Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Dean’s Legacy

The Dean’s Legacy

As the time approaches when there is a new Dean coming into Jersey, I’ve been looking back at the legacy of the former Dean Bob Key.

In many ways, he has been the most controversial Dean of the post-war years. His failure regarding safeguarding issues, when it was already known that a churchwarden had to be “chaperoned” was no doubt something he thought would go away, but the matter was left to the new Bishop of Winchester by his predecessor, and he commissioned what became the Korris report.

As Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin was to some extent propelled into taking actions, some ill-judged, some less so, because of the climate of the times.

Having inherited the record of actions taken by his predecessor, with notes on the treatment of a young woman called (in the Korris report) as “HG”in a matter of a complaint to the Dean of Jersey regarding a churchwarden, he must have felt duty bound to commission an independent report by Jan Korris.

After all, the news was full of cover-ups regarding cases of abuse, with both the Church of Rome and England implicated in either looking the other way, or moving people about, and trying to tackle matters internally. This was not a climate in which it was prudent to attempt to sort matters out behind closed doors, especially where safeguarding and abuse were matters under consideration.

Once the Korris Report was commissioned, the Bishop would have found himself in the same quandary. To publish or not to publish? Not to publish, if the report’s existence ever leaked out and the press got hold of it, would have been extremely damaging to the Church and the Bishop's reputation.

Even in 2016, a report by Ian Elliott, a safeguarding expert, showed glaring deficiencies in the past record of three Anglican bishops and a failure to act; he also accused the Catholic Church of "minimal responses and empty gestures" and noted that "behind every disclosure that is received lies human pain and suffering that can be so intense as to be life threatening. It deserves everyone's close attention".

So the Bishop took the decision to publish, although it was clear that the report had not been sufficiently redacted, and he also failed to consider the effect on the vulnerable young woman at its core and the added trauma it would cause her, and include her in the loop at this important initial stage.

Once published, again a question of action needed to be taken. The report was highly critical of the Dean in his handling of the case, and seemed to require some kind of action to be taken.

The action the Bishop took seemed on the face of it straightforward – to suspend the Dean’s commission, until such time as the matter could be properly investigated. This was an error of judgement.

There is a mantra which I have heard so often – it came to light in the suspension in Jersey of Police Chief Graham Power – that “suspension is a neutral act”. In terms of strict law, it may be, but in fact it almost always never is. When the recipient of a suspension is highly visible in the public eye, it is extremely damaging to their reputation. It is never a neutral act.

Notable “Pillars” of the Jersey Church became involved – Sir Philip Bailhache, Gavin Ashenden and Bruce Willing among others, and a public meeting was called. The matter became polarised, and the Bishop of Winchester became, effectively, in the eyes of some Anglicans in Jersey, almost an agent of the anti-Christ, to be demonised. Instead of trying to seek reconciliation and peace between the parties involved, this only fanned the flames and made matters worse. The peacemakers might be blest, but they were in short supply.

Rather like the quarrel between Henry VIII and the Pope, this had damaging consequences which spilled over to the wider relationship between Jersey and Winchester. This led to the Anglican Church in Jersey and Guernsey being separated from Winchster, and placed under the oversight of the Bishop of Dover, in the Diocese of Canterbury.

The Dean apologised for mistakes he had made and was duly reinstated. Bizarrely, he then later received an apology from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He did not however retract his previous apology for mistakes made, so one wonders precisely what, outside Ecclesiastical PR departments, the Archbishop’s intervention meant.

The Dean, in the meantime, saw no reason to apologise to the people of Jersey and Guernsey for the damage the conflict between himself and the Bishop of Winchester had caused; equally, the Bishop of Winchester offered no apology either. And yet had both been removed from the conflict, there would be no conflict. The first major split in the Channel Island since the Reformation can be attributed to a dispute between two individuals in which others took sides like l'affaire Dreyfus.

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Winchester had commissioned two reports, a more legal minded Steel report, looking at how accurate the Korris report was, and his own actions and those of the Dean, and the Gladwin report, about safeguarding issues.

When completed, the Dean continued to press for the release of the Steel report, but seemed strangely taciturn about the Gladwin report, which to some degree was the more important one, as it would deal with safeguarding matters, and how they could not be dealt with by cosy fireside chats with the Dean and his wife, or sometimes, apparently, the Dean’s wife on her own.

While Winchester had a long established relationship as an institution with regard to the Channel Islands, Canterbury did not, which meant that later safeguarding sessions provided to Anglican clergy and lay readers, betrayed a complete ignorance of Jersey law, and the important role of the Honorary police in the Island’s legal system.

That is what happens when you break chains of connection that go back centuries, and while not all of it should be laid at the Dean’s door, at least some of it must be attributed to a failure to seek any kind of reconciliation between the two men at the centre of the dispute. There is no indication that the Dean himself sought anything of the kind; certainly he mentioned nothing of that in his public utterances on the matter.

The Dean also saw to a major reform of Jersey’s Canon Law which dated from 1623. Not reformed for centuries, it was clearly out of date in some aspects .The original contains such choice sentences as

“. . . no manner of obedience or subjection is due, within the Kingdoms and Dominions of his Majesty to any [foreign] Power; but that the King’s Power within the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland and other his Dominions and Countries, is the highest Power under God . . .”

And fathers and masters of a family were exhorted to ensure that their children and domestic servants be instructed in the knowledge of God and that they went to church. Churchwardens were go into taverns and drive people out and into the churches!

Of course much had fallen into disuse, but it was still there, even if it would have been impossible to actually execute it in a court of law, and needed pruning. The work to reform the Canons had been going on since 1990, and finally in 2012, the new Canons came into existence. The Dean was to be congratulated for finally getting the new law on the statute books.

But they contained some provisions which would mean it rapidly became out of date. It states that “Nothing in these Canons shall make it lawful for a woman to be consecrated to the office of bishop”.

Now that was fine when the Church of England had not legislated for the introduction of women bishops. That happened in 2014, and the Isle of Man passed its own measures within 6 months. But under Bob Key’s leadership nothing happened.

At some point the legislation should have appeared on the table of laws being worked on by the law officers, but repeated Freedom of Information requests have shown no sign of it. Guernsey, when questioned, replied  that Jersey were holding the whole process up.

Instead it seems to have been farmed out, presumably with the approval of the Dean, as a kind of part time project to a lawyer who is also a member of the Jersey synod, who seems to be as efficient as the lawyers in Bleak House in reaching any kind of resolution.

It should be noted that at least one of the Dean’s supporters at the time of the suspension crisis was the Vicar of Gouray, who did not even acknowledge the validity of the ordination of women to the priesthood.

As the instigator of the Reform of Canon Law, it seems apparent that now, perhaps because of theological reasons, the Dean was reluctant to make further necessary changes, even though the Jersey Synod had agreed to follow England on this matter.

It is notable, and possibly a rebuff to the delay under Bob Key, that one of the requirements of the new Dean is to make the requisite changes in Jersey’s Canon Law as soon as possible.

One could cover other matters which seem to have been problematic in the Dean's tenure, ranging from clergy recruitment – which included, believe it or not, an X-Factor style “preach off” – to the singular lack of engagement with Deaf Church in Jersey.

The Dean resigned this year to take a new role as part of the Archbishops' Evangelism Task Group. Perhaps the longest lasting legacy, which was approved by the Jersey Synod, yet surprisingly not taken up by the media, was the decision of Jersey and Canterbury to fund the Dean’s “mission costs” to the tune of £20,000 each for the next two years.

It is unknown whether the ordinary man or woman in the pew is aware of this decision taken on their part, and how their weekly alms giving is supporting such a worthy cause.

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