Saturday, 8 July 2017

Abuses of Trust and Power: whose problem is it?

There are many (too many) who would respond to this question with the answer, "The Church's".

Is this a fair response?  The answer has to be, "Nah, don't think so!"

There there are many stories relating to sexual impropriety and abuse of trust and power doing the rounds of late, and they pose a number of questions and even more learning outcomes. To set for ourselves some sort of datum from which we can work and perhaps establish some norms and set standards, let us reflect on the media times that have come into my consciousness so far this year (you will undoubtedly know of others, but let's see where this takes us before we start posting names and other cases, eh?):

The Gibb report (An abuse of faith) which relates to a former Bishop Peter Ball and what appears to be a fair degree of complicity from senior clerics and the institution.

The news stories relating to the Revd Andrew Sloane, who misappropriated £14,500 of church funds to pay for rent boys.

The Netflix series 'Keepers' and the awful tales of complicity, cover-up and betrayal by the Catholic church in Baltimore relating to sexual abuse and the murder of Nun.

The film 'Philomena' - a true story of forced adoption,  abuse of power and trust, cover-up and lies from the Catholic Church relating to Philomena Lee and the search for her son, Anthony.

The data handed to an Australian commission on abuse in the Catholic church suggesting that in the period 1950 - 2010 some 1,265 Catholic priests, brothers and nuns had their names passed on to some 93 Catholic authorities as abusers by 4,444 people. Following the commission's report, Australia's senior cleric, Cardinal George Pell, was quoted as saying, "The Church had made 'enormous mistakes' and 'catastrophic' choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on counseling of priests to solve the problem."

Sadly,  just over a week ago Cardinal Pell was charged  with a number of historic sex offences and is awaiting a visit to the magistrate's court. Regardless of the outcome, that's sure to open a bigger can of worms!

This week I've read of an eighty year old Muslim man (Mohammed Haji Sadiq) who apparently  taught at a Cardiff' mosque and abused children there for something up to thirty years before being caught and convicted.

There's been numerous football coaches accused of sexual (and other) abuse this year.

A doctor associated with US Gymnastics has been committed for trial for sexual abuse of some of those under his care. There was also a recent piece in the news of a Canadian ski coach who also abused those he taught.

The Rochdale sexual abuse scandal, complete with cover-ups, looking the other way by authorities and the accusations that this was an 'Asian' problem (not helped by the "Rotherham' and other cases in the news) makes for poor and uncomfortable reading. Add to this the Jersey care home scandal and the abuse by foster parents, by natural parents, by adoptive parents, family members and friend of the family, the abuse by media stars, DJs, and entertainers and what do we have?

Only this week a Reigate Scout leader was jailed for 26 years for sexual abuse and I've found another eight stories relating to Scouting. These were all historical, the reason for this being that the organisation, being aware of past problems, has become more proactive and alert to safeguarding needs..

The BBC's Panorama programme recently looked at abuse in the uniformed cadet organisations. Statistics produced during the programmes the statistics on the left were quoted.

The reality is that sexual (and other) abuse can occur in every area of life and the perpetrator can be almost anyone. I remember the sixties when the jokes about sexual abuse and Scout leaders were always going the rounds and now they are one of the better examples of safeguarding practice.

My problem with abuse, regardless of what form it takes or the group in which it has occurred, is the breach of trust that causes it to happen and the institutional deceit that seems to raise its ugly head to work at concealing the sin (for sin it is) and further destroy any remaining trust in the organisation that might have existed.

Worse still is the fact that people judge Jesus and the Church as a whole when individuals act to abuse. Now I have to say that we, as the Gibbs report shows, don't help ourselves in this area and the lies, cover up, misdirection and ignoring of the abused only seek to show Church to be full of hypocrites and liars.


We need to be vigilant but not paranoid.

We need to be trusting but not naive.

We need to protect the weak, the vulnerable and the young - remembering that everyone is vulnerable at some time in their life.

Gentle as doves, cunning as serpents and protective of all as if they were our own.



Anonymous said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

I'm astounded to find a church of England vicar write as you have - it's encouraging to find some compassion, honesty and integrity from someone who is obviously in the church.

Well said and thank you.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Thank you both for your comments.

I would be astounded (and saddened) to find any cleric saying otherwise :>