7th April 2021
The Revd. William Taylor
c/o St Helen’s Church
I was deeply shocked and saddened by your announcement on Palm Sunday. Your apologies on Easter Sunday, while necessary and in some ways welcome, did not address any of my three concerns.
First, we are greatly privileged in this country to be part of an established, national Church, with all the opportunities and protection that brings: not least representation in parliament and official recognition and status. My family and I lived in a working Vicarage for fourteen years, during which a number of families came to faith simply by knocking at our door.
With that privilege comes responsibility. The Church of England is for all. Not just Christians; not just Evangelicals; certainly not just members of some clique or friends of the Vicar’s. Thus every public service is for all, an advertisement (for good or ill) of what we believe and the love we have been charged with spreading to the world. Every detail of every public Anglican service should therefore be conducted with an eye – and ear and heart – for the person who might just, that one time, wander in from the street to hear what this Christian message is all about. Are we welcoming and friendly? Is it obvious when to stand and sit? Are the hymns easy to sing?
Some years ago I attended St Helen’s Church and was appalled to hear a notice about an event for “inviting our pagan friends”. I put it down to the inexperience of someone making an insufficiently-vetted announcement. You talked much on Palm Sunday of the “leadership culture” at St Helen’s: it now seems evident that this attitude must come from the top. If even I, a life-long Christian and associated with Evangelicalism for most of it, didn’t know the names of these friends you defend from some unheard-of charge and what various acronyms stand for, what is the complete outsider to make of all this jargon?
If I had turned to your church, for that one time in my life, seared with some recent bereavement or smarting from redundancy, depressed because of long lockdown or perhaps full of joy at new freedoms and having heard of Easter and wanting to find out more… and heard either of your messages, I would have fled as fast as I could in search of the nearest mosque or temple or pub able to offer me a more inclusive welcome.
To use your position as priest, on a Sunday morning, from your pulpit, to address what must strike the baffled outsider as some petty, personal, political concern of some closed and private group, is an abuse of that position and privilege which communicates volumes about the concerns of St Helen’s Church in general and its leadership in particular.
And your apology on Easter Day raises more questions than it answers. It is now clear that you made the earlier announcement on Palm Sunday without consulting either your churchwardens or your staff team – even suggesting you may be in the habit of doing this – and inevitably therefore raising doubts about your judgement and accountability. You must be aware that one of the reasons Jonathan Fletcher was able to abuse for so long was because he prided himself on his “benign dictatorship.”
Secondly, I was deeply troubled by your claim that “our safeguarding team here at St Helen’s takes all concerns seriously”. Some years ago a member of your church disclosed to the St Helen’s leadership that she had been abused by someone employed by my elderly father, coming into our home every day as his carer. Not until someone answering the abuser’s description turned up at your church (some two months or so later) did you bother to contact us – for information for your own protection – which is when you revealed this allegation. You thus did nothing to warn us of this risk for several weeks, allowing an abuser to visit someone’s home in which were several young people, at least two of whom were very vulnerable. You were concerned when someone chancing to resemble the abuser happened to visit your church once, in a crowded space and posing almost no threat to anybody; but completely indifferent to a known abuser spending every day in a private home, where the risk to several people was very high.
This is not taking safeguarding seriously.
Grave though these two concerns are, my third causes me far more grief.
You make much of your sympathy for Jonathan Fletcher’s victims, claiming, for instance, that “our concerns are, and have been throughout, first and foremost, for those damaged by Jonathan… And our deepest sympathy is and has been with the victims.”
You and I share an acquaintance. Many years ago you told me that, in your Christian discipleship and development, you owed him a very great deal: I believe he gave time to read the Bible with you, on a weekly basis, at a formative time for your Christian faith. You considered him then a close enough friend to invite, with his wife and young family, to stay at your parents’ home in the West Country. You have several times enjoyed hospitality in his. You have known him for around forty years.
Last September you were formally informed that this longstanding friend of yours had been a victim of multiple physical, sexual and emotional abuses from Jonathan Fletcher for decades, since his early teens; that this had caused him extensive psychiatric injury, loss of income, severe depression and suicidal ideation; that the abuse had been detrimental not only to his career but also to his wife and family. You and your PCC were told this in an official capacity because Jonathan was employed by St Helen’s Church while abusing him.
Three other churches and their Vicars were also given this same information. One church offered the victim and his family unlimited counselling. The Vicar of another responded with shock and sympathy, and reported to the Diocesan officer who also offered support and counselling. The last, the smallest church, was the most impressive by far: the church Safeguarding Officer’s name and contact details can be found with one click on the church’s website, along with the Vicar’s own personal telephone number. As soon as the Vicar received the news he took immediate professional advice to ensure that it was appropriate and acceptable for him to contact the victim; he then expressed deep sorrow and sympathy, not just to the victim himself but to his family, for all the damage done to them over the years; he offered his personal help and support; he thanked the victim for coming forward; and he then wrote by hand to both him and his wife expressing his own great sorrow, recognising the very considerable hurt Jonathan had done to him, his wife and his whole family and reiterating again that he was at their service, both personally and pastorally. This, from a stranger who did not know the victim or anyone in his family.
From St Helen’s Church, that claims to care so much? (Other than the required acknowledgement of receipt, to a third party, “without any admission of liability whatsoever.”)
From you, the Rector, a long-standing friend of the victim’s who once recognised the debt you owed him, your wife also knowing his wife well enough to have asked her to speak at St Helen’s?
A resounding nothing. No note. No telephone call. No sympathetic email or letter. No expression of anything at all whatsoever. The sound of a still small silence.
So what exactly do you mean when you say your concern is for the victims, and your sympathy is with them?
What does that mean? If anything?
In deep sorrow,