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Why is the Church silencing victims? The Archbishops' Council has given up on safeguarding

Both Welby and Cottrell voted to disband the Independent Safeguarding Body (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Both Welby and Cottrell voted to disband the Independent Safeguarding Body (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)


July 11, 2023   4 mins

My small children, being Hebrew speakers, call me abba. Originally Aramaic, the language of the Lord’s Prayer — “Our Father, which art in heaven” — abba is softer, more intimate than the English “father”. Perhaps slightly closer to “daddy”, though less nursery, less sentimental. To call God “abba” is to speak of God as a loving presence, not an austere despot.

So into that one word a whole pile of very deep stuff collapses — our relationship to the ultimate nature of things, our relationship to religion, our relationship with our own fathers. You don’t have to be Freud to find it unsurprising that Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, touched a highly sensitive nerve when he worried out loud that there might be a problem with “Our father”.

Many commentators inwardly groaned, spotting another depressing bout of Church of England wokery. And yes, the Archbishop did inevitably rehearse the idea that God is the apex predator of the patriarchy. But actually, what he said was worse than that. Much worse.

This is exactly what he said: “Yes, I know the word ‘Father’ is problematic for those whose experience of earthly Fathers has been destructive and abusive.” And he is clearly right that if your father beat or molested you as a child, then the word “father” will have disturbing connotations. But what the press did not pick up on was the fact that “Father” is also how many of the clergy style themselves. And if Father so-and-so abused you as a choirboy, then yes: “Our Father” may well be a problem.

In truth, things were already difficult for the Archbishop and the church he leads. For the current meeting of the General Synod in York has witnessed a crisis for the Church of England on an almost unimaginable scale — a full descent into acrimony and chaos, which will take a generation to recover from. “The Church often does the work of Satan,” one Priest wrote, after witnessing events unfold on Sunday.

He was referring to the Archbishops’ Council having decided to disband the church’s Independent Safeguarding Board, and sack its members. This is the body tasked with, among other things, looking into clerical abuse and supporting those who are victims of it. It is supposed to be independent because the Church of England has a long history of covering up its own mess. But it turns out that when its members say things that the Archbishops’ Council do not like, they can be fired and the board closed down.

As the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Church’s own deputy lead for safeguarding, put it: “Today the church is less accountable. To remove, at short notice, the strongest independent voices holding the CofE to account for its safeguarding failings makes us look resistant to robust scrutiny and challenge — which, of course, we are.” When the sacked Safeguarding officials were eventually able to speak — after much wrangling over whether they should be allowed to — they told the Synod that they had indeed been “silenced”. This is extraordinary. If the Church can silence its own Safeguarding body, what hope do survivors have?

Even under the full glare of synodical scrutiny, it was hard to get a straight answer. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was asked directly if he had personally voted to disband the Independent Safeguarding Body. His reply indicated he has clearly been spending a lot of time around politicians (fellow Old Etonians, perhaps). “Both Archbishops wished to wait a bit,” he said, which gives the very strong impression that he and the Archbishop of York had voted against the move to disband. Later, under more pressure, the church admitted that they had both voted for it. Had it been made in the House of Commons, Welby might have faced accusations of misleading the House.

With all this in mind, let us return to Cottrell’s little aside on “Our Father”. As it happens, both of us get called Father by people to whom we have no relationship of biological kinship. It has taken me many years to adjust to this. Sunday-school children, at one of my early parishes in the Black Country, used to think it sounded hilariously like Farmer Giles. I didn’t.

But the main reason it sits uncomfortably with me is that it smacks too much of perhaps the deepest sin of the church: clericalism. Father knows best. At the time of the Reformation, clergy were known as “Sir”. In this country, it was only towards the end of the 19th century that Father became a widespread form of address for the Catholic clergy. It’s a kind of modern affectation. For the likes of Cardinal Manning, who promoted it, Father indicated some kind of exulted spiritual status, a special alignment with the ultimate Father, God.

This is odd when you come to think about it. Being celibates, Catholic clergy do not themselves father children — at least, they are not supposed to. Instead, Father indicates a spiritual kind of responsibility, akin to fatherhood, but not the same as it. Still, in some contexts, being called Father became, too easily, a mark of membership to a club — a club to which many lonely men without families would turn, for company, whiskey and good gossip. Personally, I love my membership of this club. But there is a shadow side to its exclusivity, which, to be clear, is nothing to do with its campery. One for all and all for one can ingrain a certain omertà, a sense that we look after each other through thick and thin, even when the clergy fail.

Of course, it is not just Catholics and Anglo-Catholics who abuse those in their care. Alleged perpetrators of abuse include 242 clergy, 53 church officers, and 41 volunteers who work with children. Creepy, charismatic pastors having secret “wrestling matches” with young men, or authoritarian evangelicals giving naked beatings to vulnerable adults – many of these were extremely well-connected people, with friendships at the highest level.

What was so depressing about the “Our Father” aside was not that it was woke, but that it was absolutely true. Those who are victims of abuse cannot trust the church. And what has been the official response to all of this? Yet another report has been called for. “Mistakes have been made,” the Archbishop of York admitted, “and we need to review that and learn from them”. As he was speaking, survivors were placing ribbons and posters on the fence outside, to remember victims. The next day, this little protest had disappeared.

The church is in total crisis, defeated by defensive managerialism and a clerical circling of wagons. On Sunday evening, many had had enough. The Director of Communications for the Anglican Communion, Gavin Drake, resigned from the Synod. “I joined the Synod to make the Church of England a safer place. I have failed, because the central machinery of the Church of England will use all its power to block the Synod from doing what it exists to do.” Many in the church are fast losing trust in our leadership. Because it is our spiritual fathers that are the problem — not our heavenly one.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago

That’s a thoughtful and welcome update on events from GF, one of his best articles. I’ve been highly critical in the past but in this particular case – apparently setting aside spiritual issues and dealing with the temporal problems that continue to engulf the Anglican church alongside its older brother (which were addressed yesterday by an Unherd article), he’s hit some very pertinent notes.
The bigger question is, of course, whether those aspects – the spiritual and the temporal – can be separated in any meaningful way. I shall leave others to erm… pontificate on that, since my own views have been well aired previously.
It really does beggar belief, perhaps literally, to consider the decision taken by the CofE in disbanding the Independent Safeguarding Board. If there’s one thing missing from this article, it’s a more detailed exploration for any rationale behind doing so. The fallout from the decision will take some time to settle; a further update by GF would be welcome.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I heard a BBC News interview with one of the people who disbanded the Board. They just blathered on about the importance of Safeguarding. For some reason the interviewer failed to push on why they had disbanded the Board. It was utterly pathetic.

Last edited 10 months ago by Ian Barton
Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

That is presumably why they agreed to be interviewed by BBC News.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

That is presumably why they agreed to be interviewed by BBC News.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I heard a BBC News interview with one of the people who disbanded the Board. They just blathered on about the importance of Safeguarding. For some reason the interviewer failed to push on why they had disbanded the Board. It was utterly pathetic.

Last edited 10 months ago by Ian Barton
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago

That’s a thoughtful and welcome update on events from GF, one of his best articles. I’ve been highly critical in the past but in this particular case – apparently setting aside spiritual issues and dealing with the temporal problems that continue to engulf the Anglican church alongside its older brother (which were addressed yesterday by an Unherd article), he’s hit some very pertinent notes.
The bigger question is, of course, whether those aspects – the spiritual and the temporal – can be separated in any meaningful way. I shall leave others to erm… pontificate on that, since my own views have been well aired previously.
It really does beggar belief, perhaps literally, to consider the decision taken by the CofE in disbanding the Independent Safeguarding Board. If there’s one thing missing from this article, it’s a more detailed exploration for any rationale behind doing so. The fallout from the decision will take some time to settle; a further update by GF would be welcome.

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

The church is in total crisis, defeated by defensive managerialism and a clerical circling of wagons.

Any long lived organisation is likely to suffer from the career minded bureaucrats taking over and making over the organisation into a vehicle for their status games. It’s sad when religions do it – but far too human.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
10 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

There can be only one explanation: The Church proved too weak to keep the d**e from collapsing. If modernity stands for anything, it is that happiness is having sex. Celibacy, then, is the cruelest of all possible arrangements. And yet, those who are “all in” when it comes to sex, harrumph should the Church want to jump on the band wagon. Such hypocrisy. The modern world is no place to raise a child.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
10 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

There can be only one explanation: The Church proved too weak to keep the d**e from collapsing. If modernity stands for anything, it is that happiness is having sex. Celibacy, then, is the cruelest of all possible arrangements. And yet, those who are “all in” when it comes to sex, harrumph should the Church want to jump on the band wagon. Such hypocrisy. The modern world is no place to raise a child.

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

The church is in total crisis, defeated by defensive managerialism and a clerical circling of wagons.

Any long lived organisation is likely to suffer from the career minded bureaucrats taking over and making over the organisation into a vehicle for their status games. It’s sad when religions do it – but far too human.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

In my experience. “safeguarding” has become some sort of quasi-religion or social movement, which functions as a job-creation scheme, and a bureaucratic battleground where organised social forces clash, and personal scores are settled.
Of course, protecting children and vulnerable people from abuse is vitally important. But what is essentially common sense and basic human decency and good will has been colonised by a battalion of “experts” (mainly women) who seem to revel in the special power that “being in the know” gives them. An accretion of rules determines who can say, disclose, reveal, record, report and advise whom. No wonder people here are in the dark as to what actually has been done by and to the ISB prior to its dissolution. The C of E won’t tell you, because it is insanely convoluted, and just reporting it to the press might compromise the purity of some established rule that nobody is really sure about.
Have a look at the cases of clergy – often high ranking clergy – who have over the last few years been subject to safeguarding investigations. Some of them are wrong ‘uns, for sure, but most seem to have been well-meaning people who couldn’t keep up with the latest protocols. Forgot to inform the diocesan lead safeguarding adviser of a stage two disclosure regarding a possible conflict of interest with respect to the confidentiality clause in the parish guidelines, fifteen years ago? Gotcha!!
The Church should be used to this. Anyone can be a witch, can’t they, and the secret society of witchfinders are not about to share their secrets.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

I couldn’t agree more with Simon’s points. The suggestion in the article that the church is giving up on safeguarding is utterly contradicted at the local level where safeguarding has indeed become a kind of bureaucratic obsession, and, as Simon says, ‘common sense and basic human decency and good will’ have been abandoned as people who revel in protocols, procedures and policies, take over. Soon, as the church abandons its primary role of preaching the Gospel to the nation, safeguarding of children and young people won’t be a problem any more: there won’t be any of them in church to ‘safeguard’: but, oh my, what a wonderful set of policies and protocols we’ll have! A volunteer helping with the Christian part of the R.E. syllabus at a primary school recently experienced the lunacy of modern ‘safeguarding’: her DBS certificate, indicating that she was cleared to work with children, didn’t have the exact wording required by the school, and so she had to stay behind on the ‘naughty step’ before being ceremoniously accompanied by a staff member to the classroom to join her fellow volunteers. Thank goodness that she wasn’t allowed to go up with the other volunteers: just think what acts of abuse she could have committed along the way!

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

Lord, save us from your safeguarders!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

Yes, Safeguarding seems to have become a bureaucratic shambles wherever they have been applied.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

Lord, save us from your safeguarders!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

Yes, Safeguarding seems to have become a bureaucratic shambles wherever they have been applied.

Dominic S
Dominic S
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

He fails to mention that the Bible specifically teaches against calling anyone ‘father’ except for “your Father in heaven”.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

I couldn’t agree more with Simon’s points. The suggestion in the article that the church is giving up on safeguarding is utterly contradicted at the local level where safeguarding has indeed become a kind of bureaucratic obsession, and, as Simon says, ‘common sense and basic human decency and good will’ have been abandoned as people who revel in protocols, procedures and policies, take over. Soon, as the church abandons its primary role of preaching the Gospel to the nation, safeguarding of children and young people won’t be a problem any more: there won’t be any of them in church to ‘safeguard’: but, oh my, what a wonderful set of policies and protocols we’ll have! A volunteer helping with the Christian part of the R.E. syllabus at a primary school recently experienced the lunacy of modern ‘safeguarding’: her DBS certificate, indicating that she was cleared to work with children, didn’t have the exact wording required by the school, and so she had to stay behind on the ‘naughty step’ before being ceremoniously accompanied by a staff member to the classroom to join her fellow volunteers. Thank goodness that she wasn’t allowed to go up with the other volunteers: just think what acts of abuse she could have committed along the way!

Dominic S
Dominic S
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

He fails to mention that the Bible specifically teaches against calling anyone ‘father’ except for “your Father in heaven”.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

In my experience. “safeguarding” has become some sort of quasi-religion or social movement, which functions as a job-creation scheme, and a bureaucratic battleground where organised social forces clash, and personal scores are settled.
Of course, protecting children and vulnerable people from abuse is vitally important. But what is essentially common sense and basic human decency and good will has been colonised by a battalion of “experts” (mainly women) who seem to revel in the special power that “being in the know” gives them. An accretion of rules determines who can say, disclose, reveal, record, report and advise whom. No wonder people here are in the dark as to what actually has been done by and to the ISB prior to its dissolution. The C of E won’t tell you, because it is insanely convoluted, and just reporting it to the press might compromise the purity of some established rule that nobody is really sure about.
Have a look at the cases of clergy – often high ranking clergy – who have over the last few years been subject to safeguarding investigations. Some of them are wrong ‘uns, for sure, but most seem to have been well-meaning people who couldn’t keep up with the latest protocols. Forgot to inform the diocesan lead safeguarding adviser of a stage two disclosure regarding a possible conflict of interest with respect to the confidentiality clause in the parish guidelines, fifteen years ago? Gotcha!!
The Church should be used to this. Anyone can be a witch, can’t they, and the secret society of witchfinders are not about to share their secrets.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago

Safeguarding is a tricky subject. I am a member of the supposedly evangelical form of Anglicanism – Methodism. Our Minister was publicly suspended and members of the congregation told not to contact him for over three months and he then returned with nothing said about the reasons for his suspension and return given leaving an unpleasant “no smoke without fire” lingering. Unfair to both him and the congregation. At the same time a whole swathe of people are involved in attending safeguarding courses for a full day that involve turgidly going over scenarios usually of the obvious and going over pretty obvious statistics as to who might be responsible for abuse. All very bureaucratic rather than helpful. More time spent on the subject than promoting evangelism that should be the core to Methodism.

One of the problems is that weighing evidence/allegations of abuse, particularly if it relates to long past periods, is no easy task for which church officials (or anyone for that matter) are not particularly well equipped. If you stick to the mantra of believing the victims it is easy but at the expense of potentially seriously wronging the innocent who are the subject of delusional or malicious accusations. The BBC failed over many years to root out the fairly obvious – particularly in retrospect- abuser Jimmy Seville, why should the church be much better. Moving priests accused of abuse may simply have been a way of dealing with “not proven” accusations.

That said I don’t know enough of the circumstances of the removal of the Anglican Safeguarding team to comment. They may have been going down an impractical pathway given the difficulty of the subject.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Margaret TC
Margaret TC
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

‘If you stick to the mantra of believing the victims it is easy but at the expense of potentially seriously wronging the innocent who are the subject of delusional or malicious accusations.’
I know of several cases of malicious unfounded accusations which have caused enormous distress to the victims.
As for the use of ‘our father’ surely it is possible to separate the idea of a divinity from the person who happened to parent us? In some cases it might even help victims of abuse from their own fathers to find a ‘father’ they can love and trust in this divinity.

Last edited 10 months ago by Margaret TC
Margaret TC
Margaret TC
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

‘If you stick to the mantra of believing the victims it is easy but at the expense of potentially seriously wronging the innocent who are the subject of delusional or malicious accusations.’
I know of several cases of malicious unfounded accusations which have caused enormous distress to the victims.
As for the use of ‘our father’ surely it is possible to separate the idea of a divinity from the person who happened to parent us? In some cases it might even help victims of abuse from their own fathers to find a ‘father’ they can love and trust in this divinity.

Last edited 10 months ago by Margaret TC
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago

Safeguarding is a tricky subject. I am a member of the supposedly evangelical form of Anglicanism – Methodism. Our Minister was publicly suspended and members of the congregation told not to contact him for over three months and he then returned with nothing said about the reasons for his suspension and return given leaving an unpleasant “no smoke without fire” lingering. Unfair to both him and the congregation. At the same time a whole swathe of people are involved in attending safeguarding courses for a full day that involve turgidly going over scenarios usually of the obvious and going over pretty obvious statistics as to who might be responsible for abuse. All very bureaucratic rather than helpful. More time spent on the subject than promoting evangelism that should be the core to Methodism.

One of the problems is that weighing evidence/allegations of abuse, particularly if it relates to long past periods, is no easy task for which church officials (or anyone for that matter) are not particularly well equipped. If you stick to the mantra of believing the victims it is easy but at the expense of potentially seriously wronging the innocent who are the subject of delusional or malicious accusations. The BBC failed over many years to root out the fairly obvious – particularly in retrospect- abuser Jimmy Seville, why should the church be much better. Moving priests accused of abuse may simply have been a way of dealing with “not proven” accusations.

That said I don’t know enough of the circumstances of the removal of the Anglican Safeguarding team to comment. They may have been going down an impractical pathway given the difficulty of the subject.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago

“The church is in total crisis.” Can anyone name an institution that isn’t?

Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

Excellent question Allison.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

New College, Oxford.*

(* Proper name : College of St Mary of Winchester in Oxenford (Oxford.))

Last edited 10 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago

Good point. RD Laing said you have to break down to break out.

Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

Excellent question Allison.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

New College, Oxford.*

(* Proper name : College of St Mary of Winchester in Oxenford (Oxford.))

Last edited 10 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago

Good point. RD Laing said you have to break down to break out.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago

“The church is in total crisis.” Can anyone name an institution that isn’t?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

It is time for Parliament to act.

When the late Thomas Cromwell was faced with ‘a little bovver from the Church’ he took immediate and decisive action.
First he enacted the 1533 Buggery Act, which made the act of buggery a capital offence.*

Then he moved against the Monasteries, and this is the preamble to the 1535 Act to dissolve the smaller monasteries:-

“Forasmuch as manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living is daily used and committed by the little and small abbeys and priories, and other religious houses of monks, canons and nuns

”

So, no equivocation there! What a splendid chap Thomas Cromwell was.

(*Ironically the first to be convicted was the Headmaster of Eton, although he was ‘let off’ with less than a year’s imprisonment. Somethings never change!)

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago

Thanks Charles. That further reinforces the point i made (commenting on yesterday’s Catholic article) about the centuries-old abuse of position by those seeking to exploit others under the guise of ecclesiasticism.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Exactly. So much abuse is done in the name of god, and in the name of love for that matter.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Exactly. So much abuse is done in the name of god, and in the name of love for that matter.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago

Thanks Charles. That further reinforces the point i made (commenting on yesterday’s Catholic article) about the centuries-old abuse of position by those seeking to exploit others under the guise of ecclesiasticism.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

It is time for Parliament to act.

When the late Thomas Cromwell was faced with ‘a little bovver from the Church’ he took immediate and decisive action.
First he enacted the 1533 Buggery Act, which made the act of buggery a capital offence.*

Then he moved against the Monasteries, and this is the preamble to the 1535 Act to dissolve the smaller monasteries:-

“Forasmuch as manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living is daily used and committed by the little and small abbeys and priories, and other religious houses of monks, canons and nuns

”

So, no equivocation there! What a splendid chap Thomas Cromwell was.

(*Ironically the first to be convicted was the Headmaster of Eton, although he was ‘let off’ with less than a year’s imprisonment. Somethings never change!)

Steve White
Steve White
10 months ago

Why? Systemic Institutional Narcissism. They, the churches, the leaders responsible, it’s all “too big to fail”. That’s where the world is now, the systems, the institutions are more important and more valuable than the people in them. So, if they’re “anti-humanity”, according to pragmatism it’s ok, because they’re bigger and more important than the individual humans. This is the same thing they do with compassion. Their compassion is always for someone not in front of them. It’s always the poor people over in that plight halfway around the world. Not the needy person in the church they are over. That individual person is difficult, doesn’t suit my desires and is therefore dislikable, and therefore expendable.
The problem is that these men rule like kings instead of servant shepherds. The hirling runs away when there’s trouble. They use Christ’s sheep, devour Christ’s sheep. They don’t bind up and protect Christ’s sheep, because they don’t really love them. It’s that simple. The leadership themselves lack character and integrity. They lack love (and have questionable doctrine as well) and therefore they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing that Jesus warned us of. 
One of the things that the Westminster assembly did, other than putting together the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the larger and shorter catechisms was to hold court where they brought about 2500 of the 10,000 or so minsters in the church at the time to a sort of trial. Both their doctrine and their character were examined. Many of them had to be examined twice, and the end result was that many ministers were defrocked. Can you imagine anything like that happening today? I can’t either. Yet, I would have to say, that’s Reformation. That would only happen if there happened to be a modern Reformation
 
The value of the church or the pastor in Biblical terms is measured by how much they love and serve (feeding) the least of Christ’s sheep. The value in worldly or pragmatic terms is successful leadership and numbers centric. This has created both a systematic (or institutional) narcissism of ‘too big to fail”, as well as the propping up of narcissistic pastors themselves. There are real problems of a lack of integrity and character in leadership today in our declining culture, not only in secular institutions but in ecclesiastical as well. 

Last edited 10 months ago by Steve White
Steve White
Steve White
10 months ago

Why? Systemic Institutional Narcissism. They, the churches, the leaders responsible, it’s all “too big to fail”. That’s where the world is now, the systems, the institutions are more important and more valuable than the people in them. So, if they’re “anti-humanity”, according to pragmatism it’s ok, because they’re bigger and more important than the individual humans. This is the same thing they do with compassion. Their compassion is always for someone not in front of them. It’s always the poor people over in that plight halfway around the world. Not the needy person in the church they are over. That individual person is difficult, doesn’t suit my desires and is therefore dislikable, and therefore expendable.
The problem is that these men rule like kings instead of servant shepherds. The hirling runs away when there’s trouble. They use Christ’s sheep, devour Christ’s sheep. They don’t bind up and protect Christ’s sheep, because they don’t really love them. It’s that simple. The leadership themselves lack character and integrity. They lack love (and have questionable doctrine as well) and therefore they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing that Jesus warned us of. 
One of the things that the Westminster assembly did, other than putting together the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the larger and shorter catechisms was to hold court where they brought about 2500 of the 10,000 or so minsters in the church at the time to a sort of trial. Both their doctrine and their character were examined. Many of them had to be examined twice, and the end result was that many ministers were defrocked. Can you imagine anything like that happening today? I can’t either. Yet, I would have to say, that’s Reformation. That would only happen if there happened to be a modern Reformation
 
The value of the church or the pastor in Biblical terms is measured by how much they love and serve (feeding) the least of Christ’s sheep. The value in worldly or pragmatic terms is successful leadership and numbers centric. This has created both a systematic (or institutional) narcissism of ‘too big to fail”, as well as the propping up of narcissistic pastors themselves. There are real problems of a lack of integrity and character in leadership today in our declining culture, not only in secular institutions but in ecclesiastical as well. 

Last edited 10 months ago by Steve White
Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

I’ve read this article twice and I’ve read the linked Church Times article and I still have no idea why the ISB was disbanded. Can anyone shed light on it? Is it to do with the report into historical sex abuse cases referenced later in the article?

Last edited 10 months ago by Matt M
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

As a ‘survivor’, I was invited to a presentation and discussion hosted by the Archbishops’ Council. The Archbishops were not there, and neither was anyone else who appeared to have been party to the decision. Although there were others in the discussion who appeared to know the background, I emerged none the wiser.

Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

It is completely crazy Caroline. What a way to handle things!

Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

It is completely crazy Caroline. What a way to handle things!

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Where oh where is archbishopcranmer.com when he is needed ? A handful of grey ashes long long ago at rest…

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

As a ‘survivor’, I was invited to a presentation and discussion hosted by the Archbishops’ Council. The Archbishops were not there, and neither was anyone else who appeared to have been party to the decision. Although there were others in the discussion who appeared to know the background, I emerged none the wiser.

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Where oh where is archbishopcranmer.com when he is needed ? A handful of grey ashes long long ago at rest…

Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

I’ve read this article twice and I’ve read the linked Church Times article and I still have no idea why the ISB was disbanded. Can anyone shed light on it? Is it to do with the report into historical sex abuse cases referenced later in the article?

Last edited 10 months ago by Matt M
Martin Adams
Martin Adams
10 months ago

Two observations, made from my position as a Reader (licensed lay minister) in the Church of England.
Firstly, the observations about safeguarding made in the article, and in the many comments about safeguarding as a hideous bureaucracy, are all true. The Bishop of Birkenhead’s terse comments, quoted in Giles’ article, are entirely apposite.
Secondly, the way in which the Archbishop of York raised the not inappropriate subject of how the word “father” can carry unwelcome associations for those who have experienced abuse, showed a failure to approach this subject via any alternative to the theorised, faithless thought that roots realities in our feelings rather than in truth — thought and speech that is all too prominent in many strands of so-called liberal Christianity.
I’ve seen the online recordings of the Archbishop’s opening address at this month’s General Synod, where he admits the reality of how such people might react to the word “father” (and Giles’ comments about priests being called “Father” are helpful additions to his points). But on this crucial subject he says nothing more.
Using that odious weasel word “problematic”, and then raising the spectre of how some of us might feel, made it inevitable that this is what everyone would remember and report. That is exactly what has happened. It was a primary example of what happens when our concepts and practices of fellowship are essentially horizontal, dominated by inter-personal relationships, rather than by finding fellowship with one another because we have fellowship with Jesus Christ. As the Apostle John puts it:

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our] joy may be complete. [1 John 1:3-4]

The Archbishop’s speech was on Friday afternoon. On Sunday evening I attended a service and social gathering at my local cathedral. A conversation started with another Reader, a Choral Scholar, and a couple of other regulars at the cathedral. Among all these folk there was a striking mixture of anger, frustration and bewilderment. OK — some of us have problems with the word “father”. But that should lead us, and church leaders in particular, to point out that “Our Father in heaven” is the perfect father to whom we can look — a perfection that our earthly fathers cannot match, and is proclaimed throughout scripture and the history of the church’s wisdom and faith.

Last edited 10 months ago by Martin Adams
Martin Adams
Martin Adams
10 months ago

Two observations, made from my position as a Reader (licensed lay minister) in the Church of England.
Firstly, the observations about safeguarding made in the article, and in the many comments about safeguarding as a hideous bureaucracy, are all true. The Bishop of Birkenhead’s terse comments, quoted in Giles’ article, are entirely apposite.
Secondly, the way in which the Archbishop of York raised the not inappropriate subject of how the word “father” can carry unwelcome associations for those who have experienced abuse, showed a failure to approach this subject via any alternative to the theorised, faithless thought that roots realities in our feelings rather than in truth — thought and speech that is all too prominent in many strands of so-called liberal Christianity.
I’ve seen the online recordings of the Archbishop’s opening address at this month’s General Synod, where he admits the reality of how such people might react to the word “father” (and Giles’ comments about priests being called “Father” are helpful additions to his points). But on this crucial subject he says nothing more.
Using that odious weasel word “problematic”, and then raising the spectre of how some of us might feel, made it inevitable that this is what everyone would remember and report. That is exactly what has happened. It was a primary example of what happens when our concepts and practices of fellowship are essentially horizontal, dominated by inter-personal relationships, rather than by finding fellowship with one another because we have fellowship with Jesus Christ. As the Apostle John puts it:

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our] joy may be complete. [1 John 1:3-4]

The Archbishop’s speech was on Friday afternoon. On Sunday evening I attended a service and social gathering at my local cathedral. A conversation started with another Reader, a Choral Scholar, and a couple of other regulars at the cathedral. Among all these folk there was a striking mixture of anger, frustration and bewilderment. OK — some of us have problems with the word “father”. But that should lead us, and church leaders in particular, to point out that “Our Father in heaven” is the perfect father to whom we can look — a perfection that our earthly fathers cannot match, and is proclaimed throughout scripture and the history of the church’s wisdom and faith.

Last edited 10 months ago by Martin Adams
Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Thanks, as always, to Giles Fraser. I wonder if the CofE will adopt a woke cloak as a means of hiding its unwillingness to deal with abuse. I am a member of the Church of Scotland, where the form of address used to be “maister”, a Scottified version of Latin “magister”, so no less ‘problematic’ than “father”. But it got abbreviated to “Mr”, so indistinguishable from the rest of the population, but just as tricky for female ministers. I have noticed several ministers in our presbytery have avoided this problem by doing Mickey Mouse PhDs with an American Bible Belt uni.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago

How about just using the person’s first name that levels the playing field.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago

How about just using the person’s first name that levels the playing field.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Thanks, as always, to Giles Fraser. I wonder if the CofE will adopt a woke cloak as a means of hiding its unwillingness to deal with abuse. I am a member of the Church of Scotland, where the form of address used to be “maister”, a Scottified version of Latin “magister”, so no less ‘problematic’ than “father”. But it got abbreviated to “Mr”, so indistinguishable from the rest of the population, but just as tricky for female ministers. I have noticed several ministers in our presbytery have avoided this problem by doing Mickey Mouse PhDs with an American Bible Belt uni.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
10 months ago

A long time ago, I became a Catholic, so I left the Church of England. I would have become a Catholic anyway, and I have never looked back. But you called the people around me mad, bad or both when they said that once women were addressed liturgically as “Mother in God”, then you would end up unable to say “Our Father”. They pointed out that that was already happening in your North American operations, and in the episcopally organised state churches of Scandinavia. They faithfully reproduced the published words of your leading minds. Yet still you would not have it. Well, look at you now.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

That’s religion for you, all religion is problematic, and that’s an understatement.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

I am reminded of a verse in Matthew’s gospel, ch 23, which says, ‘Call no man father on earth, . . . . ‘

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

That’s religion for you, all religion is problematic, and that’s an understatement.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

I am reminded of a verse in Matthew’s gospel, ch 23, which says, ‘Call no man father on earth, . . . . ‘

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
10 months ago

A long time ago, I became a Catholic, so I left the Church of England. I would have become a Catholic anyway, and I have never looked back. But you called the people around me mad, bad or both when they said that once women were addressed liturgically as “Mother in God”, then you would end up unable to say “Our Father”. They pointed out that that was already happening in your North American operations, and in the episcopally organised state churches of Scandinavia. They faithfully reproduced the published words of your leading minds. Yet still you would not have it. Well, look at you now.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
10 months ago

Just hope they don’t return to the days of the inquisitions.

Kevin Hansen
Kevin Hansen
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

I wouldnt expect that at all.

Kevin Hansen
Kevin Hansen
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

I wouldnt expect that at all.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
10 months ago

Just hope they don’t return to the days of the inquisitions.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
10 months ago

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
And deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever, Amen.

I am not even a Christian, though I was raised as one, (I quoted the Lord’s Prayer from memory) and even I think it would be a travesty to remove the idea of “God the father” from the Christian religion. Does any other religion try to adapt to 21st century mores? Consider that a rhetorical question by the way.

As for the safeguarding, well the church has form on this – both Anglican and Catholic. The CofE is now the church of woke, although how that sits with removing a safeguarding committee is beyond me.

Last edited 10 months ago by Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
10 months ago

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
And deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever, Amen.

I am not even a Christian, though I was raised as one, (I quoted the Lord’s Prayer from memory) and even I think it would be a travesty to remove the idea of “God the father” from the Christian religion. Does any other religion try to adapt to 21st century mores? Consider that a rhetorical question by the way.

As for the safeguarding, well the church has form on this – both Anglican and Catholic. The CofE is now the church of woke, although how that sits with removing a safeguarding committee is beyond me.

Last edited 10 months ago by Nikki Hayes
Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
10 months ago

What is the supposed justification for this decision? I mean, how does the Synod explain it?

Steve White
Steve White
10 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

ÂŁ

Steve White
Steve White
10 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

ÂŁ

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
10 months ago

What is the supposed justification for this decision? I mean, how does the Synod explain it?

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
10 months ago

The only surprise in all this is that anyone is surprised.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
10 months ago

The only surprise in all this is that anyone is surprised.

Campbell P
Campbell P
10 months ago

The essential problem – and it is at the heart of almost every problem the C of E faces currently, from safeguarding to strategy and from the exercise of authority to pastoral care – is that it lacks what the great majority of its laity would understand to be ‘leaders’.
Hiding behind ‘collegiality’, ‘collaboration’, and ‘consensus’, bishops – with a handful of glowing exceptions – have failed to understand what is required of a ‘leader’ and the difference between a ‘leader’ and a ‘manager’ or ‘committee member’.
When I have given talks to lay people on the essentials of leadership they have understood immediately: when I offered a paper to our diocesan training department it was rejected as being ‘old fashioned’. The paper had been given a hearty thumbs up from a retired ambassador, an army general, the CEO of large multinational, the Chair of a national charity, and several more.
Held together by the glue of good communication, Competence, Character, and Commitment (both to the people one leads and to the task given) are those essentials. Flaws or failures in these lead to institutional ineffectiveness and a loss of trust in those holding positions of authority.
At no point in my ordination training or POT or CME did anything on ‘leadership’ appear – the generation of current diocesans. The selecting of future bishops from at least the start of the Boddington era onwards was on other criteria and produced ‘company’ men and women prepared to play under the new ‘above all don’t rock the boat’ rules. Without the ‘Three Cs’ above, no amount of doctorates, committee memberships, report authorships, synod memberships, niceness, wokeness, etc, etc will prepare a person for the tough decision-making required when diocesan strategy, finances, and membership are failing and falling and when clergy are removed from their parishes on unproven charges as a ‘neutral act’, and barred from communication with their flock while a disastrous CDM process grinds on.
As a former infantry officer and international businessman before ordination, I can say, as a number of my lay contemporaries have said, that I am yet to meet a bishop who would have made Lance Corporal in my regiment or to whom, as MD of an international trading company, I would have given a job. I apologise to those whom I have not yet met or whose pronouncements, writings, tweets, TV and radio appearances, etc, etc I have not encountered; but the C of E hierarchy is currently in a dreadful and ineffective state and pretty much everyone knows the reason why and why there is so much distrust of a hierarchy that is simply not fit for purpose. Thank heavens that priests and parishioners in so many parishes are doing such wonderful work in spite of the appalling and growing odds against them – through lack of effective episcopal leadership.

Campbell P
Campbell P
10 months ago

The essential problem – and it is at the heart of almost every problem the C of E faces currently, from safeguarding to strategy and from the exercise of authority to pastoral care – is that it lacks what the great majority of its laity would understand to be ‘leaders’.
Hiding behind ‘collegiality’, ‘collaboration’, and ‘consensus’, bishops – with a handful of glowing exceptions – have failed to understand what is required of a ‘leader’ and the difference between a ‘leader’ and a ‘manager’ or ‘committee member’.
When I have given talks to lay people on the essentials of leadership they have understood immediately: when I offered a paper to our diocesan training department it was rejected as being ‘old fashioned’. The paper had been given a hearty thumbs up from a retired ambassador, an army general, the CEO of large multinational, the Chair of a national charity, and several more.
Held together by the glue of good communication, Competence, Character, and Commitment (both to the people one leads and to the task given) are those essentials. Flaws or failures in these lead to institutional ineffectiveness and a loss of trust in those holding positions of authority.
At no point in my ordination training or POT or CME did anything on ‘leadership’ appear – the generation of current diocesans. The selecting of future bishops from at least the start of the Boddington era onwards was on other criteria and produced ‘company’ men and women prepared to play under the new ‘above all don’t rock the boat’ rules. Without the ‘Three Cs’ above, no amount of doctorates, committee memberships, report authorships, synod memberships, niceness, wokeness, etc, etc will prepare a person for the tough decision-making required when diocesan strategy, finances, and membership are failing and falling and when clergy are removed from their parishes on unproven charges as a ‘neutral act’, and barred from communication with their flock while a disastrous CDM process grinds on.
As a former infantry officer and international businessman before ordination, I can say, as a number of my lay contemporaries have said, that I am yet to meet a bishop who would have made Lance Corporal in my regiment or to whom, as MD of an international trading company, I would have given a job. I apologise to those whom I have not yet met or whose pronouncements, writings, tweets, TV and radio appearances, etc, etc I have not encountered; but the C of E hierarchy is currently in a dreadful and ineffective state and pretty much everyone knows the reason why and why there is so much distrust of a hierarchy that is simply not fit for purpose. Thank heavens that priests and parishioners in so many parishes are doing such wonderful work in spite of the appalling and growing odds against them – through lack of effective episcopal leadership.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
10 months ago

When you set up any sort of organised religion the interests and powerbase of the organisation and its power brokers trump any notion of religious or moral principle. Indeed, many so-called religious principles – on apostasy, contraception, threats of eternal torment – are invented solely to maintain the supply of customers. The ‘god products’ they sell are well past their sell-by date in developed countries, and only threats, intimidation, and violence are keeping the more backward going.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
10 months ago

When you set up any sort of organised religion the interests and powerbase of the organisation and its power brokers trump any notion of religious or moral principle. Indeed, many so-called religious principles – on apostasy, contraception, threats of eternal torment – are invented solely to maintain the supply of customers. The ‘god products’ they sell are well past their sell-by date in developed countries, and only threats, intimidation, and violence are keeping the more backward going.

Kat L
Kat L
10 months ago

In the meantime it looks like the global south has separated itself and TEC will be defunct within a generation or two, but here they are nattering on about the use of ‘father’ in the Lord’s Prayer.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Kat L

Not to mention climate change and AI!!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Kat L

Not to mention climate change and AI!!

Kat L
Kat L
10 months ago

In the meantime it looks like the global south has separated itself and TEC will be defunct within a generation or two, but here they are nattering on about the use of ‘father’ in the Lord’s Prayer.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago

I find it puzzling that when Fraser speaks of alleged perpetrators of abuse that include “242 clergy, 53 church officers,and 41 volunteers who work with children” he doesn’t say over what period of time the abuses occured.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago

I find it puzzling that when Fraser speaks of alleged perpetrators of abuse that include “242 clergy, 53 church officers,and 41 volunteers who work with children” he doesn’t say over what period of time the abuses occured.

Peadar Laighléis
Peadar Laighléis
10 months ago

Given how horrendous the sexual abuse of children by clergy continues to be, it seems petty to look at the title ‘Father’. If you were look at how the Catholic Church addresses it’s clergy in Latin, there is a distinction between “Reverendus Dominus” (reverend sir/Mr) to secular priests and “Reverendus Pater” (reverend father) which is confined to priests who are members of religious orders (in this I am fascinated to see Church of Scotland nomenclature based on Magister in Latin or Gaelic Maighistir) . In the English-speaking world, this distinction was blurred following the growth of ultramontanism in the 19th century promoted by Cardinal Manning and also Cardinal Cullen in Dublin (and remember Ireland was a net exporter of priests in the Anglosphere). The older and more proper distinction is maintained in most modern European languages, so the Anglo-Catholic affectation essentially follows something which is almost an English-speaking exclusivity with in the Catholic Church. On the other hand the Orthodox Churches in my observation use the title ‘Father’ not only for their priests, whether monastic or diocesan, but also for their deacons and for monks who are not ordained clerics (I suppose in much the same way in Catholic convents, superioresses are titled ‘Mother’).
However, Giles Fraser’s focus on the title in the context both of some of the nonsense at play in western Christianity and also of the betrayal of children and vulnerable adults by clergy, is very well taken. This is not a new issue and about five hundred years before Thomas Cromwell, the reforming Cardinal St Peter Damian, railed against the practice in the ‘Book of Gomorrah’, where he leveled accusations against some of the Tusculan Popes who had occupied the Chair of St Peter not long before that. Nor was this new in the mid-eleventh century.
This is one issue where there is probably no good solution. The Catholic Church in Ireland at present seems to be stuck in a cycle of perpetual handwringing on this issue which is not helping. But to walk away from the issue as given above and in the case of several US dioceses taking the easy way out by declaring bankruptcy is no solution either.