How did we get to the point where a Church of England diocese would label a moderate, reasonable chaplain like Rev. Dr Bernard Randall as a safeguarding risk, citing the church itself as a risk factor?
Dr Randall lost his job at Trent College after questioning the wholesale acceptance of ideological and inaccurate LGBT training from Educate and Celebrate. He questioned the school’s approval of Educate and Celebrate but was excluded from meetings because he might disagree. When asked by a student to address why they had to “accept all this LGBT stuff in a Christian school” he gave a measured and completely appropriate sermon saying no one could be forced to believe in ideology.
For this he was disciplined, sidelined, dismissed, reinstated and eventually made redundant.
Everything that happened to Dr Randall through these procedures at the school was absurd and damaging, but somehow the Church of England citing its own beliefs as a risk factor encapsulates the pernicious insanity of all that has happened.
We can only arrive at this situation via countless weak or foolish decisions.
On the school’s side, so much went wrong:
1. Inviting Educate and Celebrate in the first place; like Stonewall and Mermaids it peddles false understandings of gender, sexuality and the law, and was clearly unfit for a Christian school.
2. After agreeing that the training was inappropriate in certain ways, they excluded Dr Randall from discussions on how to implement Educate and Celebrate’s recommendations.
3. After saying that they “would not simply implement the entire Educate and Celebrate programme as presented,” they u-turned, choosing to implement everything and push for the charity’s gold award.
4. They gave undue credence to complaints about a sermon by regarding them a safeguarding matter.
5. They did not assess the factual basis for the complaints made against Dr Randall; they contained factual errors about what he had said.
6. They referred Dr Randall to the government counter terrorism unit, Prevent.
7. Despite knowing little about Christianity, they attempted to correct him on doctrine and church teaching.
8. They initially dismissed him for gross misconduct – later appealed by him successfully.
9. Through furlough and redundancy proceedings they downplayed the chaplain’s role and what goes into it.
When you read and hear the details, it’s hard not to see how a dismissive attitude towards chaplaincy underpinned every action they took.
Their guiding principle throughout the period seems to have been “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
Enter the Diocese of Derby.
Trent College told the diocese their ‘concerns’ about Dr Randall in summer 2019. The diocese’s safeguarding team considered Dr Randall’s position and involvement in church activities in the diocese “on the basis of the information provided by Trent College.”
At this point, the school shared contents of Dr Randall’s sermons and the complaints that had been received.
The safeguarding team conferred with the county council’s Local Authority Designated Officer, who said that criteria had not been met for a referral.
They now had the exact words Dr Randall had said. The sermon was completely reasonable as any fair-minded person would recognise. They had the complaints, that inaccurately criticised Dr Randall’s words. All they needed to do was end this referral with no case to answer.
Well – not quite. In fact, they ought to have done much more. They should have reached out to Dr Randall and asked him how they could help. A healthy church would have sought to support him psychologically, spiritually and financially, as best as they could.
But no. They continued to put him through their own tortuous safeguarding procedures.
Remember, there was absolutely no allegation of any improper behaviour. This entire safeguarding process was entered into wholly on the grounds of what Dr Randall had said, what he believed and that he defended what he had done.
At this point, the absurdity has reached new limits – a Church of England diocese putting a chaplain through safeguarding procedures for a moderate sermon promoting its own teaching. The safeguarding report accuses Dr Randall of being ‘entrenched in his views’ and ‘rigid in his response’ as he defended his actions. This is then used to justify concerns about how Bernard himself would handle safeguarding concerns shared with him.
Dr Randall is dragged through completely unjust, Kafkaesque processes and then accused of overreacting. Intentional or not, this is akin to gaslighting through safeguarding procedures. At this point, the report starts citing the Church itself as a risk factor and, for firmly holding to the Church’s view, Dr Randall is treated as a reputational risk.
After this, the Bishop of Derby, Libby Lane, is given the report and with it, another opportunity to end this unnecessary but tortuous process. But no; more psychological assessment is apparently needed.
The Church of England has been exposed for its role in facilitating or failing to expose so much genuine abuse. It needs proper procedures that are rigorous but also that can be taken seriously.
But this is far from the only example where decent, fundamentally innocent clergy have been dragged through these kinds of procedures to great harm. Nevertheless, it is one of the most avoidable.
Both Prevent and the county council’s Local Authority Designated Officer judged that criteria had not been met for a referral. The church should have done likewise, but instead perpetuated and multiplied the damage done by the school to Dr Randall’s wellbeing and reputation.
They lost the plot. They are responsible for the extra harm caused to Dr Randall. Apart from losing his job and all the stress and trouble that comes with that, a completely unwarranted ‘safeguarding’ shadow has been cast over him and stopped him getting other chaplaincy roles. He is seen as unfit to work with children for no reason whatsoever.
Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean was branded a criminal for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family but received transformative grace from the Church. Dr Randall didn’t even steal a loaf of bread but has been branded an untouchable by the Church he has loved and served.
Dr Randall has done everything that he can to resolve the church side of his case without causing embarrassment to the Church of England. He is exactly the kind of warm, intelligent, generous, devoted man the Church needs in ministry. Like so many others, he hasn’t abandoned the church – the church has abandoned him.