Monday, 17 November 2014

Why was Korris Published?

I’ve been looking back at the actions of Bishop Tim Dakin, and trying to make sense of why he took particular actions. Motivation is, of course, difficult to establish, and even one’s own motivation is not always clear. What follows is therefore a rational reconstruction of events which he almost certainly had to react to, and possible motivations for his reactions.

The Korris report was commissioned in 2011 regarding the complaints by a young woman, HG, about the actions of a churchwarden, and the way the Dean had dealt with them, leading to the effective deportation of HG to the UK. That left her dumped in the UK and destitute.

The commissioning of the report seems to have been just after Tim Dakin took office as Bishop of Winchester. I suspect he inherited paperwork which included complaints from HG. The question was then what should he do about it.

Obviously, as a newly installed Bishop, he would have been very aware of accusations of cover ups of abuse within the church, as a review had just been released by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss about the Diocese of Chichester, which borders Winchester.

The Bishop of Chichester had just admitted that there had been a cover-up, over a whole range of clergy and sexual abuse of children. The impression being given by the press, as a result, was that the Church of England was just as prone to keep its dirty washing hidden in an ecclesiastical laundry basket as the Roman Catholic Church.

So what Tim Dakin decided to do was something similar to the report for Chichester, and commission his own report. Hence the appointment of Jan Korris to investigate what had happened. A question that has never been adequately explained is why he decided to appoint a psychotherapist, rather than a judge who would be more used to handling evidence. That is a question which remains unanswered.

But Tim Dakin would have had to do something, or face criticism of cover ups. To some extent, he was driven by events.

Looking at the Chichester report, it has a similar structure to Korris. The main difference is that the Chichester report was about priests abusing a number of different boys, over a number of years, not a singular occurrence. Also Butler-Sloss is very clear about deficiencies in the material and evidence she had to work with.

Jan Korris was commissioned to write the report, but was limited in what she could find out. What is more, unlike Chichester, where the police had finally taken action prompting a review, the police had taken no action against the churchwarden. Those involved, such as Jane Fisher, would be giving their version of events – a good historian is aware of bias in how reports are made, but Korris does not seem to have considered that anyone like Jane Fisher would be putting themselves in the best possible light, and omitting anything that might not be so creditable in their interventions.

In historical research, and this is essentially a historical review, a good historian looks for inconsistencies in evidence, and differences between different people’s accounts, as well as multiple attestation where independent sources agree. Taking material or reports at face value is only an option when there are no other sources, or any other way of looking at the material.

This is a weakness of the Korris report – mainly in that she didn’t check what she had been told with HG, who was surely a primary witness, to get a different perspective. A further weakness is that she faced resistance in getting the Dean to participate in the review – which is noted in the report.

And, of course, she only glances at the fact that the Churchwarden evidently had problems (spoken to about being too tactile, chaperoned as a policy by the church, known to the Dean) without investigating further. Of course on that score, the members of the congregation at the Church may well have closed ranks against participating. But what she should have done was include anything like that in her report – that complaints had been made against the churchwarden, but that she had been unable to speak to the people concerned.

Once the report was complete, then Tim Dakin had to decide what action to take. Again events in Chichester put pressure on him to make this public in some fashion. Not to do so would have looked bad – he had commissioned a report about a complaint and then buried it. How would that look? Not at all good, if it leaked out that had happened. So he evidently decided to have it redacted (poorly) and published.

These decisions, while safeguarding is evidently part of them, appear to me to be primarily taken with reputational considerations more than pastoral ones. That can be seen in deciding to publish without consultation with HG, and the effect on HG that publication would have.

From a pastoral point of view, I think that HG should have seen the report before publication, and she should have decided how the diocese might make amends for their treatment of her. Those decisions could have been properly minuted but done privately.

Likewise, any safeguarding deficiencies could have been addressed without the need to go public and intrude on HG’s private life. The release of personal, sensitive data about HG should at the very least been subject to review on Data Protection matters. There is no evidence that this was done – no statement has been released about what the Data Protection officer for the Diocese would have said if consulted.

Instead, with Chichester hanging over him, Tim Dakin appears to have decided to protect his reputation by going public. That’s not to say that there were not pastoral considerations, but they seem to have taken second place to concerns about cover ups.

Now as the report criticised the Dean for not fully co-operating, that meant he might have to take action against the Dean. Again, the question which may have arisen could be termed a reputational one – not to take action smacked of an “old clergy boys” network, and favouritism. Hence the ill-judged suspension of the Dean, and the whole can of worms that opened.

Now this is a rational reconstruction of events and suggested motivations, and may not be correct. But the fact that – unlike any previous Bishop of Winchester – he has a professional PR firm – Luther Pendragon – to address anything to do with press releases suggests that here is a Bishop who is very concerned with how he is seen to act, and very controlling of his public image. Can you imagine Pope Francis communicating by a PR firm?

Protecting the reputation of the church is not wholly wrong. Where abuses have taken place, arguments can be made for transparency to retain the trust of the general public. Decades of cover ups have eroded trust in the Roman Catholic Church, for example. Reputation is partly trust, partly image, and partly pastoral in these cases.

However, there seems to have been little consideration applied in this case in particular about where pastoral considerations conflict with reputational considerations. To release information into the public domain when that release would actually hurt the victim is something which was not been addressed with HG, and such considerations seem alien to the mindset that we see here.

We can see that mindset in a press release from November 2013, where Tim Dakin states: “In all of this, the victim at the heart of the original complaint should not be forgotten. As a Church, we are called to reach out to the least, the last and the lost, even though at times they may reject the help we offer.”

The continual attempts to impose “help” on HG, even when rejected, even when she has made it clear that what she wants is to be left alone by the Diocese, seems to be purveying a message very much like “Nanny knows best”. It is well-meaning, but patronising. There seems to be a need to be seen to be doing something, which seems to me to be at odds with the pastoral consideration which should reflect that HG will probably find some help elsewhere, and perhaps it is time to back off and let her rebuilt her life without interference.

That requires a degree of humility because there is certainly a danger in thinking you know best, especially it seems when the clergy are involved. Doing nothing and letting HG live her life as best she can may seem like a bad choice. But so might be continually raising the spectre of trying to interfere in her life, a kind of well-meaning stalking, and a kind of harassment. Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose.

And in these choices, I think to let alone - to leave be - would be the better one for Tim Dakin and the Winchester staff under his direction. Continually trying to do something reminds me especially in this context of a saying by C.S. Lewis:

“She's the sort of woman who lives for others—you can always tell the others by their hunted expression.”

Does Tim Dakin really want HG to feel hunted? That is the pastoral consideration which should be addressed now. Time for the Diocese to back off.

1 comment:

Emma said...

This is a very good blog, Tony, and I agree abou leaving HG alone. Anything the Church does now is too little too late.