Anyone can make a mistake. What I find mystifying within the church is why we seem to be intent on replicating many of the errors of the past without ever consulting those who have ‘been there, done that, and got the T-shirt’. When I have occasionally allowed my deep frustrations to be seen on the floor of the Synod, it is only because I am in the position of a bomb disposal officer holding the map of a mine field while nobody takes any notice and starts wandering around as they see fit. Bad things predictably happen.
The problem may be succinctly put: Archbishop Justin has a handful of advisors to guide him in these matters – not one of whom has a credible claim to expertise in this increasingly complex specialism. What is especially ironic is that, in the person of the President of Clergy Discipline Tribunals, Lord Andrew McFarlane QC, the Church of England has the country’s leading expert on Safeguarding Law. The legal tome Hershman and McFarlane’s Children Law and Practice is every child practitioner’s bible: it runs to four volumes and is updated every three months with interchangeable loose-leaf inserts. This is a fast evolving field for the specialist: what major institutions do not need is people from other disciplines doing their incompetent best.
When I suggested that the newly passed (and flawed) Clergy Risk Assessment scheme be referred to Sir Andrew to clarify whether “the victim must be believed” is a sound basis for good practice, I was told this was not the done thing, which was a shame. I knew Sir Andrew; I used to brief him. He is one of the kindest and least stuffy people you could ever wish to meet. I cannot believe that he would refuse our Archbishop a few wise words of counsel which he desperately needs at this time.
When I referred to the incompetence of the church in this field, the journalist asked if I could be quoted as saying that Archbishop Justin is incompetent, to which I replied: “Why would I expect an Archbishop to be competent in Safeguarding law?” That is partly why there is no point in seeking his replacement or a personal apology. He is a man of integrity. He rightly believes that we must change the church’s culture toward greater victim sensitivity, but where he is let down is by the lack of competent advice and a misreading of what a good outcome might look like. You do not create justice by reversing a bias against complainants and installing a bias against the accused. You especially do not improve the situation if you do this mindful that the new injustice might improve the church’s image.
Read it all (my emphasis).