The immoral, scandalous and disgraceful nature of CofE bullying

Jul 22, 2021 by

by Martin Sewell, Archbishop Cranmer:

‘Immoral, scandalous or disgraceful’ is a phrase from the Statutes of Christ Church, Oxford: it describes behaviour warranting disciplinary action being undertaken within that institution, but it is also an entirely appropriate description of the way in which the Church of England has handled the case of the late Fr Alan Griffin, an innocent man who was institutionally bullied to death by a church he had served for most of his life.

Instead of those responsible owning up to the consequences of their actions and either offering their resignations or facing disciplinary action, we are to have another ‘Lessons Learned Review’, a response which is equally immoral, scandalous and disgraceful.

What such a review will mean in practice is that the Church of England will appoint a reviewer of its own choosing; devise its own terms of reference without consultation with any outside party; work in conjunction with its usual lawyers who have little daily experience of front-line safeguarding, whose primary purpose will be to ensure that the matter is directed towards the least controversial of outcomes, and, above all, nobody will actually be held personally accountable in any significant way. It will take many months before reporting, when interest has died down. How do I know this? It is simply because that is what usually happens with ‘Lessons Learned Reviews’.

I used to professionally instruct experts on the propensity of suspected persons to continue their bad behaviour, and the guiding principle they applied was always the same: “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.” On that basis, the outlook is not good.

Several years ago the Church of England declared a commitment to the principles of ‘Transparency and Accountability’, yet that remains a distant aspiration. There are many obvious examples. Question-and-Answer sessions at General Synod are frequently treated as a cat-and-mouse game by Church House, with the avoidance of giving a straight answer to an inconvenient question the preferred default option. The powers that be will never say what ‘Lessons Learned Reviews’ cost us, so General Synod never knows and cannot assess whether they are value for money.

We have presentations followed by questions, which means that General Synod members never get the opportunity to challenge the directions of travel for reform proposals (until it is all too late and too much time and resource has been committed, so it passes with a few dissenting voices). This is how we ended up with the last failed CDM package.

Non-Disclosure Agreements with whistleblowers have been replaced with “confidentiality clauses”, so that’s alright then.

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