Should IICSA change our theology?

Apr 20, 2018 by

by Ian Paul, Psephizo:

I have been very hesitant to make any comment about the scrutiny of Chichester Diocese in the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) for many good reasons. The issue is so deeply painful and complex, and it touches on many interrelated issues in church and society—but that hasn’t prevented several people from giving their own opinion, and these have prompted some reflections of my own.

First up, as is often the case, was Martyn Percy, Dean of Christchurch Oxford. As usual, Percy’s piece was erudite and witty, and, also as usual, it offered a platform on which to play his well-worn record of bashing the Church of England and in particular its bishops and anyone ‘in the hierarchy’. After a considerable run-up, and an energetic hurling of the ball, which pitched up nicely, Percy then hit it for six by identifying the culprits at the heart of the problem—those with a different theological outlook from him, in the form of Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals, whose true nature has been uncovered by these cases of abuse.

It might be possible to set aside the manifest contradictions in Percy’s comments—such as complaining at those who treat the Church of England as a ‘homogeneous gloop’ when he has consistently treated it in entirely monolithic terms. It might also be possible to set aside the irony of someone in Percy’s position—as the highest paid clergy person in the Church who sits at the heart of a bastion of elitism and privilege—criticising the sense of hierarchy and privilege he sees in the Church. But I am sure that I wasn’t the only reader who found it deeply distasteful that he should use the suffering of others and the exposure of failure as a vehicle to push his own particular theological and personal agenda. And, even more distasteful, Percy’s argument read like a thinly veiled power-play. The idea that one particular theological tradition (his) can save us from the perils of the abuse of people and power is nothing much more than a mirror image of the catastrophic compliance we saw paraded in Chichester Diocese. Where in the past people would not question a priest, Percy now asks us not to question the liberal theological configuration he urges on us.

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