From the Modern Church blog:
As any student of George Orwell knows, the world of 1984 turns all conventional language on its head. In a dystopian political culture, the Ministry of Truth is purely concerned with propaganda. Documents that no longer correspond with the narratives the totalitarian regime promote are destroyed – dropped into ducts known as “memory holes”, which lead to an immense furnace.
In 1984, freedom means loyalty. Dissent is a crime (“thought criminal”), not a sign of a healthy, open society. There is even a Ministry of Love to police relationships. Facts and truth no longer bear any relation to reality. Orwell’s novel closes with the dissidents sent to Room 101, and Oceania announcing a supposedly massive victory over Eurasian armies in Africa. Progress and change is happening: only believe, and do not question. (20,000 new churches by such and such a date – Teatime, Tuesday?: rejoice, and do not doubt).
You should not be able to recognise the current culture and leadership of the Church of England (in the slightest) from Orwell’s 1949 novel. But in truth, if you can’t see the parallels, you have been asleep. The CofE is dominated by disingenuous spin, half-truths, misleading statements, false promises, false dawns, and a growing sense of bullying tyranny. Those daring to stand up to this, or to question, will quickly find themselves in Room 101. Loyalty, obedience and management of reputation (i.e., news, truth) are primary goals, if not the highest virtues. Woe betide the dissenter who dares to say otherwise.
In three short articles, Martyn Percy looks at three words currently being given the full 1984 treatment: independent, ethical and trustworthy. Is the Church of England using these words as defined by most dictionaries in 2022? Or, are we now enmeshed in an Orwellian church in which little that is said corresponds to our normal frames of reference?
Bishops, Archbishops and church officers mean what they say, sincerely. But sincerity is not going to get us very far. The CofE sincerely wants to get safeguarding done as well as possible. It keeps failing. It is, as Jesus says, “by your fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7: 16). Virtue is proven by what people actually do with their sincerely held beliefs…or sentiments expressed with sincerity. But nothing is done; the harvest is void, and the fruit baskets empty. We have appealed before for actions: they speak louder than words. We asked for church leaders to act with accountability, transparency, integrity, honesty, fairness, justice and truthfulness. But nothing is done.
The moral and spiritual capital of leadership in the CofE is heavily overdrawn. If we can no longer believe or trust what church leaders say, the church fails. Over the next few days, we illustrate this with three such examples.
“We have jointly commissioned an independent review to take place this year, to be led by the Church of England Independent Safeguarding Board. We welcome the scrutiny the review will bring and are ready and willing to acknowledge any failings” – Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford.
“The safeguarding processes in the Church of England have improved out of all recognition in the last 10 years but we cannot be complacent. The Church now has an Independent Safeguarding Board, ISB, chaired by a former Children’s Commissioner for England” – Jonathan Gibbs, Lead Bishop for Safeguarding in the Church of England.
Dictionary definition of independent (adjective): “not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker. Not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free. Not influenced by the thought or action of others. Not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.”.
“There is never a wrong time to do the right thing” – John Lewis, Civil Rights Campaigner, USA.
So, the Church of England has an Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), and a Chair? It sounds to survivors of abuse, victims of false accusation or botched Core Groups, or mishandled NST investigations, that individuals might finally have a body to complain to and raise concerns with. If only. The CofE has its own definition of the term “independent”. So let me try and explain how it works. I wrote to both Archbishops in March requesting an proper and full Independent Inquiry into:
“the corruption, partiality, incompetence, conflicts of interest, cover-ups, misconduct and malfeasance riddling the oversight and practice of safeguarding in the CofE and NST. It is not safe, and the current structures permit and licence the deliberate ‘weaponisation of safeguarding’ with intent to cause harm to individuals”.
Strong stuff? Yes. But I explained that lawyers for the Diocese (who also work for seven other Dioceses plus the Archbishop of Canterbury) together with a PR company used by two Dioceses had proactively planted stories of “safeguarding concerns” in the media, with Thames Valley Police against me. I enclosed the emails that showed this, written by the lawyers and the PR agents, and that they clearly intend to cause harm. The same lawyers had also sought to influence CDM and NST investigations, and not disclosed conflicts of interest. The lawyers also attacked clergy and others trying to defend me, or questioning their probity, by legally threatened anyone trying to support me.
I also provided written evidence of the lawyers and PR company creating a gas-lit narrative that I constituted a serious ‘safeguarding risk’ – 7 allegations in 7 months. These were backed by ‘risk assessments’ that on any plain reading are bogus, dangerously deceptive and intended to cause me personal, financial and reputational harm. Yet staff for the Diocese of Oxford approved these, as did their lawyers. On grounds of human rights, these (risible, fake) Risk Assessments would not be able to be imposed on Jimmy Savile, as they were so restrictive. The Bishop of Oxford defended these as ‘assessments of risk, not risk assessments, which are different’. This is meaningless.
Clearly alarmed – but more obviously worried about external scrutiny and potential reputational damage – the Archbishops and Bishop of Oxford pressed me to accept an “Independent Review” of the case, led by the ISB. I must confess, I had grave misgivings from the outset. The ISB has just three very new (part-time staff), with no serious remit or powers. The ISB does not have a separate law firm to instruct, or to draw upon for remit, roles and terms of reference. It is a toothless watchdog: no bite, and not much bark. I made my case with a summary of the issues. In essence, they were:
- The egregious “weaponisation of safeguarding” with intent to cause harm to a person, including misconduct, deliberate malfeasance, corruption (e.g., faked risk assessments etc).
- The malpractice (e.g., requesting me to destroy potential evidence of conspiracy, grossly incompetent Core Group management – including no minutes of meetings taken, no conflicts of interest policy observed, etc.).
- The role of the lawyers for the Diocese in driving this, and also using a PR company to deliberately plant manufactured stories in the media and with the NST that “the Dean represents a safeguarding risk”.
I invited the ISB to read a small representative sample of the evidence, and take a view on, “if, on sight of the evidence provided, the only way forward is an Independently-led Inquiry, led by a Judge, QC or lawyer skilled in public inquiries”. Yet despite there being no indication of proficiency, the ISB ignored this, and decided it was sufficiently expert, equipped and experienced to run the investigation itself, set the terms of reference, and come to high-level determinations on highly complex allegations of corruption.
I had also reminded the ISB of Fr. Alan Griffin’s suicide after the catastrophic (though unintended) and grossly incompetent handling of the allegations made against him. I pointed out that whilst I had evidence of gross incompetence, malpractice and cover-ups, the CofE needed to face up to lawyers, PR agents and clergy might have perpetrated the deliberate weaponisation of safeguarding allegations against an individual, which had no grounds in fact.
The ISB ignored any reference to the request for an Independent Judicial Inquiry. Instead, they sent me their proposed Terms of Reference (ToR) for this “review” (note, no longer an “inquiry”), which conspicuously failed to mention the lawyers or PR agency, or any of the clergy and Diocesan staff involved in this deliberate “weaponisation of safeguarding” against me. The ToR also stated that it would redact the names of individuals in order to protect them, and “not apportion blame”. The ISB had taken this position before any investigation began, and before even full evidence had been submitted. That is not independent within the received definition of the meaning of the word.
Crucially, the ToR from the ISB made no direct reference to my complaint, and instead simply proposed to reopen the investigations into me once again. (Presumably, as there was no conviction or guilty verdict previously, the ISB might help the prosecutor-persecutors one more time?). I was told that “other stakeholders” would contribute to the setting up of this “review”. It was clear that the ISB had already dissolved the respondent-complainant distinction, so the entire process of my or any other complaint about safeguarding practice was collapsed into something still badged as an “independent investigation”, but was is in fact the CofE conducting an unequal and one-sided arbitration, re-abusing a complainant by reducing allegations of gross misconduct or deliberate malfeasance in advance to “failings” (weak word) or ”lapses”.
It took several letters to establish the ISB would not receive a complaint directly from me or any other individual, as it “might create chaos rather than order” (that is a verbatim quote), and that this is why the bodies “commissioning” the ISB’s work could only be…the Bishop/Diocese of Oxford and the Archbishops. You might want to pause here for a moment, and ask some questions:
- If the ISB is “independent”, who funds it?
- If the ISB is “independent”, to whom is it accountable?
- If the ISB is “independent”, how does it establish its powers and remit?
The answer to all these questions is the Archbishops, who in turn will do what they can to protect all other Bishops the NST and other staff, in the interests of collegiality. How do you get in contact with the ISB? You write to them c/o Church House, Westminster – same address for the NST, the handling of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors, Legal Services, CofE safeguarding policy and more besides. Ask yourself, does this sound “independent” to you?
It is hard to see the point of the ISB if a Bishop, the NST or Archbishops – in this case, the defendants or respondents – are the same people that commission the ISBs work which forms the template for ToRs that might deal with your specific complaint. That this has happened is not in any doubt – my complaint with all its specifics was sifted and redacted. An “independent inquiry” ought to mean what it says. But in the Church of England, the clock is stuck at 1984. “Independent” sounds plausible and is sincerely said. But is, alas, untrue.
Yet another internally-run review which the CofE protects itself by setting the ToR, and then picking the investigators, judge and jury is Orwellian and totalitarian. Moreover, the Ministry of Truth will be on hand to control the meaning of any verdict. And those ‘memory holes’ have to feed the hungry furnace, controlling the PR on any verdict.
Like many other victims of cack-handed safeguarding practice, including the its deliberate weaponisation, I rejected the ISB’s ToRs. Because we already knew what the conclusion would be. The ISB has little expertise and even fewer resources. The ISB is just another version of a ’Lessons [not] Learned Review’. It is another machine in the CofE laundrette to deal with the dirty washing from the NST, Dioceses, Bishops, Archbishops and the NST. The ISB has no more independence than Montserrat, Saint Helena or the US Virgin Islands. These are all ‘dependent territories’. The ISB is an entirely dependent entity. It has no independence whatsoever.
You can now see why the Bishops and Archbishops were so keen to insist on an ISB-led process. Put simply, it would fail to find fault, and even if it did, it would never name it. This was the easiest way to maintain the fiction that there had been no corruption, and nobody did anything wrong. Words like ‘abuse’, ‘corruption’ and ‘incompetence’ mysteriously vanished from the ISB brief. Yet the Ministry of Truth sincerely says that “safeguarding processes in the Church of England have improved out of all recognition in the last 10 years”.
As the ISB’s contract and funding comes directly from the Archbishops’ Council, I don’t suppose we will ever see the day when the Archbishops are held to account, or the ISB’s nearby colleagues at the NST, in legal affairs, or working on safeguarding policy. Or the Archbishops’ Council. Too bad about accountability, transparency, integrity, fairness, scrutiny and honesty or external regulation…these people have a church to run, and some serious stuff to launder. In my opinion, that is no longer Church or Christian. It is corruption.
The year is 1984. The Ministry of Truth has its own definition of words like “independent”. It is likely to be different to the one you thought you were working with. But please don’t argue with Big Brother, because questioning defined terms from the Ministry of Truth is officially a “thought crime”. Room 101 awaits you and the other doubters. There is (literally) no room for dissent. Well, except in Room 101.
The Very Revd. Professor, Martyn Percy, Oxford