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Bad Faithed – a place for broken trust to be heard and futures built

There has been a great deal recently in the European Press around people’s trust in either individuals, organisations, businesses suffering rupture.  The #metoo campaign launched by actor Alyssa Milano, as an expose detailing the rising allegations of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but morphed rapidly into a multi million tweet, Facebook update, Instagram phenomenon of #metoo instances of women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault.  Alyssa Milano believed that if women were to post #metoo on their status, it would start to identify publicly the magnitude of this dimension of physical violence and intimidation experienced by women across the globe. Wherever tech reached there a #metoo status update sat, for many countries due to the penetration of social media and the technology to support it the updates were in their millions.

The #metoo campaign burst into a conflagration setting light to social media fanned awareness of Sexual harassment and abuse internationally.

More followed from churches under the focused attention of the  independent IICSA process -( the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse)  commissioned by Vicar’s daughter Teresa May, when in the role of Home Secretary .  Although IICSA suffered its own troubled trajectory into stability,  it has now settled under the chairing of Professor Alexis Jay to produce uncomfortable news, not just for the local authorities and policing under review, but also for Church hierarchies within in particular (though not exclusively) the Catholic and Anglican churches.  This  was heralded in its interim report of 2016,  which intimated a renewed focus on the behaviours of not only town councils,  Local Education Authorities, Social Services, and over 1400 historic cases of Child Sexual Abuse being managed by national policing through Operation Hydrant, but the role of some of our national religious treasures (to in their failure to safeguard, and protect children who passed through their professional services and care.

Following a series of open panels and closed hearings in 2017, the commencement of the furies for the major Christian denominations begun in earnest with the series of open hearings in June 2018, focusing on the appropriateness (or otherwise!) of safeguarding and child protection policies and practices in the Anglican Church. It also considered the adequacy of the Past Cases Review of the Church of England and the Historic Cases Review of the Church in Wales which had been undertaken previously. As a case study, the panel reviewed the experience of the Diocese of Chichester, where over the last sixty years there have been multiple allegations of sexual abuse, and numerous investigations and reviews which have in the view of many of the victims and survivors and those who have accompanied them in the wilderness been various shades of whitewashing.  The hearings have in the last couple of weeks reviewed  the case of Peter Ball, formerly Bishop of Lewes and subsequently Bishop of Gloucester, and investigated whether there were inappropriate attempts by people of prominence to interfere in the criminal justice process after he was first accused of child sexual offences.

The bold and significant decision to render these hearings open to anyone who had wi-fi access and a device to view, has forensically laid bear major short comings in Catholic and Anglican organisational processes.  Day after day of the fortnight long hearings fresh  revelations of lack of due process for reporting offences, full co-operation with public justice mechanisms, or  a reliance on the mantra of ‘it was a different time’ emerged to the consternation of those still left in congregations,  and an astounded forest of bystanders as commentary from major broadsheet and a flurry of tweets emerged from the IICSA hearing centre of Pocock Street in London.  Here under the cross examination of the legal team headed by leading counsel in the Anglican enquiry,  Ms Fiona Scolding Queen’s Counsel to the Anglican investigation, the Dioceses of Chichester and Gloucester of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, were left blinking into the headlights of major systems change which had been taking place across the public sector.

The whole tenor of the church’s stance in the turn of the century and into the early noughties,  has something of the flavour of the response of senior BBC management thirty years before,  as   affected departments failed to respond in speed, openness and robustness to the allegations and rumours surrounding the behaviours of the late Jimmy Savile.  Savile’s  multiple crimes seemingly protected by his privileged DJ,  Saturday evening family treasure,  health care volunteer  ‘par excellence’ status, management reputation for the BBC and an inexplicable cultural passivity with regard to child victim and historic allegations of CSA, which contributed to the setting up of the IICSA .  As a fascinated and appalled audience tapped in the IICSA panel’s URL they were served similar processes of denial, mislaid letters of complaint, potential cover-ups, insights into perverse male networking to protect institutional and episcopal reputations in clear breach of onward safeguarding concerns surrounding those with allegations of abuse against them,  and the  welfare of survivors who had reported alleged offences being poorly served.

 

Fiona Scolding QC lead the interrogation of witnesses in the hearings on the Dioceses of Chichester and Gloucester

In the following weeks Catholic and Anglican institutions came out poorly under the forensic headlights deployed by Fiona Scolding QC and her teams attention. The roles of authority,  positions of spiritually shored up trust, held by ‘religious’ men and ‘nuns’  in educational establishments,  churches, youth clubs, in children’s homes, in health care clearly broken by the few, buried by  senior managers,  balancing agencies of justice blind-sighted in some instances by the wielding of the cloak of male patrimony and networks, whilst the young lives who were committed to their care and comprehensively traumatised and abused, were still awaiting full accountability and restitution.  A case of  Badfaithing all around.

In April 2018 weeks after the first hearings on the Chichester case were being broadcast through the internet, the first Bad Faithed symposium was convened at Westminster College, an institution significantly founded by two pioneering Presbyterian twin sisters at the end of the nineteenth century and now forming part of the Federation of Theological Colleges at the University of Cambridge.

 

Westminster College University of Cambridge, founded by twin Scottish Sisters Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson.

The day long symposium was chaired by the Revd Dr Carrie Pemberton Ford and attended by three Anglican Bishops (two female one male), survivors of clergy marital breakdown with significant attendant abuse, a former senior military wife, three theologians and two Professors in Church History and the Sociology of Religion.  with initial tweeting taking place under the tag of #Churchtoo, it was seen that there was a requirement to develop a space where experiences of ‘sub optimal’ performance by those in clerical or church leadership could start to be announced, and some ways forward for raising the standard of behaviour, and protecting those parties who faced the experience of mutliple forms of badfaithing abuse behind the closed doors of vicarages, rectories, manses, priests homes, academics lodgings, tutors houses, bishop’s palaces, youth retreat leaders front rooms, chaplains’ housing, across the UK and beyond.

Professor Elizabeth Koening addresses the inaugural symposium of Badfaithed 2018

Thus the #Hometruths conference of 2018 was conceived and is just a couple of months away from its public birthing. #Churchtoo has now also been taken forward by those in the LGBTI communities who have experienced closure of professional posts,  welcome, the possibility of a Christian marriage, cultural aversion to their identity and hospitality to their affective relationships, systematic negative teaching within many churches crowned by the now soon to be comprehensively banned in the UK gay conversion therapy. The #Hometruths conference will be deploying #Hometruths, #Churchtoo, and #Faithtoo in the spirit of the #metoo campaign, seeking to shine a light on the occluded abuse of Ecclesial domestic abuse, and the way in which multiple abuses which take place in the domestic location of some pastors, vicars, ministers, archdeacons, deans,  bishops, youth workers, organists, affiliated church workers, have been substantially ignored within the institution, though frequently absorbing many man hours in Bishop’s and senior leaders teams as they recover the fall out for parishes, and professional deployment.

 

The question for the initial conference will shine a light on current safeguarding requirements of children within the ecclesial domestic space, enhancing early reporting of household abuse across the churches and how the journey to improvement might be managed,  historical domestic abuse in the ecclesial family home which has been comprehensively ignored by the institution but lives on in the legacy of those affected by ecclesial negligence in the past and may well be continuing in current practice in the present,  ongoing protection needs of abused spouses, appropriate measures in place to assist clerical marriages in collapse to be deconstructed safely,  the impact of the almost certain loss of the domestic home. The latter is due to the peculiar arrangements of tied property which has been the standard arrangement to facilitate ease of movement, ministry and accommodation for parochial clergy initially in the Anglican communion, and has been taken as a template across other denominations.  However there are numerous financial, psycho-social, and personal welfare issues which arise from its loss, particularly on any disenfranchised spouse (these are principally women/wives due to church institutions having  been solely male appointing bodies).  The exploration of data which we are looking to gather to understand the long term impacts could  mirror the gendered incidence of domestic abuse and violence in the wider population, or due to some prevailing systemic undertows cause even more of a gendered asymmetry in impact. There is undoubtedly much to do in the aftermath of #metoo and its #churchtoo impacts.