Margaret McCartney, a GP, has written a moving article in which she despairingly stated, “Bureaucracy and bean-counting are taking the joy out of being a doctor.” The worst of it, she said, is that ”stifling bureaucratic burden.” As I read the piece, I knew I could write the same article, but about the life of today’s parish priest. Diocesan returns. A new “procedure” announced every week as part of the “system.” But the purblind pen-pushers who devise this nightmare entirely fail to see that “system” and “pastoral care” are phrases that don’t belong in the same sentence
Owing to the Great Paedophile Panic (GPP) which has been raging for some years now, anyone who has anything to do with the care of children is obliged to attend safeguarding courses which are designed to help us spot the physical, emotional or sexual abuse of children or adults. Accordingly, I was summoned to Hailsham Parish Church to do my bit. But of course it was nothing like a parish church. Fifty years ago there would have been pews, copies of The Book of Common Prayer and other unmistakeable signs of traditional country town Anglicanism. Not these days. The pews had been wrenched out, there were no Prayer Books, only copies of some awful modern version of Holy Writ – a sort of Bad News Bible. Colour posters everywhere. Slogans. Pictures of the parish clergy – only you couldn’t tell they were clergy. They wore jeans, t-shirts, polo necks and other emblems of today’s ecclesiastical with-it-ness. Banana-split grins and pasty faces, as if they had spent too long in the crypt coffee bar.
About thirty of us sat in small groups at tables set out where the pews used to be. There was a screen and there was about to be a presentation by our safeguarding tutor, a retired schoolmistress of forbidding countenance and stentorian insistence. Think Fairy Hardcastle in C.S Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. When she spoke, she used words – but not as we speak in the street: “Vulnerable…mechanisms…sharing” and others from the whole glossary of politically correct psychobabble. Our tutor was not without religion and she began with a prayer in which she helpfully informed the Almighty that we were meeting to discuss “very serious matters.” When she had finished putting God in the picture, she moved on to tell us things we perhaps had not noticed hitherto: “Children talk to one another.” So we might usefully listen to them in order to pick up any suggestions from the subject of their talk which betrayed evidence of abuse.
Cut to the screen and a video of children talking to – and shouting and screaming at – one another. It reminded me of accidental glimpses I occasionally used to catch of such television shows as EastEnders or Grange Hill. The children used phrases such as “You’re doin’ mi ‘ead in!” and, whispered, “This is going to be our secret.” By these signs, we were instructed, we might suspect that the children were using the argot they had picked up from abusive adults. The sentimental film-maker Ken Loach would have rejoiced to observe that video’s raw actualite.
When incidents of abuse are suspected and reported, the Social Services might get involved. Our tutor surprised some of us by saying, “Social Services don’t barge in and remove children from the family home.” What then is the substance of the frequent newspaper reports we read of their doing exactly that? What then of the cases I had come across myself in the course of my work in the parish? I wondered whether, in any particular case, the effects of calling in the Social Services might make a bad situation worse. But the tutor told us that such a decision was not our responsibility. All that was required of us was to report the matter to our safeguarding officer, “Then you’ve done your job.” Clearly, in the safeguarding “mechanism,” ethics is replaced by process, and moral problems are effectually demoralised as the system takes over and I am not deemed capable of forming my own judgement about what to do. Just report it to the safeguarding officer. Job done. The war criminals’ excuse, “I was only obeying orders” comes to mind.
And what an all-encompassing system it is! There is a full-time safeguarding supremo and he supervises many assistants throughout the area. No one is allowed to claim exemption from the system. Even my taxi driver said he was obliged to attend a safeguarding course and he was asked, particularly regarding his women passengers, to “keep my eyes open for signs of abuse.” The image is of a ubiquitous, paranoid network in which everyone is spying on everyone else and watching his own back at the same time – just as they did for decades in the USSR. Indeed, our tutor told us: “Safeguarding includes safeguarding yourself.” As with all bureaucratic systems – especially in what are now called “the caring professions” – there is that uneasy combination of callous abstractedness and sentimentality.
Naturally, we were given infantilised exercises: small bits of card with “typical signs of abuse” itemised and we were invited to assess whether a woman’s bruises were caused accidentally or by her “partner’s” violence; or a child’s sleeplessness might suggest sexual abuse. “Watch out for changes in eating habits. What would you conclude from observing that a young person was constantly hungry and even scavenging waste bins for food?”
The remark that immediately sprang to mind was: “I would have imagined I’d woken up to find that Labour were in power and well-embarked on their programme of turning Britain into Venezuela.” But I kept my mouth shut for, in the safeguarding workshop’s pervading atmosphere of political-correctness and menace, jokes are no laughing matter.
“Some suspected/reported incidents of abuse give rise to grave concerns,” said Fairy Hardcastle. (As if other incidents of abuse might be just a bit of a laugh). For example, we were told of a teacher who had sent what was alleged to be an ambiguous email message to a pupil. Did it contain sexual references? The recipient didn’t think so, but others did and so they called the police. No charges were brought against the teacher but, because an official complaint had been made, he was put on the register of sex offenders. This is scandalously unjust: the teacher was neither convicted nor even charged with any offence, and yet he was punished as if he had been proven guilty. How does he even begin to go about trying to remove that stain on his reputation, let alone delete the inevitable reference to it in his record with the Education Department? By such outrageous injustices a teacher might find it impossible to gain promotion, move to another school – or even keep his job at the school where he is currently working.
There are many such abuses of natural justice in the paranoid, surveillance-driven society which safeguarding has created. The worst of these arise from the safeguarding dogma that the “victim” is always to be believed. But the so called “victim” is not a victim until a perpetrator has been identified and the fact of an offence proven. Fairy Hardcastle gave us the opportunity to ask questions. I asked, “Would I be allowed to ask someone who claimed to have been abused whether she was telling the truth.” The Fairy went tomato red, twitched and screamed: “No – that is the one question you must never ask!” I ventured, “But what if my aim was to get at the truth? It is at least possible that the supposed victim might be lying. People have been known to lie on occasions, you know.” Whereupon I feared I was about to be chucked out of the meeting. For clearly, whatever sort of process safeguarding is, it has nothing to do with truth
Currently in the diocese of Chichester there is being played out one case involving such a spectacular injustice that it is scarcely believable in a free and open society. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester during the Second World War, was recently accused of committing a sexual offence against a woman. This would be particularly difficult to prove since Bishop Bell died in 1958. That presents no problem for the Church of England authorities. In keeping with safeguarding’s article of faith that the “victim” must always be believed, they have removed all memorials to Bishop Bell so that in effect he has become what in the Soviet regime was called a non-person.
There has been no trial. The word of his accuser has been accepted as the truth concerning an incident which, it is alleged, took place at least sixty years ago! She has been allowed to retain her anonymity. And the Church of England has paid her an undisclosed amount of money in compensation.
Palpable injustices such as that visited upon the memory of George Bell are the signature behaviour of totalitarian states.
Having made this catalogue of infelicities and desecrations, I must add that, while all these are bad enough, the real reason for the existence of the safeguarding racket is even more sinister: the whole process and system has been devised as a means of intimidation, command and control. And the bishops and their massive bureaucratic infrastructure are loving every minute of it. Such power as they never dreamed of!
Now they are able to employ threats and violence to clergy who – while entirely innocent of child-molesting – are, for any reason or none, disapproved by the politically-correct hierarchy. A common reason is that the accused priest’s political or doctrinal views are unacceptable to the secularized, left-wing ecclesiastical commissariat which can and does turn those clergy of whom it disapproves into non-persons. To earn the hierarchy’s displeasure takes very little effort: a priest might be a supporter of the Conservative Party, a devotee of The Book of Common Prayer or a denier of the climate change swindle The hierarchy can ruin a priest’s life without evidence, formal accusation, the due process of a trial or even the giving of a reason for their action
Justin Welby may have the wobbly chin of Charles Hawtrey but he has, beautifully camouflaged by a limp handshake, the iron fist of Joseph Stalin
Welcome to the new totalitarianism – Church of England style