IICSA – Getting to the Heart of the Matter

by the Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh, Author and Blogger 


If comments surrounding the IICSA report and its findings are to be believed, and we must believe them, it seems there is little hope of real closure on this subject. But is it ‘closure’ that we really need? Closure is often thought of as being a matter of drawing a line and moving on, of forgiving and forgetting.

The idea that the wounds that have been inflicted on the survivors of sexual and spiritual abuse in the Church can simply be forgotten in one sweeping brushstroke of forgiveness is absurd and utterly reprehensible. If you are stabbed in the street you do not forget the pain, both physical and emotional, as the ambulance is taking you to hospital. Real forgetting, and the forgiving that goes with it, is only made possible by healing.

In the wake of the IICSA findings, it is clear that the Church, along with all those who have been party to the abuse, needs to be healed of its pain. At the moment we are in a kind of limbo, a place where the victims, the perpetrators, and the Church as a body, is rendered powerless in regard to how its pain can be healed. So we need to move forward into healing and then, at some point in the future, begin to talk of forgiveness.

Every member of the Church is entitled to either withhold or proffer forgiveness (John 20:23). It is a responsibility in which we all share. because as members of a single body we share in the pain of the abuse revealed through the IICSA process. Forgiveness is therefore not a clerical prerogative. Neither is it unconditional. It is contingent to healing. Forgiveness is also central to the missional task. This suggests that there are two questions which we, as Church, need to ask ourselves: Do we want to be healed? And do we want the institutional Church to survive in its present form?

When Jesus heals the paralysed man at the Bethesda pool he first asks him if he really wants to be healed (John 5: 1-15). Does he want to take responsibility for his own life? I think he is also asking this question of the Church. Do we want, as a single body, to take responsibility for our shared pain, to enter into the depths of it, and so find healing? Entering into the depths of our shared pain means facing into the shame we are all experiencing as a result of what has been revealed by IICSA. But in order to do this we must face into the shame of both the victim and the perpetrator.

Those who have experienced any kind of abuse in their lives, whether or not in the context of the Church, will feel the victim’s shame very keenly. It resonates with their own. It also lives on in countless repercussions of being controlled or dehumanised in ordinary life, even if this is unintentional and in no way related to the original abuser.

Irrespective of denial and excuses, the shame which must ultimately be experienced by the perpetrators of sexual abuse in the Church, and by those who abused their positions of power by covering up for them, also needs to be faced and felt by all of us. There is no place for the abrogating of responsibility for abuse to any one group of people, and there is no place for denying that complacency has allowed it to continue for decades. This is not to say that we are all guilty, or even guilty by association, but that we are, as members of the Church, responsible to the perpetrators as well as to the victims, and to society, for the abuse and its consequences. At the same time, the degree of responsibility will depend on the degree of power a person has in the Church’s institutional life.

All abuse is an abuse of power. While independent assessment and adjudication of abuse, along with improved safeguarding measures, may help to prevent it happening in the future, they will not heal the Church. Some safeguarding measures may even make matters worse by exacerbating the fear and distrust which already exists within a hierarchical system that is proving unfit for purpose in the 21st century.  Fear, and the systemic distrust it generates, makes us complacent. It is easier to just ‘move on’ and ‘forget’. But moving on and pretending to forget does not bring about deep healing. So the question remains. Do we really want to be healed? Do we want to own the pain it causes us, both as victims and, in the case of a few, as perpetrators? Are we prepared to risk where that will take us?

Posted in Church of England, IICSA, Lorraine Cavanagh, Sexual abuse | 1 Comment

After IICSA: Facing Up to Clericalism

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Province of Canterbury


I tell a story against myself. When I was a young naval officer, I recall the first time the ship I served in docked in a military harbour. Keen to be acknowledged as an Officer, I recall leaving the ship on some sort of made-up errand and went looking for someone to salute me for the first time. Eventually I saw a young naval rating heading down a side road and I took a detour towards him, simply so that I could be saluted.

It’s not a particularly edifying story, but it does illuminate a concern for status and acknowledgment in my young self. The insecurities of youth, perhaps.

Well, almost. As part of my duties as one of the six Officers of the General Synod, I have the privilege in taking part in some big ecclesiastical occasions. Just occasionally, I catch myself feeling a little self-important. The big processions with their subtle hierarchies, the loud organ music telling everyone present that something important is going on, full cathedrals of expectant worshippers – it’s difficult not to be seduced into occasionally thinking it’s all about you. If I’m usually near the front of the procession (the subtle hierarchy telling me I’m not quite as important as the people behind me), pity the poor dean, bishop or archbishop at the back with all the weight of that expectation and projection.

“I have seen afresh the insanity of clericalism and of a deferential culture and how we have to struggle against that.” These were some of the most pointed remarks of Archbishop Justin, in his evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) last month. It’s difficult not to agree with him. Without naming names, some of the clergy giving evidence to that important Inquiry demonstrated from their own mouths how separate and elitist the clerical profession can become. We do well to remember the remedy offered to clericalism by Pope Francis that is the call to service and mercy. Criticising the clergy, “Clericalism”, he said, “leads to the functionalisation of the laity, treating them as ‘errand boys [or girls]’” He calls for a renewed commitment of the clergy to serving the people of God, showing mercy, helping ordinary baptised people live their faith in everyday situations. “It’s never the shepherd who tells the laity what they have to do or say in public life, they know it well or even better than us.”

Clericalism inverts the God-given order of the baptismal covenant. Through it the People of God come to think their job is to support the clergy doing the work of God, rather than the clergy enabling the whole church to fulfill its baptismal calling.

But there is another side to the coin. The obverse side is the way in which the people of God treat the clergy in a way that only feeds into such unhealthy clericalism (I have a personal dislike for the word ‘laity’, for which see the provocatively-titled R. Paul Stephens’ The Abolition of the Laity). Whatever the source of clericalism, its presence is not confined to the clergy. The unnamed ‘elders’ of 1 Samuel 8 press the prophet Samuel, “give us a king to govern us.” Despite the warnings of the Lord against such a course of action – “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day” – the elders press for a king. The parallel is not exact but the effect is strikingly similar. Just as the Lord warns the elders of the dangers of kingship, so today we have become urgently aware of the impediment to mission that comes when a call to service becomes a caste with clerical status. Even those whose ecclesial tradition sit light to concepts of ‘priesthood’ can easily create an equally deferential culture around the role of the ‘leader’. The cult of the leader is clericalism’s bastard child.

I was touched by an email I received from a member of my PCC the other day, in the context of a disagreement between us. Having set out her stall to me about why she thought I was wrong, she sent a second email saying, “Simon, do you have any idea how wonderfully rewarding and refreshing it is to be able to have a genuine conversation with clergy (you!) who doesn’t consider me as automatically lesser or second-rate just because I don’t have a Revd title.” Having told a story against myself at the beginning, permit me this little moment of gratitude. I can’t put my hand on my heart and say that I treat everyone quite as well as she feels I do her. But I work on it as a priority in ministerial development.

But I take no ease on this matter. I’m currently chairing a national working group on clergy well-being and we can see the danger that clericalism is not just to the church but to the minister herself. If IICSA can do something life-giving for the church (as well, naturally, to the survivor), it will be to remind us that one of the fruits of our repentance from the sins of child abuse and institutional failure, one of the gifts of the ‘world’ to the church will be to challenge us to deal with the cult of the cleric and the culture of deference. This is an urgent task for the whole church.

How can you play your part?

Posted in Church of England, IICSA, Sexual abuse, Simon Butler | 9 Comments

Challenging APCMs?

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

Vicar Of Dibley

I was a young Team Vicar, helping run a suite of community projects out of an ecumenical charity we’d set up in the parish. We were spending a day reviewing what was going on in our work, and had invited the senior chaplain of the Industrial Mission team to work with us. In preparation for worship, he asked us to each write on a piece of paper one thing we were worried or concerned about in our work together, and then two things that we wanted to give thanks for. Part of the point was the 2:1 ratio. Most of the good stuff was things we normally spent very little time talking about; the tricky things were the familiar dominant items of our agendas. It was invigorating and refreshing to be made to spend twice as long on the positive than the negative.

 With the clergy post-Easter break done, and April half way through, the next couple of weeks are peak season for C of E parishes holding their Annual Meetings. They may not be the hot ticket item on many people’s list, but they provide a rare opportunity in church life. They are one occasion when lay and ordained leaders can lift their attention from firefighting the latest problem, or grappling with the most intractable issues, and spend at least two thirds of their time reflecting on what has gone well. Parish by parish, across the land, church members will be hearing or reading reports on groups who have met faithfully, projects that have made solid progress, people who have grown in faith, engagements that meet the deepest needs in the local community, charities near and far that have been supported. In some places it will be the only meeting in the Church year that gives more time to what has gone well than what has gone badly.

 When I first sat down to think what I might write this week, I ran through the usual tricky issues where I could add a thought or word: would it be sexuality or sexism, safeguarding, antisemitism or Syria that got the benefit of my musings? However, remembering the wisdom of my IM colleague all those years ago, and with an eye to the APCM season, here’s a few people and things I want to give thanks for, instead.

 For Jean, whose passion for Street Angels lights up Oldham Town Centre at the weekend. For Ellie, in her inner city parish, who brings her huge skills and massive commitment to our Winter Night Shelters. For Gareth and his team, leading our fast growing Salford Resourcing Church as it begins to spawn vocations. For Manchester L’arche Community and their amazing café at St Paul’s,Withington. For Susie, who turns tetchy teenagers into young Christian leaders across the diocese. For Ben, who has grown a church from zero on a tough Bolton housing estate. And behind them, all the others who are working with diligence and imagination to be the people of God in their parishes, chaplaincies and communities. And behind all of us, the God whom we meet in worship, sacrament and one another, and whose grace takes us far beyond our mortal capabilities.

 So, here’s a challenge. If your church has an Annual Meeting coming up this month, do go along to it. Pick up something from the reports laid before you, and find some way of asking a question or making a comment that affirms the work being done and praises those involved. There will always be another time to worry away at the latest tough problem. For now, be grateful that you are part of a church that sometimes gets some things seriously right.


Picture: Vicar of Dibley: Dibley Council on UK Gold



Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England | 2 Comments

Are We in Love with Sin?

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod
Rosie Haarper

We all carry our early experiences of Christmas and Easter into our adult life. It’s inevitable and it is the lens through which we interpret the present. For instance, I know I have an over- sentimentalised blue print for Christmas. My Mum was Swiss but living in England, and recreating some of the Swiss traditions was a way of keeping her Swiss identity alive. So we had wonderful homemade Swiss cookies, a tree with real candles we were only allowed to see on Christmas Eve, and handmade presents that my Mother would be sewing in secret all through the autumn. Christmas as a result feels like a warm safe place for me.

Easter however was very different. It was totally dominated by Good Friday. As a church we had a massive get together at around 5.00pm and most of the day was spent making sandwiches. I would help out the ladies (oh yes, all ladies of course!), who seemed impossibly old. They worked very hard at being nice but I could tell they didn’t really like children very much.

My feelings however, were totally dominated by a sense of dread. I knew the Good Friday service was coming and I was terrified.

Year after year after year the story of the crucifixion was told in the most graphic way imaginable. The whole process was unpacked. The torn flesh, the crushing sense of suffocation, the competing pain around the body. No detail was left untold. That was just the beginning. Then there was the sin. The weight of all the sin of the world was also suffered. A weight so vast that only God could bear it, a weight that went beyond that supreme agony when God himself abandoned his son. Then of course there was still hell to be tackled.

All that would have been bad enough, but the real twist came when the ball of responsibility was thrown to every single person in the church. If you were the only person left on earth Jesus would still have had to suffer all this to deal with your sin. It was your sin that took him to the cross.

I remember very clearly hearing Matthew Parris at a debate saying with considerable feeling that he was not willing to accept that he was personally responsible for crucifying Jesus – and thinking that he had a point.

So I grew up, like so many of us I guess, feeling, if not actually thinking, that sin was the main point about Christianity. It was compounded by my experience in two very well know London churches where you were expected to invite your friends to come and hear the gospel (aka “Good News”).  What happened was that perfectly happy and well adjusted people would be told that they were wicked and sinful, but they were not to worry because Jesus had dealt with all that on the cross and if they gave their life to him they’d be alright after all.

It was all about the sin. And all too often it still is. We seem to need to assess someone’s sin status before we can know how to relate to them. Whole parts of the Church break away because they are more concerned about the perceived sin of the other than about their humanity. Classically at the moment the focus is on loving gay relationships. It seems impossible to talk about the love and the flourishing and the relationship, because of the love of fixating on sin.

So I opened my bible to preach on the Sunday after Easter. Surely if it was all about the sin then the risen Jesus is going to explain.  “It’s all right folks! All that agony that I went through means that your sins are dealt with. You are forgiven. The problem is solved.”

Let’s skip over the fact that Jesus was capable of saying ‘Your sin is forgiven’ before his death which might imply that one is not necessarily a consequence of the other. The main point is that he simply didn’t go down that route.

Just imagine that, as a consequence of some extraordinary sacrifice something very, very wonderful could happen. What would you wish for? If there were a cosmic Solomon moment what would change the whole world?

          ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ ‘

For me this year more than ever before the cross speaks of breaking the cycle of violence, and the resurrection offers us peace and hope.

If there is any point at all in being Church we need to embody this by the way we treat one another. It’s costly. We’ve got into the habit of seeing each other’s sin and the recent IICSA hearings in a way underline this: Where are the shortcomings? Who failed? Who did wrong? The purpose surely must be to bring about peace not primarily to judge.

There are many survivors whose dearest wish is for peace. It may be incredibly costly for some senior staff to look at how they have reacted, to apologise deeply and offer to rebuild relationships and make reparation. Peacemaking is hard. Until this happens the gospel will end up being “Bad News”, and all about sin.

The true gospel of Easter is genuinely, tangibly good news and leads to peace.



Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Rosie Harper, Sexual abuse | 18 Comments

IICSA – Is Clericalism to Blame?

by the Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Jeremy Morris

For the time being, the Church of England’s excoriation before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is over.  We are all left trying to come to terms with the dreadful things we have heard and to work out why and how such things happened.  But it’s too easy to reach for ready-made explanations, for ‘buzz words’ that seem to carry everything before them and need only to be uttered to be taken as pinning down definitively what the particular malaise affecting the Church of England has been.

I suspect ‘clericalism’ is one of these words.  In a church with an ordained ministerial hierarchy, with separate training for ordination at colleges and on courses, with distinctive dress, with all the private jokes and private language that goes with any assembly of clergy (and anyone who’s attended a gathering of clergy will know what I mean), it’s very easy to assume that our ills come essentially from clergy seeing themselves as a “specialized, privileged elite”.  These are those for whom the rules are different – those who   need no advice from anyone, who look out for each other (or at least they believe they ought to), and so on.  For all I know, that is what happened in the Diocese of Chichester – a lot of the IICSA evidence certainly points that way.

But it’s curious, this leaning on the idea of ‘clericalism’., For in a way the whole history of the Church of England – and in a sense, even its very identity – has been a long battle to rid itself of clericalism.  At the Reformation clerical exemption from secular law and taxation disappeared.  The ‘parallel world’ of the religious life was abolished.  Mandatory celibacy, that badge of clerical apartness, was ended.  Clergy largely ceased to be part of a separate, privileged professional ‘order’: they were one profession amongst many.  In time, one of the more devastating indictments of Anglican clergy was the accusation of worldliness: they were too much like everyone else around them, preoccupied with property and patronage, and enjoying too much of the same worldly pleasures as others.  At a stretch one could even argue that the Evangelical and High Church revivals were in part a reaction against this ‘worldliness’, in favour of a certain kind of clericalism – an earnest, self-sacrificing kind.

Yet even then much in the modern history of the Church of England has worked against that.  Even in the nineteenth century parishes were not run by clergy only, but by cooperation between clergy and vast teams of lay co-workers.  Lay assemblies have become an intrinsic part of church governance.  University theology departments have been emptied of the clergy who once staffed them; academic theology is mostly now a lay enterprise.  The recruitment of clergy has leant more and more heavily on those who have already had other careers: the average age at ordination has crept up into the thirties.  The Church nationally, and dioceses locally, have emphasized the importance of lay ministry, and sought to build it up.

This is a strange background to the assumption that the Church of England has yet to purge itself of some presumed, residual ‘hangover’ of clericalism.  Of course, all professions have their codes and private language, and their defensive strategies.  I’m sure, as IICSA turns its attention to other areas of national life, we’ll see these things emerging in social work and social care, in medicine, in education, in the police, in local government, and in politics, to name but some.

We have to get beyond the buzz words and try to understand what has really happened, from within the institution.  If we really want to understand clerical pathology – and therefore just why abuse could be handled so incompetently as it seems to have been – then we have to understand the social milieu and social implications of the various strands of theology abroad in the Church.  This is a very big question, and I can’t hope to cover it here.  Maybe I’ll try in a future blog.  But as I say constantly to my students, it’s not enough to attribute motives to people, from the outside, as it were.  You also have to try to get inside their heads, and understand how they themselves see things.  The vast majority of clergy genuinely try to live out what they believe.  Perhaps ‘cover ups’, the failure to deal with or confront problems adequately, the readiness to hand over responsibility to someone else, come as much from a misplaced attempt to be kind to colleagues, to be reluctant to assume the worst, to be truly collegial, and so on.

I’m reminded of the cardinal who, in the late nineteenth century, fearing the damage to the Church, is said to have resisted opening up the Vatican archives to wider access on the grounds that ‘charity always comes before truth’.  He wanted to protect the Church he loved, and perhaps to protect colleagues.  But as we know, that is a fatal capitulation to a mistaken assumption that people have to be shielded from the truth.  On the contrary, truth must come first.  Only when we face the truth honestly can we begin to tackle our difficulties.

Clergy, I have no doubt, do often avoid tension and conflict, and fail to act effectively.  But I’m not sure I believe – except in some hard cases – that it happens because of an inherent assumption of superiority, so much as from a fear of being seen to be hard and critical, and so of undermining the ethic of love that stands at the heart of the Gospel.  We have to keep reminding ourselves of the indivisibility of love and truth.  That’s why IICSA has been so sobering, and so necessary.

We have to learn all over again how avoiding the truth usually ends up harming those very people we think we’re trying to protect.

Posted in Church of England, IICSA, Jeremy Morris, Sexual abuse | 5 Comments

The Challenge of Harmonious Difference

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral

David ison 2

Cathedrals have been in the news over the last few years, though not always for the reasons that they or the wider Church of England might like.

However, one result is that cathedral deans have had more investment in their training and development: which is why 25 of us were in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago to think about leadership and working in teams. And very useful training it was, not least for helping us work together on how we can better serve and lead the many teams which enable cathedrals to function well.

There were many words of wisdom. But one thing that struck a chord with me spoke to the whole issue of how we live with difference.

The course leader told us that research shows that, in terms of achieving results, harmony in teams is less important than difference. A team that prizes harmony and good relationships above all else will not do as well as a team where conflict is allowed and differences are expressed, though it will do better than a team which falls apart because relationships are broken.

What we didn’t do on the course though was to think about the definition of ‘harmony’.

In musical terms, harmony is having a group of singers or players who take different parts, who sing or play different notes at the same time, but do so in a way where there’s a relationship between them.

The Oxford Dictionary uses words like agreement, correspondence, consistency, pleasing, to define the nature of harmony. It also notes the use of ‘harmony’ in relation to writings, where different passages are arranged together to show their agreement, and refers specifically to ‘harmony of the gospels’.

There are two kinds of ‘gospel harmony’. One where the four gospels are set out side by side, so you can see what’s similar and what the nuances and differences are.  The other is when the four gospels are written into one account, in order to present a single view of the gospel message. But this latter way of treating the differences in the gospels isn’t actually harmony.

Jonathan Sacks, in his important 2002 book The Dignity of Difference, wrote about ‘Plato’s Ghost’: the idea that has haunted Greek and then Western civilisation, that there is one right way for the world and us to be, one perfect form of everything from which all else is derived. And he points out how destructive this is of anything that’s perceived as different from the norm: the view that in everything important there is a right way and a wrong way, and getting it right matters.

Musically, that’s not harmony – it’s unison, when everyone sings or plays the same note at the same time, all singing the same melody.

So a gospel harmony which presents a single, composite, ‘right’ account of the ministry of Jesus shouldn’t be called a ‘harmony’ at all, but a gospel ‘unison’.

And a team which doesn’t tolerate difference and can’t cope with conflict isn’t working in harmony, but in unison.

So what, you may ask? Because it matters for how the Church and the world handle difference. There are three, not two, options on how we look at our differences.

An insistence on unity, unison, conformity, will reject what doesn’t fit in with what whoever in power has defined as ‘right’, and will be poorer as a result – whether that’s liberal or conservative, socialist or free-market. You can sing a unison song on your own. But you need others to enrich you by singing and playing in harmony.  We need each others’ differences to be able to do things well, from leading a cathedral to sharing the love of God with the world.

And harmony also requires relationship. That doesn’t mean being free from conflict. Harmony in music can range from simple chords to complex polyphony, and from Barry Manilow to Stockhausen. Some harmony can sound unresolved; at the edges harmony falls apart into disharmony and chaos – there is such a thing as disharmony, and two or more unison songs sung at the same time can be pretty disharmonious and unpleasant.

Unison, harmony, disharmony. The Church has had an ambiguous relationship with difference, whether musical or spiritual. At periods in its life it has regarded polyphony and diversity as a dangerous pandering to the flesh, and emphasised the need for unison; at other times it has rejoiced in creativity and difference.

In its leadership too, the Church has lurched from one division to another. On our deans’ conference we were asked what model of leadership we espoused, and we supposed it ought to be that of Jesus: but Jesus’ disciples competed among themselves before his resurrection, and went through conflict and division afterwards as Paul and John’s letters bear witness.

To have a successful cathedral, to have a Church which resonates in a chord with the nation in the name of Jesus Christ, requires us to let go of assuming that we are all really meant to be in unison, and allow us to discover what being harmonious in difference can be.

Fashions in music and leadership change; but the need to work together in harmonious difference continues, if we are together to bring the world to Christ and bear witness to the kingdom of God  where celestial choirs and harps for ever will sing…. in harmony.


Posted in Church of England, Dean of St Pauls, Human Sexuality, Social Justice | 2 Comments

Apologies, Forgiveness and IICSA

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of the General Synod

Rosie Haarper

It has been an extraordinary experience listening to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on its excellent live streaming site.  I heard some detail that is new to me, although the basic stories are sadly familiar.  But it felt so different.

The reason is simple. At long last these witnesses have been listened to and taken seriously. The whole point of the hearings is to bring into the light that which the institution has tried so hard to keep hidden. Anyone who previously spoke out for the truth was cast as a trouble maker and utterly disloyal.  This applied to individual survivors, their legal teams and their supporters.

It will take some time before we know where this will all go. We will get Part 2 in June and doubtless there will be many more revelations and more attempts at robust defense. There will also be more apologies along the lines of: ‘We have done wrong and we are sorry and beg for forgiveness.’

The spotlight over Easter is on forgiveness and the combination of very public apologies and the ongoing marginalisation of survivors has got me thinking.

What do we actually think forgiveness is? Who does the forgiving? And – this is the critical – what has it all got to do with God?

If I hit my neighbour over the head and then go to church, confess this sin to God and feel confident that I am forgiven, what’s going on there? I didn’t hit God on the head, did I? But being forgiven, I can tell myself that I’m basically a nice person who did this ‘sin’ and now it has been dealt with and I’m nice again. Objectifying sin lets you get right on with your life.

You see, my issue with all the mea culpa that we have heard in these three weeks of IICSA is as much with the intent as the act.

That is surely what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5:27-28: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The problem with sin is that the act is secondary to its roots. If my husband cheats on me my pain isn’t just that he has slept with someone else, but that he has become the sort of person who would do that.

The horror of what we learnt in the three weeks of the hearing is that the Church is run by the sort of people who are prepared to cover up and lie, and who have it within them to protect the institution rather than the very victims they have created. They proclaim a gospel of love and then treat survivors appallingly.

It’s Easter and we make a huge song and dance about the resurrection. Rightly so, but we frame it as a moment – whereas the gospel seems to imply that it is the completion of a long and demanding process. The whole story of Jesus’ life is about resurrection: the difficult choices he had to make and the dark places he had to travel through until he emerged still fully human and restored and healed and complete.  There is no puff of magic. There wasn’t for Jesus and there isn’t for us either.

If we want our churches to be safe places, we have to work a whole lot harder than just saying sorry and expecting a puff of forgiveness to sort it out.

The easiest image is the resurrection of spring. This year especially it has been tough. Tiny little shoots. The frost gets some of them. They fight their way back into the light over many weeks.

The real work of repentance is hard and often painful. Really tricky questions need to be answered, like: ‘What is there within me that drives me to put up a wall of silence to protect my chums rather than attend to the person lying beaten up on front of my very eyes?’ Why do I find it possible to talk about putting the survivor first and yet find it impossible to pick up the phone and talk, impossible to open my heart and wallet to make generous reparation?’ ‘Why, when we now know that the Church has damaged people do we continue to blame them for being damaged?’

It’s Easter and it is a time of hope. I sincerely hope that what we are hearing from the Church amounts to the first tiny little shoots.

But make no mistake these shoots are very small and very fragile.  We have a long way to go before the deep healing that forgiveness can offer has fully taken place.

Posted in Church of England, IICSA, Rosie Harper, Sexual abuse | 1 Comment