are currently in an age where many assert that all complainants must be assumed to be truthful. We seem to forgotten the lesson of the Cleveland Report which was to “listen to the child ( complainant) and take what they say seriously’. That is not the same as belief, and requires an ongoing objectivity throughout the process.

So, the fourth lesson is surely The Age of deference has passed.

Paradoxically, that may have washed in Bishop Bell’s day, but it certainly is not accepted today.

The Hillsborough Campaign gathered support because enough people cared to keep it in the public eye. If the Church hierarchy is hoping that those troubled by the current state of publicly available information will let it drop, it is mistaken. Questions will be asked at Synod and any attempt to evade questions on the basis of a mistaken view of what is and is not “confidential” will only irritate Synod members.

That irritation will be picked up by the Church press and such mainstream commentators as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. It is understood that members of the House of Lords are disquieted and may introduce a debate.

So lesson number five is The concerns of ordinary people do reach the public ear.

Plainly the Church does not want the issue of sexual abuse to again dominate the headlines; the complainant has said publicly that every time the matter hits the headlines, she is distressed.

If the Church wants to bring this matter to a satisfactory close it can do so by being more transparent and engaging properly with the questions that are legitimately raised as to the processes by which its decisions have been reached.

The Establishment approached the Hillsborough families with imperious disregard for proper standards of justice, and tried to defend the indefensible. People not only now distrust what happened then, they are now distrustful of how the police and Government will act in the future

Here we have the sixth and final lesson.

Justice4GeorgeBell is not about Justice for the past but whether the Church is currently capable of delivering  Justice now and in the future.

At present, it is impossible to answer that question in the affirmative.

 

The Human Face of Inhumanity

The February General Synod debate on the sanctioning of benefit claimants for non-compliance with complex bureaucratic procedures might have become monotonous. Everyone who was called was against them, though one or two made a low key defence of the principle that there must be some control over public expenditure.

What saved the day,  was the almost farcical litany of crazy decisions which might have been amusing were they not to result in serious difficulty for ordinary people, in real cases of hardship. One became almost transfixed as one outrageous decision vied with another for the accolade of worst decision to illustrate the point.

Two examples fixed themselves in Brother Ivo’s recollection.

There was the claimant who had suffered a burglary overnight, and telephoned the Work and Pensions Department to explain she would be late because the police were at the home undertaking forensic examination and needed her presence. For that non-attendance on time, her benefit was suspended for some weeks. She could appeal, but that did not help in the immediate future. She needed the help immediately but this was being ignored.

Even worse was the woman with disability who set off in good time to catch the bus. When it arrived, the mechanism to lower the bus platform was faulty, so she was cheerfully invited to wait for the next one: that was no problem, she had given herself time …except the later bus was cancelled, she arrived late,  and she suffered benefit sanction for weeks. She could appeal etc etc.

One response is to ” blame the Government” and many will, although as indicated, there is a legitimate point in initially requiring claimant compliance when public money is disbursed. That argument slips when it is put to those defining the policy, none of whom is likely to defend such decisions.

Former MP and Synod member Tony Baldry urged members to take the problems to their MP’s surgery, yet surely they are hardly likely to defend the indefensible and one can be sure that the Ministers in charge will blame operational malfeasance.

Nobody invited us to consider the role of the local offices and their staff.

It is at that banal level that such evil is perpetrated. Somebody hears the facts, and decides to sanction the woman who has just been burgled. Somebody goes home to cook the supper having devastated the lady who couldn’t get on the bus.

What is this about?

Are they stupid, cruel, undertrained, bullied by superiors or simply callous?

Do they ever think “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt” or are they like workers on a slaughter line,  blotting out the sensitivity, on the basis that “its a job” or even that “I was just following orders”.

It it is maybe here that the Church should apply itself.

Instead of joining the queue at our MP surgeries, maybe we should be talking to centre staff, their superiors and their trades union representatives. If our faceless bureaucrats are having their humanity checked in at the staff entrance door, we need to know why. If they are having to meet refusal quotas, we need them to tell us.

At present, those making these bad decisions have no “skin in the game”. They suffer no consequencesfor crass  decisions made. Nobody is engaging with them, getting alongside them to ask how such bad calls happen and asking what can be done to put an end to a public scandal. We cannot help them if we don’t hear them. Only when we understand what discretions – if any – exist , and how we can restore the exercise of common sense will we see these examples disappear from our public authorities.

What is happening in our public administration is partly the responsibility of individuals, and it is at that level that humanising it must begin.