NEW

Anglican Futures: Anglican Alphabet Spaghetti

Anglican Futures Anglican Alphabetti Spaghetti A dummies guide to the plethora of organisations and acronyms linked to faithful Anglicans in the UK and Europe. I once spent some time around military personel.  Everything had its own TLA (Three Letter Acronym) right...

Canterbury Tales: Favourite Bible Stories Retold by Archbishop Justin Welby

Canterbury Tales Favourite Bible stories retold by Archbishop Justin Welby The Good Samaritan A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead, halfway...

Anglican Mission in England Elects Two Suffragan Bishops

Anglican Mission in England Elects Two Suffragan Bishops The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) met in Synod on 18 June.  While there, they elected two suffragan bishops to aid Bishop Andy Lines in providing episcopal oversight for the overall work.  Bishop Lines also...

Pride Flags Causing Conflict at Christian School

Pride Flags Cause Conflict at Christian School Conflict has broken out in a Christian school in Oxfordshire over the display of “Pride” flags. The institution in question is Kingham Hill School.  The same Trust (Kingham Hill Trust) oversees Oak Hill College, an...

Prayer Book Society Raising Funds to Put BCPs in the Hands of Choristers

Prayer Book Society Raising Funds to Put BCPs in the Hands of Choristers The Prayer Book Society, which will soon celebrate its 50th Anniversary, is raising funds to put a special edition BCP into the hands of junior choristers around the nation.   The idea came to...

Book Review: Reimagining Britain by Justin Welby

Reimagining Britain Foundations for Hope Justin Welby Bloomsbury, 2018, new edn. 2021 (ISBN: 978-1-4729-8497-5, 322pp, £12.99) The Archbishop of Canterbury has made several notable political interventions recently, including over ‘partygate’ and the Rwanda deportation...

Birthday of Anglicanism in America

Birthday of Anglicanism in America By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins June 16, 1607 was the birthday of Anglicanism in America. On this day Captain John Smith and 104 others celebrated the Lord’s Supper when they arrived safely in Jamestown, Virginia. Jamestown was the...

Barnabas Fund Report: Two ChiBok Girls Found

Barnabas Fund Reports Two Chibok Girls Found After 8 Years 24 June 2022 Two women, who were among hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from the Nigerian town of Chibok eight years ago, have been found. Hauwa Joseph was discovered among a group of other...

New Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory

Church of Ireland News New Bishop Elected for Cashel, Ferns & Ossory The Church of Ireland diocese of Cashel, Ferns, and Ossory now has a bishop-elect.  The Venerable Adrian Wilkinson, Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross was elected to succeed the Rt Revd Michael...

Editorial: Lessons to be Learned from the American Pro-Life Movement

Editorial Lessons to be Learned from American Pro-Life Movement Friday, 24 June 2022, the Feast of St John the Baptist, will be a date which will live in infamy amongst the supporters of abortion.  On that date, the US Supreme Court, overturned the precedent set by...

Original Sin is the fundamental systematic cause of abuse

Original Sin is the Fundamental Systematic Cause of Abuse

The Christian world has recently been shaken by revelations that two high-profile Evangelical leaders—the late Ravi Zacharias, founder of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; and, closer to home, the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, former Vicar of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon—were, all along, serial abusers.

Over the years, similar scandals have engulfed other segments of the Church, too. When I was an undergraduate in the 1980s, the late Bishop Peter Ball, the Anglo-Catholic founder of a monastic community, came to preach in our college chapel: we all thought he was a great saint, deeply humble and on fire with the Holy Spirit. In fact, he was at the height of a catalogue of prolific abuse, for which—decades later—he was eventually jailed.

The natural reaction to the discovery of abuse, in the Church as elsewhere, is to look for the systemic and cultural problems that allowed it to happen, and to tighten up safeguarding policies and procedures to make sure it can never happen again. And, indeed, it is quite right that searching questions should be asked: it appears that both Fletcher and Zacharias, for example, had used their charisma to create a culture in which they were considered to be above challenge, as a result of which allegations were brushed aside over many decades.

There is, however, one fundamental systemic problem that is at the heart of every case of abuse, every manipulation, every deception, every exploitation of power: Original Sin. As Christians, we understand—or ought to understand—that Original Sin is embedded into the human condition, and there is, therefore, no safeguarding regime that can entirely prevent abuse.
The formal position is that safeguarding policies and procedures are required to protect children and ‘vulnerable adults’; although ‘vulnerable’ is nowhere defined. One thing that the victims of Zacharias, Fletcher, and Ball all had in common was that they were adults, and that they would not immediately have been identified as ‘vulnerable’. It was only the abusive situation in which they found themselves that made them vulnerable: does this mean that every interaction between people within an organisation must be policed, just in case?

The problem with the ‘precautionary principle’—whether it is applied to safeguarding, COVID-19, or any other problem—is that there comes a point at which the cost of the precautions outweighs the potential benefits. As human beings, we are created to exist in relationship with one another, and to co-operate based on trust. If we erect high walls with checkpoints in an attempt to preclude any possibility of harm or abuse, there can be no trust: trust requires vulnerability. A Parish safeguarding officer, having recently returned from a Diocesan training course, commented on how suspicious-minded his colleagues seemed to be: this, surely, can be no way for a Christian community to operate.

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting for one moment that all safeguarding measures are unnecessary, or should be done away with; but that there is a balance to be struck. We often hear about the damage that can be done by insufficient or inadequate safeguarding; but rarely that excessive or intrusive safeguarding procedures can also cause considerable harm, albeit of a less direct and immediate, kind. We need to assess carefully the wider consequences of our good intentions, lest we find ourselves too far along that road to Hell of which they are the notorious paving.

Previous

Next