Category Archives: Child Protection

We can all agree with Mr Cameron that ……

Whatever one’s politics, there is little doubt that in his Party Conference speech the Prime Minister set out his agenda for the next five years with clarity and no small degree of passion.

In the following hours and weeks it will be examined, questioned, praised an/or sceptically evaluated, and in future months and years he will be held to account, as indeed he should be.

There was one section of his address however,  where there can surely be widespread consensus, and one upon which the Church of England’s incoming General Synod might perhaps take a supportive position without risk of accusation of political partisanship.

I refer to that section in which the Prime Minister addressed the problems of those whose start in life was blighted, leading to institutional care.

The prognosis for such young people is unbelievably bleak. The PM was absolutely right to identify this as a priority.

If you have had such a poor start to life, so that the State intervened in your family and became your “Statutory Parent”, your life prospects have plunged from that point on. One does not have to apportion blame as one remarks upon this, but simply look at the historical statistical outcomes.

Such a young person will be highly unlikely to achieve 5 reasonable GSE’s; university education is incredibly rare.

One’s prospects of falling into crime, homelessness, worklessness, substance abuse, family breakdown, mental illness  or suicide, are very high indeed, and if there are children – which is more likely than not, they will statistically be highly likely to repeat the cycle. Few areas of publicly funded failure have such long lasting or cruel consequences.

When we hear folk speak of the alienated “under-class”, those with a history of being parented by the State will feature with excessive prominence within the cohort.

These outcomes will occur despite the whole process having cost the State a fortune. It is wasteful on every level, not least in the spoiling of human potential.

Yet it does not have to be like this. There are rare examples of people from difficult backgrounds making it against the odds, and no better example currently exists, than the present Justice Minister, Michael Gove who was himself an adopted child.

That gives Brother Ivo hope.

Mr Gove has responsibility for the prison service in which so many of those who began life like him currently languish. He seems to have a sense that ” there but for the grace of God go I’ and if he ever appears to  lose that sense, he may be properly reminded of it as he goes about his reforming work. Such work will complement the work of the Home Secretary and Children’s Minister in this multi-faceted field.

Surely nothing the Prime Minister said on this subject can be controversial or sensibly denied?

Neither Party has a decent record on the subject so political point scoring by either side is unsustainable; one hopes a joint determination to go forward from here is possible.

Our Churches should be at the forefront of encouraging the Government  in its endeavours within this area, yet we also need to be sympathetic critics, monitoring performance of the specific policies that flesh out the fine aspirations.

If we are to lift the alienated underclass, which all politicians aspire to achieve, it plainly makes sense to first stop adding to it. Already there are moves to preserve such youngsters within a stable family orbit beyond technical adulthood, but we need to do so much more.

This is one of those areas where strong supportive funding does make sense; such is the accumulation of costs “downstream” if early intervention is unsuccessful, that a focus on intensive  investment, innovation and the developing of consistent, long lasting, supportive relationships is wholly justified.

If the Churches cannot find a supportive role within this project, it will scarcely be able to lecture either Government or Society on the “socially relevant Gospel” again.

When Judges and Bishops “rebel”

Sir Nicholas Creighton is not a politician, neither is he a bishop. Brother Ivo does not know if he is a Christian, but as he discharges his duties as a District Judge in the specialist Drug and Alcohol Family Court in London, he demonstrates much that is similar in approach to that of the Anglicans Bishops whose recently published pastoral letter urges a fresh approach upon those about to contest the general election.

If you do not know about Sir Nicholas’ innovative work in resolving intractable family problems you can read about it here. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/family-drug-and-alcohol-court-breaking-the-habit/5041570.fullarticle

In a nutshell the Court which he has created in a pilot scheme, targets the most complex and intractable of cases where parents have failed their children through misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Many of the parents will have been brought up by neglectful cruel or incompetent parents themselves, so the problems are compounded by emotional issues which would be difficult enough to resolve as stand alone problems, even before substance abuse and inevitable poverty potentiated the difficulties.

These “families” are characterised by lack of routine, multiple relationships, and state dependency, and having been neglected or actively subverted by societal messaging that drug use and single parenthood is perfectly capable of delivering ” good enough” parenting.

Such parents are shocked when State and its agents suddenly turn from being indulgent provider to aggressive accuser, giving such fragile parents just 6 months to turn around the habits of a lifetime,  with the penalty of losing their children forever should they be incapable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sir Nicholas identifies the problem succinctly.

“A system that goes on removing children because of drug and alcohol issues, but does nothing about the core problem, is a ‘failing system’, he adds: ‘We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss.’

They inevitably return , they cannot heal themselves : “if they knew better, they’d do better”.

These are people with tragic lives, often the product of poor decisions – many their own. Whilst we are enjoined not to be judgemental, they have almost invariably failed to follow the very simple basic rules for avoiding poverty, and family chaos.

1) Don’t drop out of school
2) Don’t have children under 21 years
3) Get married before having children
4) Don’t engage in substance abuse

Our societal failure to promulgate these simple basic rules is at the heart of many of tragedies that arrive in the family courts. Our Bishops could help in this regard but rarely do so with clarity.

Sir Nicholas  tired of seeing the pain of families being administered into heartbreaking separation, and of his part in letting it happen. Having seen the value of joined up thinking in the Courts of Santa Barbara California, he started a bold initiative to do things better in London. He convinced Government Departments and Local Authorities to give him enough free rein and funding – “peanuts” – to do things differently,

When Court proceedings are started, parents are brought to him quickly. He sets out a programme in consultation with independent social workers, therapists, child and adult psychiatrists, substance abuse experts and a clinical nurse. He talks plainly, offering failing parents a promise of a fair chance and real support in return for determined engagement and total honesty. If the parents agree, they enter a programme of intensive change, support and regular drug testing.

It is not perfect, it has many failures when even these efforts cannot rescue parents from deep habits and emotional fragility. The project has, however, markedly improved the prospects of success for families staying together- and when this happens the case ends with congratulations and applause for all the hard work – led by the Judge.

So what has this to do with our Bishop’s pastoral letter enjoining politicians to change their modus operandi?

The Judge, like the Bishops, recognised that standing imperiously above the process and passing judgement, was not enough. To achieve what was needed required him to re-define his role. Our Bishops seem of similar mind.

He engages the failing families with direct and refreshing honesty. One might say that he engages them with equality, and refreshing respect: he does not condescend or dissemble. He put the challenge bluntly, offered a hand up, but does not shirk from making a tough decision when the primary interest of the children required it.

He sees that the common good – of the families and the wider community – have a mutual interest in investing time effort and resources  to reverse the cycle of failure, which frequently cascades down through the generations.

He plainly believes that the failed families before him were worth the effort of redemption.

He recognises that the people he has spend years judging have a culture of failure; it is not, as our politically correct friends would have us believe, an equally valid life style choice. Nevertheless he offers them respect though a real choice: nobody can do this  for them, although if they accept the challenge they may succeed. Nothing is guaranteed, nobody can succeed for them, but the specialist Court gives them their best chance.

Neither the Judge, nor the bishops have got it all right. Both are venturing outside of their traditional roles. Both are motivated by a combination of compassion and informed practicality. We should welcome the good that can come out of it, yet this can only happen if we too fully engage with the process.

There is much to approve in the Bishop’s initiative, yet also a strand of paternalism and trust in the benefits State intervention that many find jarring, especially when they look at our own past and the French present.

Sir Nicholas seems to have struck the balance rather better.

Help is offered – but accompanied by realistic expectation.

Personal responsibility is not overlooked.

Bad destructive values are bluntly challenged.

Resources are targeted in a timely manner, but contractually based, and for carefully defined purpose.

There is compassion, but not indulgent sentimentality.

It is a blend of optimism, tempered by real world experience.

With a Judges talent for succinct communication Sir Nicholas can also encapsulate his thinking in considerably less than 52 pages, Our Bishops might do well to learn by this example.

The First Lesson of the Chilcott Inquiry

Brother Ivo has never read the Chilcott Report: nobody who was not a witness or a close associate of that process has.

It is an inquiry into an immensely important and complicated matter, involving not only historical facts about what did or did not happen before Britain went to war in Iraq, but also diplomatic matters with our principal ally the United States. with whom we have long shared sensitive security information and political confidences.

That said, most of the participants who made the decisions are still alive, many of the discussions were minutely documented and minuted, and although we are addressing issues from 10 years ago, most of the participants are alive and mentally agile enough to engage actively in the process.

Nevertheless, we have arrived at a complete shambles. Nobody is satisfied. There is much suspicion of cover up, and prevarication.

The Inquiry was conducted by a career Civil Servant.

Consider now the growing dissatisfaction with the inquiry into historical sexual abuse of children, which is currently parked whilst the “stakeholders” argue about the identity of the Chair and the scope of the investigation which is already looking at a minimum of 40 years of contentious evidence, with less reliable documentation and many participants within the process and history old or dead.

There is immense emotion involved in the historic abuse inquiry with lives having been utterly destroyed: the levels of personal investment is even greater with wholly understandable frustration, anger and a sense of injustice abounding. These factors are currently disabling the historical Abuse Inquiry from even taxiing down the runway, still less taking off.

The capable management of such an Inquiry is much much more complex and sensitive even than that of the Chilcott Inquiry. It is for this reason that the choice of Chair is so important.

Some readers will know that Brother Ivo was disappointed when Dame Butler-Sloss was forced to stand down from chairing the process. The perception of potential bias had been elevated beyond the requirement of fundamental competence to the task: sobeit.

Those who resist in principal the appointment of distinguished  Judge well versed in complex. case management need to reflect carefully upon the current Chilcott debacle.

This is what a non Judge led Inquiry looks like.

The identification of issues, evaluation of contentious facts, Judgment of credibility and succinct presentation of findings, is utterly normal to even the middle order judge, and the vast majority of cases are not only not appealed but are unappealable when explained by those whose training ethos and culture, predispose them to avoiding the errors of discursive, lengthy, and contentious judgements. Professional habituation training and ingrained good practice is vital if one is not to prolong such highly emotionally charged investigations

Professional competence within a known sphere of expertise is something we take for granted in our doctors, engineers, architects, and plumbers. Those who routinely complain that our judiciary should not undertake the Chairing of such Inquiries, need to observe what is happening over Chilcott and note what results when we entrust such matters to those whose lifelong professional experience is not within the required area of expertise.

To put it in the most populist terms, in such cases we need Judge John Deed, not Sir Humphrey Appleby

Brother Ivo goes to General Synod

In the 19th Century Victor Hugo described the conditions of the prisoner Jean Valjean who was de-humanised by the assignment of the number 24601. In the mid-21st Century, Nelson Mandela became prisoner number 46664. In George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, Winston Smith cries ” I am not a number!” Upon joining General Synod in the 21st century one is immediately allocated a number. There is no remission for good behaviour.

Despite that apparent anachronism, one of the striking things on entering the forum is a pleasing and genuine diversity. At early morning coffee on the first day Brother Ivo was warmly welcomed and assisted by a colleague with significant disability, an armed forces chaplain and a nun. In the chamber he sat behind the deaf representatives enjoying the expressiveness of the language of translation, especially the gesture for “angels” which we should surely all adopt whenever we use the word. Think descending fluttering hands- delightful.

The promulgation of Canon on Women Bishops was undertaken with dignity and the varied legislative agenda was well explained and frequently laced with bonhomie when a potentially dull subject needed enlivening.

Sincere conviction was never far beneath the surface. Discussing Clergy Discipline Guidance we heard heartfelt devotion to the integrity of the confessional, and no less determination to banish laxity from our safeguarding procedures.

Brother Ivo made an immediate maiden speech on this issue seeking to strengthen the guidance when Clergy think there “may” an exception to the usual rules on confidentiality.

Instead of stating that clergy “should” take the advice of Safeguarding Officers he proposed that they “must” take that advice. It does not of course require them to identify those under suspicion at that evaluation point, but where the safety of the vulnerable is concerned, Brother Ivo stressed ” This is no time for amateur hour”.

The need for disciplined prayer in clergy life was emphasised as was the sheer stress and volume of advice and regulation upon our clergy.

We are to be encouraged to go ” paperless” as the cost of our a Synod paperwork now exceeds £20,000 per session. As an apostle of systemic modernity, Brother Ivo was hoist with his own petard and has resolved to make the change. He has suggested that we need a fringe meeting at the next Synod with an on hand “techie” to help the less confident Synod members to download the materials and organise them for ready access. Many will worry about doing it themselves but an ounce of practice is worth any amount of exhortation.

The highlight of the first day was unquestionably the address by Archbishop Justin. If you have not read it, it is highly recommended.
( http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5443/archbishop-justins-presidential-address-to-the-general-synod-video)

To Brother Ivo, the key paragraph is the one in which he says

” the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity. It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve. Yet if we even get near it we can speak with authority to a world where over the last year we have seen more than ever an incapacity to deal with difference, and a desire to oversimplify the complex and diverse nature of human existence for no better reason than we cannot manage difference and dealing with The Other. Yet in Christ we are held together. In Christ the barriers are broken, peace is held out to us as a gift established, which needs living. In Christ there is hope of a life that provides hope of peace.”

The more he has considers these words, the more Brother Ivo is impressed with the boldness of that vision.

Is he not challenging us to review the very nature of Anglicanism?

For too long we have had doctrinal strivings, aimed at winning an inter-party struggle. Do we not need to step back from even attempting theological uniformity?

With the approval of women priests we created an enclave for our Anglo-Catholic friends. We shall soon be asked to ensure that other colleagues who hold to the “headship” principle shall have a guaranteed place in the House of Bishops. Having embarked upon that institutionalisation of difference, what possible reason can we advance for not reaching similar accommodations with other sections of the communion, not least those who wish to participate in gay “marriage”.

Brother Ivo opposed the redefinition of marriage: he is on record in that view. That debate was lost.

That law  is now in place and many liberal clergy would wish to conduct such services in accordance with it. We know their views, they are open and plain in their support, even as we share the bread and the cup together. They will want no less acceptance and respect for that approach, than they were asked to accept on behalf of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals for their issues of conscience and interpretation.

Given a vitally necessary strong defence on behalf of those who can never accept participation in such services, will this not be part of the “functional diversity” to which Archbishop Justin alludes?

To those worried about too much diversity in our gender views it is worth reflecting for a moment on the once unimaginable diversity in theology with which we currently live.

We have within the Communion, those who regard the Bible as the literal word of God, but there are others who regard it as the “inspired” word of God. Some are strongly for the historicity the Virgin birth whilst others see only an expressive truth. The reverence of some for the Virgin or Icons is for others but one step removed from idolatry. The literal body and blood of Christ for one,  is the “token of sacrifice”  another. One man’s altar is another woman’s table. To some, prayers for the dead are efficacious, for others a pointless exercise. There will be other examples.

In short, we have all swallowed so many theological camels to preserve unity, that choking on the gender gnat should be almost easy. If we are finding it hard, we need to look again at Archbishop Justin’s vision.

Of course our disagreements are a cause for repentance. Yet is that continued, and even additional, division enough for us to call it a day? Is this the time for some of us to walk away?

The reality is that we have become a federation of belief- a “federation of failure” if you like – but still with enough shared love for God to make it worth our while not to throw in our hands. There is still much we agree upon.

On Tuesday we looked at Middle Eastern issues. In that context we hoped that the protagonists will somehow, with the Grace of God, come together. Notwithstanding  the blood and rhetoric currently in evidence there,  if we can still conceive of reconciliation between Middle Eastern Jew, Muslim, and Christian , we surely cannot regard division from those currently in communion with each other whilst plainly of different gender views, just because we are approaching a decision point on gay marriage?

There will be more to say on Tuesday’s business which saw debates on the Middle East, the Methodist Covenant and the “Bedroom Subsidy” as well as a fringe meeting on Gaza. These will be the subject of the next post.

Defending Lord Hope -different times, different understandings

Child abuse is back in the public eye.

Archbishop Justin has been reported in the Daily Telegraph as having broken down in tears at the horror of engaging with yet more stories of child abuse, having immersed himself in the detail of many historic cases and then meeting survivors personally. Brother Ivo is not surprised.

It is possible to inure oneself to such material, indeed it is very necessary for professionals in the field to do so, for otherwise the tasks of analysis could simply not be done. Like trauma paramedics and surgeons, the constant exposure to raw pain and tragedy can have searing affects on those not habituated to it, and those who have to consider these  matters on a daily basis have to  harden their emotional carapaces to survive. Beyond the initial investigating officers, Prosecutors are required by “best practice” to view relevant images. Officers and the lawyers testing such allegations have to ask in detail what happened and press victims for verifiable detail.

To appreciate the difficulty involved, it is worth reminding ourselves that the weeping Archbishop is the same Justin Welby who was brave enough to surrender himself to heavily armed Muslim terrorists in order to negotiate the release of hostages. He did this on more than one occasion. This is not a man who lacks courage, strength of character or self control.

That is the measure of what such stories can do to the strongest of characters, and explains his determination to expose the past wrongdoings. It also shows how hard it is to engage with such matters. It was perhaps even harder in the past when society found it hard to credit such allegations.

We also seem to be having further difficulty finding a suitable person to chair the public inquiry into child abuse at the heart of public life. Having jettisoned Lady Butler-Sloss because her brother was Attorney General at the time, we now have the Commons Committee taking a second look at Fiona Woolfe, the former President of the Law Society and Lord Mayor of London.

She was apparently on dinner party terms with Leon Brittan whose handling of child abuse dossiers during his time as Home Secretary may form part of the Inquiry, and so many  say this makes her an unsuitable choice. Brother Ivo is inclined to the view that anyone with Lady Woolfe’s background who considers herself not to be a part of the establishment must have slightly dubious judgement for that alone. Sometimes we can cannot see the blinding obvious because we do not want to. It may make us wrong, it does not make us evil.

Whilst the Inquiry will be assisted by many other persons of varying expertise, one cannot help thinking that the Chair should be a leading Judge with long direct experience of both the nature of the subject and the way in which this field of the Law evolved.

We have a dilemma. If we choose someone who was working in Child Protection at the time, they may have some connection with some of the people whose judgements are under question, if they are of a later generation they are out of touch with those times.

Child abuse, past and present is poisonous.

The Church of England is currently responding with what may be a wholly understandable over reaction, on the “better to be safe than sorry” principle.

For some years we have required strict checking of all volunteers; that said, Brother Ivo is aware that in some Dioceses there is still significant complacency amongst clergy and delay in undertaking awareness training. It is now a disciplinary offence to allow a visiting preacher into the pulpit even on a single ocassionally without checking their Disclosure and Barring Service status. This is to prevent friends of suspended clergy giving opportunity to be once again the public face of the Church.

Similar hard practice applies in the secular world too, not leasting to best selling authors reading to children in bookstores.. Apparently the author Philip Pulman reacted to such requirements in 2009: ” It is insulting and I think unnecessary, and I refuse to be complicit in any scheme that assumes my guilt.”

That such indignation occurs in modern times, may give some slight insight into the problems which confronted many in much more naive times, not least former Archbishop David Hope.

Many years ago judges, policemen, clergy, Headteachers etc had a very imperfect understanding of sexuality in all its sometimes shocking variety. Their understanding of child abuse was even less

Brother a Ivo’s father had never heard of homosexuality until he joined the services in 1942. Queen Victoria famously caused the exclusion of lesbians from the criminalisation of homosexual behaviour because she simply could not believe that such things happened.

Today’s 10 year olds probably have a greater range of sex education than the bishops and judges of yesteryear, and cunning abusers knew how to play the game of outraged innocence in order to discomfort accusers. It was easy then to pull the wool over eyes that were culturally reluctant to see. It also worked on the simply inadequately prepared. We are called to be as wise a serpents and gentle as doves. Sometimes the wolves play on the gentleness of doves.

Even institutions like the National Council for Civil Liberties allowed the Paedophile Information Exchange to hide in plain sight like Jimmy Savile at the BBC. When intelligent women like Harriet Harman and Esther Rantzen were blind-sided by such people, how can we be surprised at the failures of senior clergy of a very different generation? We may judge them as insufficient to the task -which many were with hindsight and would acknowledge- but we should be slow to go further

In the 1950’s there was less public sexuality. Like Queen Victoria, most could never conceive of a child as the object of sexual desire. Even today, Brother Ivo suspects that many would struggle to “see” the inconceivable.

If you have not confronted it, who could imagine a mother choosing to remain in the same room watching television whilst her boyfriend penetrates her two year old on the dining room table? Who could conceive of her remaining on a relationship with such a man? It is natural not to want to believe such things happen, yet this is the measure of depravity that brings one Archbishop under suspicion of neglect and another to tears.

Of course we must condemn and learn, but before ascribing gross neglect, still less complicity, it is important to remind ourselves that we have built our understanding by learning from much past failure of those lower down the learning curve, and the considerable exploitation of naivity. Victims were manipulated by cunning and wicked perpetrators.

So were some who failed to protect.

Ms Harman, let me help you – “Being human isn’t easy”.

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As Harriet Harman continues to try to evade a simple admission of past misjudgement, Brother Ivo would like to be be fair and charitable, and so thought it might be worth offering a reminder to anyone commenting on the controversy that sometimes, we can all be a little harsh on our younger selves.

Brother Ivo has made more than his fair share of bad decisions both politically, professionally, and personally and is often comforted by two wise observations. 

Søren Kierkegaard said that  ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’, and an old friend of Brother Ivo, novelist Adam Zameenzad once counselled him that “Being human isn’t easy”.

Ms Harman might do well to reflect upon these remarks as she looks back across the  years to when she acted as a legal officer to the National Council for Civil Liberties during the time of its injudicious association with the PIE organisation.

One suspects that somewhere within the process of “reputation management” ( a modern contrivance of questionable moral value)  she has had the odd moment of panic tinged with regret as she asked herself ” What on earth was I thinking?”

Admitting it is another problem altogether but confession truly is good for the soul.

We all  judge our  past errors from a position of hindsight  and experience; we know that we were not bad people then, and so we want to deny the very existence of that which plainly troubles us today.

In few fields will this be more challenging than  that of child protection which has its full measure of regretted past opinion. We arrived where we are via that past however, and many of todays good outcomes will have been built upon hard lessons learnt from past stupidity.

Just as doctors once believed that regularly bleeding their patient was always a good thing, police officers once justified “fitting up” a known villain, and teachers caned children who were slow to learn to read, so Child Protection has its own sorry past which we need to acknowledge.

There were many attitudes, excuses and practices that had their place in the Judicial system of the past which make us decidedly uncomfortable today.

“All children lie”.

” She wanted me to do it”

” It was a one-off after my girlfriend left/ I had too much to drink”.

Her mother made her say this because she hates me”.

“She’s jealous of me being her mother’s boyfriend”

These were standard attitudes and excuses routinely offered and accepted 30 years ago when these matters came ( rarely ) to Court.

Children were allowed to be bullied by be-wigged Counsel in open Court.

“Breaking the complainant” was perceived as a fair defence tactic; accusations of mendacious lying for a trivial reward were proffered and because the idea of sexual gratification via an infant was so far removed from the ordinary contemplation of  the average jury member, getting the jury to convict to the requisite standard “beyond reasonable doubt” was very hard indeed.

It still is, especially where well known public figures are concerned. We hate to think the unthinkable – which is how the abuser learns to deceive and builds his repertoire of threat and manipulation. Victims are told ” no one will believe you” and many found/find this to be true.

The sentences for such behaviour were surprisingly low, and the help available virtually non existent. Managing and modifying pedophile behaviour is time and resource consuming. Even today it is not our highest priority, not least because such people are not where we want to spend our money.

Not all the injustices were one way.

We once had the standard format interview which presented  undressed “anatomically correct” dolls to a bored or bemused child, confined in a room with a total stranger. It does not take long before the child fits them together in an “inappropriate”  way ( think Lego) . It took some years before the dangers of such interviewing techniques became appreciated.

Then we had the imported fashion for “Ritual Satanic Abuse” where every Council Estate in the Kingdom was assumed to be an extended set for the Exorcist.

Next there was  was Munchausen By Proxy “syndrome” – until we realised that a syndrome is just a description of facts and behaviours and no illness at all.

In short,  the last thirty years has been a steep learning curve in the child protection field and within that field, a small but highly motivated core of paedophiles has run rings round those trying to catch up with how they truly operate.

For most of us, collecting 10,000 photographs of a favourite actor would be considered mildly eccentric. Collecting half a million images of children being abused, and often brutally tortured, is literally inconceivable. We are talking depravity of the highest order in some of these cases, and for too long we were just too nice to think anyone could want to do such things.

So when Ms Harman’s NCCL was approached by pleasant articulate men who presented themselves as victims for loving a 15 year old boy, it is very easy to see how things went wrong. It was not that long ago that you could be imprisoned for consensual adult gay sex. The under age version was easily presentable as just another arbitrary restriction of a prejudiced State tied to a backwards looking Church view. In radical circles, the traditional was always the enemy even when it was right.

Of course the reality of PIE and its members was much much more depraved; there is a reason we call it the slippery slope, but that is not always appreciated by the advocate of the underdog, who often took such special pleading at face value. Paedophiles routinely play the victim.

Yet anyone who has observed the evolution of child protection at close quarters will know that myriad mistakes and ill judgements occurred over the years until we gradually found our way back to a position that is greatly discordant with the trendy ” if it feels good do it” attitudes of the late 60’s and 70’s.

Child protection experience is a very good way to get a modern head around the concept of original sin. The capacity of humans , male and female, to abuse the innocent  and the vulnerable  for their own gratification knows no bounds. It was however, deeply unfashionable to say that in the days of flower power or radical idealism when Ms Harman was on the side of those shaking off Victorian values.

Brother Ivo hopes that she will look back and be able to acknowledge that she  along with many of us of that era, allowed our idealism, our niceness and even our naivety to cloud our critical faculties. She was not alone in getting it wrong, indeed nobody made all the right calls all of the time in this most difficult of disciplines.

Denis Healey once advised that when you are in a hole – stop digging. This is good advice for Ms Harman.

She should stop digging and face up to the fact that she and everyone else in the field seriously under estimated the nature of the paedophile threat to our children. Unravelling what was going on was really hard and took time. Let’s not waste any time suggesting that anyone understood then what we understand today. We should all look back on how we got these things wrong and be ashamed – not “regretful”-  ashamed.

Brother Ivo is trying to set a good example by identifying some of the common errors into which he knows he and many have fallen.

It is no bad thing to prove that one has learnt by experience. There is shame however in treating others as fools when the historical record of mistake is so clear.

NCCL and its officers got this wrong; Ms Harman should acknowledge the fact and drop the pretence of being wise ahead of her time.

When Counselling those who have done serious wrong, Brother Ivo has occasionally employed his theological background to good effect.

Often those in error seek Justice; he usually advises that they would be better off asking for Mercy.

It is old fashioned, but it’s none the worse for that.

If Ms Harman is honest about the failings of all of us in the past, Brother Ivo will defend her in that integrity, but whilst she maintains the stance of evasion hiding behind the carefully calculated PR language of “regret”  he is unable to do so even as he watches her suffer.

 

Putti is in the eye of the beholder

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One suspects that the Bishops of the Anglican Church will be slow to join the debate about whether the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party ought to be offering an apology for her tenuous association with the Paedophile Information Exchange via her NCCL employment in the 1970’s.

This may be an error.

Having joined the party political debate over the implementation of Welfare Reform policy via a letter to the decidedly Labour supporting Daily Mirror, the Bishops could perfectly well justify an intervention along the lines that politicians who are kean to identify the specks in their opponents eyes, should first remove the beams in their own.

Brother Ivo need not labour the point.

It is not offensively party political to remind those in the public eye that there is an integrity issue within this story, and if the Bishops can pass comment on complex policy, how much easier and appropriate is it to reassert primary principles using Christ’s own words?

The party of Ms Harman, her husband Mr Dromey, and their friend Patricia Hewitt has never shied from repeatedly calling upon Andrew Mitchell to apologise for a probably false allegation that he accused police officers of being “plebs”, just as they hounded Conservative Aiden Burley to stand down from Parliament over an imprudent decision to introduce a Nazi uniform into a stag party weekend. Both Prince Harry and Ed Balls have made the same mistake and survived in the public esteem, so we do seem to have a public lack of clarity about such matters.

Perhaps the Bishops could help sort that confusion out?

Of course one could put one’s tongue in cheek and suggest that the Bishops fear to engage with this issue because of our own tainted history on child protection. Perhaps they fear that Ms Harman would accuse them of hypocrisy?

Miss Harman did however, once offer some support for Churches within her former role.

There does need to be common sense about images and rather sensibly she campaigned to prevent parents from being prosecuted for taking pictures of their babies in the bath. She probably thereby saved us from subsequent prosecution by the politically correct, for is not Church Art is awash with naked little cherubs which adorn Churches as part of the symbolism of innocence.?

Putti is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Yet the entanglement of the NCCL with PIE was darker, and although Ms Harman may have joined the organisation after PIE affiliated to it, her subsequent representations to Government on matters of legal reform did offer a measure of protection to paedophiles even if it were inadvertent.

Specifically, she appears to have sought to repeal the law against incest, which can be a useful offence  with which to prosecute the abusive. She also sought to make certain prosecutions contingent upon the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, thereby raising the threshold at which cases would be brought by removing discretion from local prosecutors. Such procedural changes do matter, and PIE would have been cheered by such interventions.

Having heard Miss Harman going on the offensive against the Daily Mail last night on the Newsnight programme, linking PIE’s activities to that newspaper’s publication of photographs of girls in bikinis, it appears to Brother Ivo that she has compounded the accusation of lack of judgement.

She cannot deflect legitimate questions in this manner.

Those are not illegal images. They are photographs of young adults who consented to them being taken. They are no more exploitative or offensive than many other images one might find within our churches. The image of young woman or child can be beautiful to behold without being tainted by abuse or malign intent. Ms Harman herself asserted as much during those NCCL years.

Her attempt to deflect criticism by attacking the Daily Mail is misjudged in substance as well as being unwise tactically, not least because the Mail is not alone in questioning her judgement in these matters. The Guardian,the Daily Mirror, and the Daily Telegraph also see the point which continues to elude Ms Harman.

If the Daily Mail accepted an advertisement from a modern day PIE or if the Conservatives or UKIP allowed them a stall at their party conferences, would not Ms  Harman be persistent and shrill in her condemnation? Can she therefore truly complain that others ask her to acknowledge that her libertarian instincts may once have caused her to be less alert than she would now be?

In short what is the big deal about saying one made a mistake 30 years ago? Why the careful and persistent refusal to acknowledge error?

Nobody thinks that with their minds directed to the issue today, with our knowledge of what paedophilia is, and how it is cunningly practiced, that Ms Harman, Mr Dromey, and Ms Hewwitt would have any truck with it whatsoever. That is not the problem.

First there is a separate question of whether PIE secured public funding from the then Labour Government for its activities: if so, an NCCL association may have been part of building of a respectable front of the organisation. This is an uncomfortable next step in the inquiry and one that politicians may seek to close off early.

Second, during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s enthusiasts mirrored Wordsworth’s cry about the French Revolution ” Bliss was it in that Dawn to be alive”.

Just as that political revolution had a dark underside to its legitimate critique of the status quo,  so we are finding out that the sexual revolution was not as innocent as we first thought. There was much about the repressed sexuality of our forebears that needed a healthy readjustment but some dark motives and tragic outcomes also emerged from those heady days.

The mature response is to acknowledge that fact.

Part of the problem that paedophiles present is that they are devious, plausible, persuasive and adept at presenting themselves as victims. Brother Ivo has no difficulty in accepting and understanding that in those heady days, when we had nowhere near the understanding of how these people work, it was possible for them to attach themselves to a campaigning group that challenged the old inhibitions and some prejudices, not least against homosexuals. There is nothing uniquely shocking if they conned three NCCL officers -they have conned enough Bishops.

The confusion of paedophilia and homosexuality did and does occur. It is discomforting for many well meaning folk  to acknowledge that in arguing for gay rights they may have inadvertently assisted the paedophile to claim victimhood for his/her attachment to the young. but plainly that happened and some of our senior politicians failed to see the wood for the trees.

That should not perhaps be a hanging offence but that is not the end of the matter.

The failure to grasp the obvious point, is a character flaw in a serious politician and this will harm those accused more than the original accusation.

Did not the Watergate or Monica Lewinski scandals teach anyone that it is the obfuscation and the cover up that does the most damage? Brother Ivo would have expected greater sophistication.

So why is the error being compounded?

Recently Brother Ivo declared “We are the insurgents now” as he pointed out that the radicals of social change now have an ascendancy and a record by which they may be judged. That will not come as good news to those who overthrew traditional Christian teaching to make this Brave New World.

The Social Radicals are no more comfortable acknowledging the un-intended consequences of their ideals and institutional inadequacies than we in the Church; we have had to learn to deal with it. The architects of the Radical sexual revolution are just beginning to realise that they now have similar accounts to render.

Casting those stones does not look as easy and attractive now does it?

The UN, the Catholic Church and Harriet Harman

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The impressively titled “United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child” has recently issued a report on the response of the Roman Catholic Church to child abuse allegations. In its approach, the UN is both new and right. Unfortunately where it is right it is not new, and where it is new it is not right.

Brother Ivo defers to no-one in his detestation of child abuse in all its forms. Christ has a special place in his heart for his little ones and warned of dire consequences to those who harm them. Brother Ivo began this year by making his own modest contribution to child protection by urging the Church to  “Make Child Abuse History”, explaining that every church and church member has to take responsibility for understanding the individual Church’s child protection procedures, and rigorously applying them whilst keeping compliance under regular review.

It is tedious repetitious work, but our protections are only as strong as our weakest link. Do not let that weak link be you, your church, or your Priest/Minister.

Insofar as the UN report identifies that the Roman Catholic Church has failed in the past, it is right.

Individual priests and bureaucratic cultures betrayed their Lord, their Church their congregations and their calling. When these crimes were identified, officialdom did what officialdom always does- secular and religious: it protected itself. That is a linked, but entirely separate wrong.

Simon Jenkins recently wrote powerfully in the Guardian reminding us that we have seen many institutional cover-ups of abuse, in the Army, NHS, Police, and Prison Service. Brother Ivo would add the BBC, Local Authority Care Homes, and UN to that list.

There seems to be an almost teleological tendency of humans and their institutions to place good reputation above good practice. The bible did warn us.  No sooner had Adam been discovered in his disobedience to God than he moved instantly to “damage limitation” and “reputation recovery” by blaming Eve.

Whenever the Church conforms to the standards of the world it fails, and in this serious matter it stands condemned, but it is far from alone. It is not the individual failure of the Church in these matters that should be remarked upon, but rather the Church’s utter alignment with secular standards rather than striking out towards its unique God-called standard of integrity.

Whilst the UN report tells us that things went wrong, there seems to be no part of the report which was not already known, understood or being currently being acted upon.

Brother Ivo is a member of a sister Church, which has been busily establishing procedures and practices built upon experiences of its own past failures and those of others. He has no doubt that his brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church have been equally assiduous, and if they have not, that would have been the more useful focus of any critique by such an outside body as the UN.

The Catholic Church has delivered a low key response, but does indicate that its efforts to address the problem have been significantly downplayed or omitted from the report.

Brother has “no dog in the fight” and so is perhaps more free to make a few blunt observations

Amongst the members of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child are Syria,Thailand, Sri Lanka Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Brother Ivo suggests that on a variety of issues, from war crime against children, child labour, child prostitution and female genital mutilation, these countries have scant authority to cast the first stone.

The committee is not content to regurgitate known facts however. It goes a step further and rather pompously claims the right to instruct the Church upon its doctrines.

This UN committee not only has no authority to link the Vatican’s views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality to the question of child abuse, it fails to give proper weight to how faithful adherence to the Church’s teaching on matters of human sexuality and family life promotes the protection of children.

There are a number of “inconvenient truths” in play here.

Statistically it is not the local priest who is most likely to abuse your child.

More teachers than priests are accused of abuse in all its forms.

According to A Department of Education report 12,086 such allegations were made in 2009-10. 2827 teachers were involved, 1709 non teaching staff were also accused. About half related to physical abuse. Strikingly only 20% of those accused were suspended during the investigation. One third of allegations were substantiated, another 20% inconclusive and only 2% deemed        “malicious”. 12% were prosecuted.

Imagine the calumnies that would fall on any church if it had such a statistical profile.

If Brother Ivo were then to draw strong conclusions about the risk of sexual abuse from entire Educational Establishment and teaching profession, and to call for a root and branch reform of the education system, is it not plain what would happen? Ten thousand metaphorical swords would leap from their scabbards in defence of this fine body of folk. There would be accusations of bigotry – and that would be right. The proportion of teachers – and priests – who fall from Grace is small, but they tend to be devious, persistent, and ” irreplaceable “.  This is why strict process is needed, to avoid being distracted  by plausible explanations and indispensability.

Sadly the willingness to equally defend people of faith from such broad brush criticism, is not all one might expect from a society whose narrative embraces fair process and “human rights”

It seems that if you are antagonistic to religion and people of faith, especially if it involved the Vatican, those who form public opinion will give you every opportunity to have a “free hit”. 

Yet there are two facts highlighted by that Government report which cannot pass unremarked as we consider the folly of the UN’s attempt to sit in judgement on Church doctrine.

Statistically, a child is most at risk from those known to him/her.

More specifically, greatest risk to a child is from a step-parent or mother’s boyfriend. Church teaching maximises the retention of the most protective environment possible- marriage between the child’s birth parents. In contrast, those of a more “liberal” outlook, who have both elevated dependency on the State and marginalised fatherhood, have consistently undermined the value of that protection.

It is no coincidence that the incidence of child abuse and the destabilisation and decline of marriage have risen within the same 50 years. Dysfunctionality grows exponentially

The next most likely abuser of a child or young person  is …. another child or young person. Whether by overt bullying or unwanted peer pressure the young are exploited within the context of a sexualised culture which facilitates the abuser’s task.That culture has everything to do with secular values and nothing to do with those taught by the Church.

The attempt to foist responsibility for the presence or growth of child abuse on the Catholic Church’s attitudes to contraception, abortion or homosexuality is specious and needs to be called out by all of us. it is part of the “insurgency” which Brother Ivo has called upon, an insurgency against the values of the day, and against the values that are hurting children first and incidentally the Church.

The latter has endured much worse, and may yet do so again. It is not for the Church’s sake that we must take responsibility for these problems back to those truly responsible. Sadly the Church is often reluctant, afraid even, to be as direct as its critics.

Brother Ivo isn’t.

He has already challenged the right of the UN committee to pontificate on such matters. There is another challenge that ought to be made if we are to clean up public life from past errors about child abuse.

Is there anyone in the hierarchy of the country’s Churches who might start by mentioning  an example very close to home?

In the 1980’s the forerunner of Liberty – the National Council for Civil Liberties – became catastrophically embroiled with the Paedophile Information Exchange, an organisation dedicated to promoting child abuse as a normal expression of  human sexuality and changing the law to permit it. Liberty’s current Director Shammi Chakrabarti has made the same kind of clear and unequivocal acknowledgement and apology for that involvement as critics have required of the Church. All credit to her for doing so. You may read the outline of the case ”here”

There are, however, three historic apologies outstanding. They are needed from the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman MP, her husband Jack Dromey MP and former MP Patricia Hewitt who currently chairs the UK India Business Council.

The facts are plain, well established established. and unequivocal.

All three were senior officers of the NCCL at the time when the organisation was promoting the interests of that paedophile group. If the Papacy and its past officers has accepted responsibility for past neglect, is there any proper reason why these high profile political folk should not do the same, or are they waiting for a UN report to prompt them?

Now some may think this a party political point which ought not to concern people of religion.

Yet do not Church leaders often speak of the need to raise the voice of prophecy? Having been properly examined and chastised for past deficiencies in protecting our children, should not our Church Leaders be publicly and determinedly working to establish similar standards of accountability and integrity in the secular world? Is this not an outrageous example?

It makes no difference to the victims, present or historic, whether the deficiencies were secular or religious. Common standards should apply.

Have there not been enough cover-ups to save the reputations of the influential? Do we truly wish to be complicit all over again?

Hypocrisy is not the only unforgivable sin – except for the Sun

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Brother Ivo is in no position to judge whether the former footballer and soccer pundit Stan Collymore is or is not a “vile hypocrite”.

Factually he lacks data, and ethically he was warned not to throw the first stone, although he does not believe that this in itself disqualifies one from examining the issues. One should simply beware if a warm glow of self-righteousness seems to be enveloping the room as one types.

The known facts appear to be that Mr Collymore behaved badly many years ago during the breakdown of his relationship with Ms Ulrika Jonsson. Brother Ivo has no illusions about domestic violence, having assisted in the establishment of one of the earliest Women’s Aid Hostels.

We do not know how Mr Colymore has reflected upon those times; if he has needed to repent and reform let us hope that he has done so. Certainly there is no current information to suggest that he is currently behaving badly in that manner. Let us hope that sort of thing is behind him.

We also know that he made some remarks on Twitter about the ethics of another footballer who he regarded as being guilty of cheating  “simulation”,  and as a result faced a barrage of threats including threats to kill. This has caused him to delete his Twitter account which is doubtless a cause of regret to his followers, for whatever his past personal sins, over one hundred thousand followers had valued his contribution to sporting commentary.

He complained that the social networking site Twitter had not been sufficiently assiduous in tackling the problem of cyber bullying. He is not wrong to do so. Not only is all bullying wrong but the anonymous form of the medium seems to carry a huge temptation for some to act in a way they would never contemplate in other more open circumstances.

He has since closed that account which is perhaps wise and practical.

All this was localised within the cybersphere  until the Sun Newspaper saw fit to print the above, making it a front line story. It is very sad misguided and equally wrong.

Ms Jonsson is not as famous as she once was. In the land of celebrity this is regrettable. One does not know whether the form and prominence of her reported remarks are as she would have wished; Brother Ivo has a rule of thumb to treat all journalists with a degree of circumspection, and distrust, so she  too,may not be happy with what we see.

If she wanted this presented in this way, it does her no credit; if she did not, she ought by now to have learnt greater prudence. It does matter what people say about you even if they do spell your name right.

Brother Ivo is not a knee jerk critic of the Sun or the News International brand. They have done some bad things – and some good.  They plainly speak to a constituency which is loyal and the fact that their demographic is one that turns elections makes it a significant one in terms of shaping our society’s attitudes which is where this is such poor and regrettable way to present a serious issue.

If Ms Jonsson’s grievances against Mr Collymore are still so raw then she needs help and prayer.

If help is needed for her, even more is required for those responsible for this headline to understand that there are worse things in the moral universe than hypocrisy, and cyber bullying might be one of them.

Mr Collymore may be big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself, yet the constant reports of adolescent suicides driven by this new form of emotional violence tells us that not all who suffer in this way have his resilience.

He was right to speak out about it using the platform he enjoys as a media personality, and he was also right to indict those who can act to rein in abuse – but prevaricate.

If he has accepted his past faults then he is no hypocrite. He is thereafter allowed to say that these things are wrong without being constantly discounted through past transgression.

 

Even if he has not, we have no status of outlaw any more. Even those who once wronged, are entitled to the protection of the law. What is worse is that by pitching in against him, the Sun and its supporters seem to be fortifying the views of those who felt able to join in the violent abuse of him

“It’s ok to bully Stan because of what he did to Ulrika ” is not a healthy message for any society, neither is the idea that a past wrongdoer must either suffer in silence and/or allow others to hone their skills upon him before turning their attention to others more vulnerable. He was right in trying to do something to stop it.

In short terms, surely even bullying a bully is still bullying?

We are back to an old problem, one that Brother Ivo has written about before. It is the problem that hypocrisy is over rated as a secular sin, and that it has become the one that is never forgiven.

We seem to raise this issue of hypocrisy to a level where anyone who has once fallen, is regarded as incapable of having a legitimate grievance or contribution for ever after.

Christianity is nothing if not the faith of the second chance. Peter was given a second chance after denying his Lord. Paul was chosen despite persecuting the early Church and having made no personal effort  to reform. If there is hope for these two, then there has to be hope and redemption for Mr Collymore.

It was William Wilberforce who addressed the shallowness of our obsession with hypocrisy, which we employ at wholly inappropriate times. “Who is the greater public benefactor”, he asked, “the “hypocrite” who points the way to virtue, or the “honest man” who points the way to perdition”?

Mr Collymore was right to say that bullying is wrong and that those who are in a position to swiftly moderate it should do so. The fact that he may have acted as a bully previously in no way invalidates the point he was making, and neither has anybody seriously suggested that in his description of the problem and judgements upon it he is being in any way mealy mouthed or reporting the facts of the problem inaccurately.

If he has learnt from past transgressions then thanks be to God. Even if he has not, his willingness to share his experiences enables us to look at the problem with renewed urgency. That is a contribution to the public welfare in itself.

There may be a young girl staring at her text messages right now wondering whether she can rightfully complain. Maybe she has not been an angel in such matters and others are paying her back. What is she to make of headlines like this in the Sun?

Brother Ivo would much rather she risked being “a hypocrite” than deciding to become a cadaver.

A New Year Resolution for the Church

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Today stands between the day on which we commemorated the Holy Innocents, and the secular festival at which we attempt to make life improving resolutions which we shall almost certainly fail to live up to within hours.

Many, appreciating their own personal character weakness where weight loss is concerned, will simply choose not to make any resolutions for the New Year at all, and that will deliver its own slew of remorse.

This is therefore a good time for Brother Ivo to offer a New Year Resolution to everyone in the Church which is practical, necessary, and which the vast majority who adopt it will feel totally unthreatening. It will never be regretted.

That resolution is for the Church to “Make Child Abuse History”

Over the past few years, the Church, along with many other institutions, such as the police, schools and BBC have grappled with the horrors of child abuse. A cultural change towards the acceptance of disclosure has resulted in a vast legacy of historic abuse being uncovered as more and more people step forward to say that “this happened to me”.

The Church has yet to receive the credit it deserves for a subsequent committed, thorough and conscientious response to its past failures. Advice has been sought, experts consulted, policies developed guidelines published and courses have been run with healthy attendances. The files of retired and deceased clergy, some painfully thin, have been examined and victims offered counselling and overdue apologises. Insurers have paid out.

Despite a genuinely creditable response, the old adage “Thou shalt not win” can scarcely be better illustrated than by the way the news has been greeted that the Church has  been seeking record numbers of police checks upon its employees and volunteers. How odd, given the history, that the latest criticism has been couched in terms of the Church being over-scrupulous in this regard.

There is more to come as long planned programmes are rolled out in the months ahead within a widespread climate of renewed responsibility accepted by the higher echelons  of the Churches, and yet there is still genuine cause for concern that all will not be well.

Churches are places of special vulnerability where abuse is concerned. We deliberately set out to attract children and to welcome the vulnerable. Nobody wants to think it can happen on their watch, in their corner of respectability. Our mission statement is to be undiscriminating about those to whom we minister. Our very desire to think well of all,  is our principle weakness where the predatory paedophile is concerned.

They do not arrive with a forked tail and cloven hooves. They look and behave much like the rest of us – only more so. They are kind, helpful, industrious, outwardly faithful , and perhaps most difficult of all, frequently indispensable. Some may lack self awareness and not appreciate where their corner cutting of procedures and protocols will lead. They may be female as well as male, married, straight, gay or ostensibly celibate: they may be under age, clerical or lay. They can also be very plausible, persuasive and possessed of easily injured feelings.

It is only in comparatively recent years that we have come to appreciate the complexity of identifying and addressing this problem on both an institutional and personal level.

Those charged with improving the Church’s response to the problem, which includes Brother Ivo in a minor way, will have long term term work to do, because both the nature of the problem, and our understanding of it mutates on a regular basis. Five years ago Jimmy Savile was an eccentric hero a “cheeky chap” beloved of all for all the good he did. Let that be your warning.

Like the thief in the night we do not know the hour or the identity of the next malefactor to threaten our churches. Faith confers no immunity.

There have been over 30 Public Inquiries into child deaths in recent decades. The one constant theme to emerge from these most extreme and distressing examples of child abuse is that “Everybody knew a little but nobody joined up the dots”. It applied in the Jimmy Savile case; it applied in the case of the Bradford Muslim taxi driver child abuse ring; it will apply in the next scandal of the church organist and the choir member. Often the victim will have been manipulated not to see their own victimhood and may protect his/her abuser.

The price of freedom from child abuse is eternal vigilance and that is both routine and frequently dull.
There is no point in devising thorough Child and Vulnarable adult policies unless there is scrupulous, painstaking, and persistent application of them on a daily basis. It is the responsibility of every Priest, Minister, Church Warden. Youth Worker. PCC member, and worshipper.

Whilst discussing this with colleagues, Brother Ivo was alarmed to hear than one of the continuing problems in the rolling out of protective measures is the misguided resistance of a significant proportion of incumbents who suffer either from  over confidence in their own insights, or excessive suspicion of encroachment upon their own autonomy from the Church hierarchy.

In the Church of England the independence of the incumbent is frequently overlooked by outsiders who over estimate the coercive power of the Bishop.  A Bishop can lead persuade and cajole, but the legal pressures he can exercise are less than many appreciate Such local independence and autonomy  is valued theologically by many. It is also is the single weakest spot in the Church’s protection of the vulnerable.

No incumbent where abuse occurred, wanted it to happen , but it very rarely arrives out of a clear blue sky. After the event, it is always possible to look back and see where simple adherence to basic protective principles would have averted or mitigated the harm. If the recent scandals in the major institutions teach the lowly parish officer anything, it is that even the most sophisticated of organisations become complacent, and fail to see the obvious.

Plainly procedures do not of themselves protect, yet well considered structures help us in every aspect of our lives, and stopping child abuse is no different.

So if you are short of a New Year resolution, Brother Ivo invites you to resolve to make it your business to take child protection seriously and to help “Make Child Abuse history”.

In practice this means asking your church about its acceptance of its Diocesan policies and guidelines, and how it plans to audit compliance on a regular basis.

It is not an easy thing to do and may not make you popular, yet Jesus plainly had strong views on the welfare of His little ones, and little will gladden His heart more than each of us taking a personal interest in keeping them safe and happy as we speak of his love.