Thursday 29 October 2015

The Political and the Pastoral

“There are still no plans to publish a report into how the Jersey church handled an allegation of sexual abuse of a vulnerable person by a churchwarden, despite a delegation from Jersey meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this month.”

“Chief Minister Ian Gorst met the Archbishop along with Lieutenant-Governor General Sir John McColl and Bailiff William Bailhache in Canterbury at the start of the month to try to resolve the issue – Senator Gorst has previously said that he wants the Steel report to be published”

(Bailliwick Express)

My first thought on reading that story last week was incredulity that the Chief Minister – a political role – should be involved in Anglican Church politics. I know the Dean sits in the States (and is remunerated for his time in the Assembly), but I have disquiet that the Chief Minister seems to have gone on a private jaunt, not at the bequest of the States (no vote or proposition was made), and yet gone as Chief Minister, rather than in a private capacity as Mr Gorst.

Someone has to pay for that little jaunt, and I wonder who is. I have put in a request to find out, as it seems to be of interest to the taxpayer, who will probably pick up the tab.And now have the results

What the travel costs of this journey were? And how they were apportioned?:

Chief Minister Ian Gorst £251.34 (funded by the Chief Ministers Department)

Lieutenant Governor Sir John McColl £281.54 (funded by Office of the Lieutenant Governor)
Bailiff William Bailhache £281.54 (funded by the Bailiffs Chambers

So it was not funded privately by the individuals concerned in from their own purse. It does seem a rather casual attitude to departmental expenses which are, after all, for official States business, and this does not exactly seem to fit that remit.

Ian Gorst on BBC Radio Jersey was saying how the terms of reference included publishing the final version, suitably redacted, in the public domain. He suggested that all parties involved in drawing up the terms of reference had agreed to that.

However, he failed to mention that the lady at the centre of the report had not been privy to drawing up terms of reference, and did not wish to revisit a very traumatic time in her past by having it published.

That is very important, because it suggests that the Bishop of Winchester might have pastoral reasons for keeping the report under wraps, because it could damage a vulnerable adult. Even if he doesn't have those reasons, they are still good reasons for not publishing. The pastoral card should always trump the political one, at least if you read the New Testament, Jesus acts that way.

That is something also not mentioned by the Dean of Jersey when he was speaking on BBC Radio Jersey.

Church people in positions of authority – clergy, churchwardens, lay readers etc in Jersey have just finished safeguarding training, and are presently rolling out safeguarding materials to websites and church notice boards also mention this, and there and leaflets are also being put at the back of churches.

Just a few churches, the last time I checked, were somewhat dilatory about getting these notifications about safeguarding done, but many had done so, and more were due to, and almost certainly have done. Training has also been done. This is good news and should be welcomed.

Now one of the things mentioned in the safeguarding policy is the care which needs to be taken with vulnerable adults. This is quite an important section, and was carefully drafted.

And yet, despite the damage that the Steel report being made public could do to a vulnerable adult, the Dean seems determined to press ahead with the call for publication! It seems that double standards apply, or at the very least, that what putting safeguarding in practice has not been thoroughly thought through. It is not enough just to have the policy: it should be put into action, even if that means putting the Steel report aside. Church politics should not take precedence over pastoral care. Safeguarding must not just be tick-boxes.

Of course, reason for restricting publication would be legal matters or data protection issues. If the report was likely to face a legal challenge, for example, from the author of the Korris report, that might well delay publication until the legal issues could be resolved. After all, it could cause professional reputations to be damaged, and that is the sort of matter which could lead to a writ for libel – defamation of character.

And as it is a UK report commissioned by the Bishop of Winchester, it should be probably be subject to "Maxwellisation". This is a procedure in current British legal practice where individuals due to be criticised in an official report are sent details of the criticism in advance and permitted to respond prior to publication. It’s meant to stop any factual errors – or misinterpretations – getting into the public domain.

This means that in principle any interested parties should have been sent a copy of those parts concerning them for comments. And, of course, this has almost certainly not been done.

It was interesting that despite the case being pressed for the report going to the public domain, the Dean appeared to intimate, on BBC Radio Jersey, that he would at present be quite happy for the report to be just sent to a privileged number of people – the Chief Minister, the Bailiff, maybe one or two others - and of course himself.

“I’d rather like to read it”, he said, giving the impression in his tone that nothing he wanted more to do was to sit down with a mug of cocoa in an comfy armchair by the fireside one evening, and peruse it.

But the way in which reports have a very nasty habit of leaking out – a letter from the Bishop to the Dean being one example – shows that this approach is simply not safe. One senior layman - Sir Philip Baihache - (brother of the Bailiff) was criticised for reading confidential files on a plane trip in view of others on the plane, who were shocked by that lack of care. And leaks are selective: usually designed to damage. That's not good as an example of pastoral practice.

The Church in Jersey has shown in the past that it is not to be trusted with confidential information. I’m not saying the Dean would leak it, but in all likelihood be leaked by someone, probably believing they acted for the best intentions, but selectively. The road to hell may well be paved with well intentioned leaks.

And does it really matter? We are told that churchgoers are concerned, but I have yet to meet many who are. For most, the orderly routine of church services continues as before, and if the prayers now include the Bishop of Dover rather than Winchester, that is hardly a major or disruptive change.

I notice that Christenings, Weddings, Funerals, Family Services and Communion continue very much as they have done. It begs the question: is it really that important in the grand scheme of things? Isn't it time to just forget about it and move on? 

1 comment:

Póló said...

You forgot to mention that Steel is compromised and prejudiced. That is enough of a reason for scrapping the report. If you just look at the motely gang screaming for its publication, you get a clear picture of where its coming from.

The Dean is a creep. He would not cooperate with Korris who ultimately found him negligent, but he can't wait to get his hands on Steel. Tells you a lot.

Your point on the funding of the trip is a good one.

Not quite on topic: every opportunity should be taken to mention that the Dean has never been "cleared" of anything. All that happened was that the Bishop of Winchester belately found out that he did not have legal authority to chop his head off.

Keep posting the analytical stuff. You certainly won't find it in the lobotomised MSM.