The home of the Archbishop of Canterbury is Lambeth Palace, it sits on the south bank of the river Thames in the heart of London. A frequent sight are the red London buses that ferry commuters, visitors and residents around the city. They are bright red to make them highly visible and thus prevent accidents, but painting a bus red will do little to prevent someone being ‘thrown under it’. 

To be ‘thrown under the bus’ is common saying in England. Wikipedia furnishes an excellent definition: ‘to blame or abandon a person for selfish reasons. It is typically used to describe a disavowal of a previously amicable relationship to avoid being associated with something controversial or embarrassing.’ The General Synod of the Church of England currently under way has seen multiple examples of people and groups ‘being thrown under the bus’, and surprisingly it was the Archbishop of Canterbury who started it. 

This was always going to be a fractious and difficult synod for the archbishop; the recent decision to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board of the CofE and give survivors groups less than an hour to be notified before the news was made public has been hugely damaging and unpopular. Plus, the acrimony over the LLF prayers and process is still rumbling along in the background.

 The archbishop it seems has decided that the best strategy to move through these trials is some judicious shoving in front of oncoming buses.

First it was those who organise the resources for General Synod.

Called to answer a question as to why survivors’ groups had been given about 45 minutes to be notified that the Independent Safeguarding Board had been disbanded before the news was published the Archbishop of Canterbury laid the blame at the feet of those who organise General Synod, he replied:

‘erm… the erm, time pressures became needing to make sure, that er synod, that er synod was informed about what was happening, and that left us with a very short period in which to both inform and then publish what had been happening and it came out to erm… a large extent the need to get synod papers out on time and for synod to know what was going on’

The indefatigable Sam Margrave asked a follow up question, the Church of England had reported that the decision to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board was the decision of the archbishop’s council and not the archbishops personally – ‘as a matter of fact how had the archbishops voted on this decision?’

Here the Archbishop looked to the Chair of Synod for help:

‘Er, chair, er, I am not, I’m not sure, I’d like advice, I mean I know the answer, am I allowed to give the answer… I’m not sure it’s confidential or not… I’m perfectly happy to give an answer but I just don’t know if I am permitted too?’

Seasoned synod observers have seen this charade before, ordinarily after taking the cue the Chair duly responds, ‘I’m afraid this question is out of order as it refers to the confidential minutes of another meeting, Archbishop you may not answer’ and we all move on. However, it appears that the chair of this synod had missed the memo, or forgotten her lines, or perhaps decided to throw the archbishop under the bus; because after some discussion she duly informed him ‘If you wish to answer you may’. The archbishop looked stunned and then promptly threw his next victims – the archbishops council – under the bus. ‘Both archbishops wanted to wait a bit’. Synod was clearly intended to believe from this answer that the decision to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board was the Archbishops Council’s and not the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Welby and Cottrell are clearly on the side of the survivors (and presumably the angels), it must therefore be the troublesome Archbishops Council that is to blame – poor archbishops.

Except, it appears that is not the whole story. There was one more person to be thrown under the bus, and this time it was the Archbishop of Canterbury himself who was the victim and the unlikely culprit was a spokesperson of the Church of England who was pushing him in front of the oncoming bus. The Church Times reported that on Saturday afternoon, a spokesperson said that “The Archbishops supported the unanimous decision to terminate the contracts of the Independent Safeguarding Board members,” and that “the decisions of the Archbishops’ Council, as with any board of trustees, are collective.”

“The archbishops, like the whole Council, would have liked more time and really wrestled with this question, but took the view that there was no choice in order to continue moving swiftly towards a new safeguarding scrutiny body that is fully independent of the Church,” the spokesperson said. (1)

So the archbishops voted with the Archbishops council to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board, and share with them in the responsibility for the decision to sack the Independent Survivors Advocates and give scant notice to Survivors groups.

The Archbishop of Canterbury does not seem to realise that he and his episcopacy are on trial at this present time. His competency and leadership are on trial in the court of General Synod and his care for victims of sexual abuse are on trial in the court of public opinion. Witnesses in English courts take an oath to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God’. The Archbishop of Canterbury would do well to do the same. 

And please do to stop pushing people under buses.