The Damning of the Diocese of Chichester
Predatory paedophile priests.. child abuse.. manipulation.. rape.. unimaginable psychological damage.. cover-up.. continued failings..
One has (sadly) become more than used to reading such accounts within the Roman Catholic Church, but this is the Church of England - the Diocese of Chichester, to be precise. Thankfully, it's a one-off, peculiar to Chichester (and there isn't a hint of blaming the teen-victims for seducing the vicar), but one is one too many in the Holy Church of Christ. It is appalling, damning, and utterly inexcusable.
An interim report by the Archbishop of Canterbury's office talks of the 'abiding hurt and damage' caused by 'an appalling history' of 'dysfunctional' local safeguarding measures, which had fallen 'woefully short' for two decades.
Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC, who are leading the inquiry, wrote: "It has been particularly distressing to us to have met people whose lives have been deeply wounded by the abuse they have suffered at the hands of clergy and of lay people holding positions of responsibility in the Church. Sadly, these wounds often refuse to heal.
"It is clear to us that many lives have been blighted. Some have sought justice through the courts of law. Clergy have gone to prison for their abuse of children. We are clear that those who have sought justice through the courts are but the tip of the iceberg."
Tip of the iceberg? Two decades? Jesus wept. How in the name of Christ can the measures for safeguarding the wellbeing of children have been deficient for 20 years?
Episcopal polity is localism in action: it brings church governance nearer the people. When it fails, the temptation is to centralise - to impose structures and assert the aloof and hierarchical. This is now the mode of governance to which Chichester is subject: henceforth, Lambeth Palace will oversee clergy appointments and the protection of children and vulnerable adults in the diocese.
As appalling as this is, it is important to keep it in perspective: we are not talking about a national Church of England failing or an international Anglican one. But when one part of the body is wounded or infected, we are all hurting and livid with fever.
His Grace understands that this report is the first of its kind in the Church of England for over a century. One wonders now if that is a blessing or a failing. It calls for 'a radical change of culture in the diocese – one in which the sanctity, dignity and well being of children and vulnerable adults is openly and transparently at its heart'. The sickening thing is that this ought to be a given: it is like demanding a change of culture in the diocese in order to reflect the radiance of Christ.
Of the victims, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "The abiding hurt and damage done to them is something that none of us in the Church can ignore, and I am deeply sorry that they should have been let down by those they ought to have been able to trust."
His Grace is sorry, too. Deeply, profoundly sorry.