I’ve now read the Chichester report in full.
News reports have already highlighted the damning comments made about the diocese:
- the lives that have been deeply wounded by the abuse suffered at the hands of clergy and of lay people;
- the wickedness and shamefulness of what has happened to those who were abused; the appalling history in these matters affecting children and vulnerable adults;
- a history of safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester that has in the past fallen woefully short of what should be expected;
- John Hind, the outgoing diocesan bishop, describing the diocese as “dysfunctional”.
The report calls for a radical change of culture in the diocese – one in which the sanctity, dignity and well being of children and vulnerable adults is openly and transparently at its heart. A fresh commitment of obedience to the call of Christ is necessary, it says.
The authors say it has become clear that the diocese needs to be seen within the wider picture of the national Church.
For Changing Attitude, I think this report opens a window onto the culture of a diocese which, I hope, is at the extreme end of abuse and dysfunction in the Church of England. But the abuse and dysfunction is present beyond the limits of this one diocese.
The creation of a dysfunctional culture in Chichester diocese begun under Eric Kemp, bishop from 1974 to 2001. Eric welcomed into the diocese, no questions asked, clergy who were variously gay, anti the ordination of women, misogynistic and camp. It became a particular refuge for this set. The Anglo-Catholic traditionalist set contains many closeted gay men, or to be more accurate, men who can be wildly camp within their own circle but hide their sexuality from their congregations, straight clergy and bishops. This category of gay priest does not join the Changing Attitude Sussex group
John Hind clearly failed in his role as diocesan. Sympathetic to the Anglo-Catholic set and committed to a male only priesthood, he either ignored or failed to see the dark, shadow side that this closeted network and misogynistic attitude creates.
Women and LGB&T people also subjected to abuse
There is a risk that what happens next limits the focus to Chichester and to the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, critical though this is. I think the lesson needs to be extended to the whole Church of England and to other categories of people which also experience abuse by the Church – women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The Diocese of Chichester has one diocesan and two area bishops, and since women were ordained to the priesthood, no bishop in the diocese has supported the ordination of women. Women are inevitably more vulnerable in a diocese like Chichester which has such a strong anti-women’s ordination culture.
The presence of the Anglo-Catholic anti-women’s ordination set, with its preponderance of gay clergy, also has an unhealthy effect, reinforcing rather than creatively challenging Church attitudes towards LGB&T people that treat us as inferior people, debarring gay clergy and bishops from loving, committed civil partnerships, and totally debarring us from marital equality.
In Appendix 3 the report says a change in culture must be created in which the sanctity, dignity and well being of children and vulnerable adults is openly and transparently at the heart of the diocese and the dysfunctionality within the senior diocesan team must be urgently addressed.
I think these recommendations apply to the national Church as much as to the Diocese of Chichester.
Church of England culture in need of radical change
Changing Attitude is calling for radical change in the national Church. We want equality in every aspect of church life for LGB&T, from clergy and Episcopal appointments to equal marriage. We are committed to the full inclusion of LGB&T people and women at every level of church life.
A national change of culture is needed which recognizes that to treat LGB&T people and women as in any way second class beings or inferior members of God’s creation creates abusive attitudes and relationships. I have stood at the doors of General Synod and witnessed the way in which some members of Synod think they have divine authority to abuse gays and women.
The report says “[t]he safeguarding of children, young people and vulnerable adults is fundamental for the Church as an institution called to bear witness to the Good News given to all humanity in Jesus Christ. Members of the Church belong to a body whose accountability is not only to the human community within which it is set but ultimately to the One it exists to serve.”
I think those at the top level of the Church fail to see the relationship between the attitudes to women and LGB&T people which a minority claim are Biblically-sanctioned and the abusive attitudes which result from this. These people do not hold legitimate, Christ-like attitudes to people like me (although these attitudes are held to be legitimate by parts of the tradition and teaching).
The inability to distinguish between the attitude of Jesus towards all members of the human community and the abusive attitudes that are rampant across the Anglican Communion is rooted in a failure to live with an image of God as infinitely loving creator who infuses creation with his very essence in the life of the Spirit and calls us to overcome our prejudices, projections and hatreds by learning to love as openly and tenderly as Jesus.
The Church of England needs to examine the ideas it holds about the One we are called to worship and to serve, the one whose service is perfect freedom and who loves us to the end of infinite time and space.
Failure to do this means the Church will continue to be judged nationally and found wanting, a Church the Chichester report shows can at times manifest abuse in a shameful and wicked way.