Tag Archives: Child Protection

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,

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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”?

 

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.

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.

 

A New Year Resolution for the Church

child-abuse-silence

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.

The everyday cruelty of child protection law

Brother Ivo has very little time for Karl Marx, yet one of the few sound observations he made was to the effect that if the ordinary person  had to slaughter and butcher their own meat there would be many more vegetarians.

Most of us are pleased to live a sanitised life, away from such realities. We are pleased that someone else is willing to manage the sewers, attend the road accidents, look after the demented elderly, and prepare the dead for burial, but most of us are quietly pleased that much that might affront our sensibilities remains “out of sight out of mind”.

From time to time the realities of such necessary unpleasantries are brought to our attention and when we encounter these truths they usually come as a shock.

There is a public outcry when a story breaks of  the safeguarding systems of a care home breaking down;  we wring our hands when public service re-organisations  bring a story to light highlighting the difficult consequences of difficult decisions,  but it is only then that we allow such matters to enter our conscious thought. We normally prefer not to look or to ask.

In recent weeks, the world of Child Protection hit the news headlines again with the tragic story of an Italian lady whose mental health fragility resulted in the Court of Protection authorising a Caesarian section delivery of her baby and a separate Family Court concluding that the child was at risk of “significant harm” so that the child’s long term needs were best met by adoption.

The story acquired traction. There was much speculation and comment, some of it intelligent balanced and informed, much of it however was less so.

Brother Ivo does not intend to add to the commentary on the individual case, save to  point readers attention to the judgements respectively of Mr Justice Mostyn , who dealt with the application to permit the caesarian delivery  together with His Honour Judge Newton’s County Court judgment , relating to the care and adoption proceedings

If one wishes to have an in depth analysis of the issues, the excellent Head of Legal Blog, which gives both a blow by blow account of the history and an informed commentary upon the lengthy history which has been commended for its accuracy by one of the Queen’s Counselsengaged in the case.

There was one striking comment made upon that blog in relation to the decision to authorise the Caesarian. It came from a lady who herself suffered similar mental illness

She wrote touchingly

As a mother with bipolar disorder who has suffered from paranoid delusions I have been horrified by the coverage of this case. To go through labour while paranoid and psychotic, unable to understand either why you are in pain or that the people around you are trying to help, would quite literally be one of the most dreadful experiences that I can imagine, and if this woman was that ill a caesarian would absolutely be the only humane way to proceed.

There seems to be a general refusal, particularly in the liberal press and blogosphere, to accept that really serious mental illness and a consequent lack of capacity exists any more, a belief that everything can be done by consent and that anything else is merely prejudice against the mentally unwell. It’s an understandable backlash against the time when we were routinely denied our rights but it does those of us who occasionally really cannot make decisions for ourselves no favours. In this case it seems from the limited information supplied that the court was definitely the appropriate places for the issue to be raised and a decision to be made in light of medical advice.

Such honesty and informed opinion is what we need to hear when such issues are discussed in the public domain.

It is HH Judge Newton’s judgement which draws Brother Ivo’s attention.

In it,  the Judge effectively describes a typical case of this kind. This mother is scarcely different from many others whose family circumstances are brought before the Courts. If you have not seen such a document it should prove instructive as to how such matters are dealt with.

The Judge is kindly towards the mother – even as he takes terrible decisions for her life. Plainly she  was never a bad person or intentionally cruel. Her circumstances were carefully investigated and the judge accepted that the problems with which she battled would not be overcome quickly. It is a scenario played out in Courts up and down the land every day and yet most do most attract the kind of  interest the headline writers showed in this instance.

The mother had two other children, both of whom were cared for by her own mother, so she seemed to have an uphill task once the analysis of her shortcomings came to be undertaken remorselessly by the agents of State. As is frequently the case with a newborn, the Judge’s attention was  drawn to the importance to settle the baby’s future quickly,  so that the all important bonding process could  begin and a secure attachment be made as early as possible. Children who do not bond successfully are known to disproportionately become the failing parents of the next decades.

Faced with this, it was very hard for mother to secure the time she needed to attempt to prove herself. She said everything that she could. She was a sympathetic and honest witness. Many are.

What the case illustrates is the commonplace, everyday cruelty of most Child Protection cases.

It is so very easy for the public to stand on the side of the child against the brute. In those cases the social worker and police are seen as heroic, and woe betide any who is dilatory with the removal. Yet these are the minority of cases. They are the easy ones – the “no-brainers”.

What is altogether less comfortable, is contemplating the pain of the majority of these parents.

Some are mentally ill, some have learning disabilities, some suffer personality disorders arising out of similarly disrupted childhoods. Others may have fallen into addiction and bear some responsibility, yet the pain they suffer is no less real and raw, and the consequences seem wholly disproportionate to them. Often they know others in their locality in no better circumstances,  and unsurprisingly, they struggle to understand why this misfortune befell  them rather than the household down the road.

What is particularly distressing is that the timeframe for change in such families has been shortened.

As part of the perfectly proper concern to avoid decisions being excessively delayed, all cases are being monitored to ensure that they comply with an arbitrary protocol time limit of 26 weeks. Most cases must now be finalised that quickly. Few experts in addiction, or mental illness or learning disability will ever testify that deep seated problems can be adequately tested,  much less reliably resolved, within such short time frames. It can take three months to secure authorisation for the payment for a single drugs or alcohol test and several are needed.

Were our society braver or more honest, we should be telling all addicts, all those with vulnerability or inadequacy that we are cutting them adrift from hope whenever they stumble into the cross hairs of judgemental Social Services. We do not dare to do so,  for to do that would be painful to ourselves: it would reduce ourselves in our own liberal estimations.

So we will, in all probability , continue on this present path, not wishing to abandon hope for the failing family, nor yet being willing to  make a commitment to effect change for them.

The hurting of families, is like the butchering of our Sunday joint:  it is simply best not thought about, especially as we approach Christmas.

The short truth is that it is very easy to tear families apart. One is rarely criticised for making the obvious protective decision. It is, however, possible to effect change,  but that depends upon time being granted, resources being committed  and thorough and experienced advocates, social workers and experts working towards a common purpose.

None of this is deemed currently affordable.

There is an element of experiment in all such attempts, and a natural concern to shield the children from over optimistic or sentimental efforts to support the parents.

Before this current regime was introduced there were, nevertheless many stories of unlikely successes.

Brother Ivo knows of one young family whose mother had learning difficulties and where the father suffered intermittent mental illness which was sometimes medically controlled, but when not, resulted in worrying hallucinations. His dogged and aggressive legal team would not surrender early ( something which the present Legal Aid remuneration package discourages).

By chance, the family’s plight came to the notice of an 80 year old retired solicitor who met the children’s grandmother through their church. This Good Samaritan made an unexpected and game-changing offer. He would help Social Services by visiting  the family every morning on his way to communion to ensure that the children were up, breakfasted and ready for school, and return in the evening so that he could read to the children whilst mother cooked the evening meal. The mother was practically competent but needed monitoring especially if the father was having a bad day.

He could also check that father’s symptoms were not deteriorating.

Social Services had run out of patience and were resolved to bring an end to rehabilitative efforts .

The Judge was ready to give it “one last try”, against the advice of several of the “experts” all of whom were giving not unreasonable regard to the children’s need to be settles elsewhere sooner rather than later if the parents just could not cope.

The Judge was willing to test  the viability of the scheme way beyond the time frames  that will now be be permitted by the Ministry of Justice. Fewer Judges today will be willing to blot their copybooks by routinely ignoring the protocol time limits.

Importantly, during his visits, the elderly gentleman learned that, like many with his condition, the father over estimated his recovery when feeling well, and was relapsing because he did not always  take his medication as  directed. Once identified, the problem was successfully addressed: the children remained in their family even after their benefactor passed away. May God rest his soul.

Such outcomes cannot be prescribed. They arise almost providentially,  but the time was won by lawyers who would not throw in the towel and walk away from the  weak and the failing. No protocol can develop creative thought, such as accepted by this Judge, although the tick box culture can easily stifle it.

Such happy outcomes will become a rarer event as Child Protection is moved out of the discretion of wise and sensitive judges and onto an administrative conveyor belt where the protocol pathway will wrangle poor parents to an inevitable end result.

The bureaucrats have studied, costed, measured and dictated. They took everything into account except perhaps Exodus Ch 23 v 5

“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit.