Monday, 16 February 2015

Pastoral Care and Church Politics in Jersey

“The findings of an inquiry into the handling of an abuse allegation should be made public, Jersey's dean has said. The inquiry into the handling of the complaint recommended no disciplinary action should be taken against any Jersey Anglican clergy member. The report has been kept confidential on legal advice and HG said its publication could cause her harm. The Very Reverend Bob Key said closure was now needed.” (1)

Now that gives the impression that no mistakes were made. But back at the time, the Dean said “

"I regret mistakes that I made in the safeguarding processes”. Clearly those mistakes were not enough to warrant disciplinary action, but mistakes they were.

There is also a focus on “no disciplinary action should be taken against any Jersey Anglican clergy member”. But the complaint originally was not about the Anglican clergy at all, it was about a churchwarden.

This was the churchwarden, of whom the Korris reported noted:”He is too tactile, stands too close to women, touches too much/inappropriately. His manner was deemed to be inappropriate to such an extent that he was chaperoned within the church when in close proximity to women.”

No action was taken against the churchwarden, but clearly it was inappropriate for him to be in such a position of trust within the church. How safeguarding policy has changed and improved is something we are still waiting to find out. That is local to Jersey. That could be made public now if the Dean and Jersey Synod so wished.

Korris also noted that:

“There seems to be no spirit of willingness or inquiry in this matter. I found that some of the Island clergy had been actively discouraged by the Dean of Jersey from fully engaging with me and therefore complying with the Bishop’s request."

This is mentioned in the Dean’s apology for mistakes he made – “I understand that, upon reflection, it would have been more helpful if I had co-operated more fully with the Korris [safeguarding} Review.”

In an email to the Bishop of Winchester in January, HG said that the Steel Report would be “a whitewash, lacked independence and its publication could cause her serious harm.”

It is an attested fact that Dame Heather Steel has not met HG and interviewed her, so that important testimony would be missing from the report. It is hard to see how a report can be wholly complete without a principal witness participating.

From a pastoral point of view, the possible publication of the report is like a sword of Damocles, hanging over the future of HG, threatening stress and trauma. It can be almost guaranteed that its publication would be used as a stick to discredit her by some of the “leading Anglicans” in Jersey who have already attempted various forms of character assassination.

The best form of closure for her, then, would be a cast-iron guarantee that it would not be published.

The question is what does the greater harm? Publication or not? The Dean has the support of a strong local Anglican contingent, and has been reinstated. HG was summarily arrested and pushed off the Island, going from employment and flat to destitution and poverty, and has had to rebuild her life as best she can.

What we have is a conflict within the Jersey church between the demands of church politics, and the considerations of pastoral care, and the latter seems to be placed very low on the agenda.

But what is also significant, and unseen, is that Bishop Trevor, the Bishop of Dover with oversight of the Channel Islands, has not lent his weight in public to these demands. Described as a canny political operator within the Church of England, I suspect he is more likely to sit on the fence for a long time.

And at the time of his apology, the Dean said:

"Together, the bishop and I are committed to the importance of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults in Jersey and to working to ensure the safeguarding procedures of the diocese achieve this as part of the whole church's mission."

It would be good to know that vulnerable adults are being treated with respect, and that procedures have been improved so that unreported meetings (without proper minute taking) and bullying no longer takes place. Have lessons really be learned?

The procedures should, of course, also be documented. Unfortunately, a perusal of the Parish of St Helier website has links to documents on the Jersey Canons but none on safeguarding vulnerable adults.

That is the document that is really needed.



Emma said...

An excellent Blog, Tony. I agree about not releasing it for HG's sake, but what are they so scared of, as the witholding of the Report implied, if nobody did anything wrong?

Póló said...

My post of nearly a year ago.

No change.