by Prof Helen King, Professor Emerita in Classical Studies at The Open University and lay preacher in the Diocese of Oxford
Life in 2020 has been very much about uncertainty. I’m not just thinking about the pandemic.
In narrower Church of England terms, in 2020 we’ve waited for two very important documents to be released: last week, the IICSA final report on sexual abuse of children in the Anglican Church, and in early November Living in Love and Faith (LLF), delayed from spring 2020. This delay changes the original sequence of events. Now it’s October: IICSA, then November: LLF.
What’s the connection?
While a member of LLF, I was one of those who asked over and over again for IICSA to be taken into account in the documents being produced. Yet the last LLF draft I saw still gave the impression that the questions such abuse raises were not really LLF’s concern. Yet you’d think some sort of liaison would be useful between these two large and costly processes – costly in terms of both money and emotional pain.
The extensive IICSA transcripts mentioned LLF twice on 1 July 2019, but only in passing. “The church has also been confronting issues concerning its teaching on human sexuality” said Nigel Giffin QC, representing the Archbishops’ Council. In his second witness statement to IICSA, the Archbishop of Canterbury had stated “I am informed by Mr Tilby that these [LLF] resources will be reviewed by the NST before they are finalised to ensure that they sufficiently address safeguarding related issues”. I have no idea whether that review happened. Did anyone join the dots? The error in the IICSA final document, the claim that LLF – described as a “large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality” had been published in 2019 – suggests not.
I think the two documents are more closely related than the failure of an internal Church process to join forces with IICSA would suggest, and that the links need to be better understood.
In the Executive Summary of the IICSA final report, we read that: “Deference to the authority of the Church and to individual priests, taboos surrounding discussion of sexuality and an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims presented barriers to disclosure that many victims could not overcome.”
What were, or are, these ‘taboos’?
Let’s go back to Fiona Scolding at the IICSA inquiry into Chichester Diocese, on 5 March 2018. She asked, “How far did the reaction of some within the church to homosexuality possibly inhibit the reporting of child sexual abuse?” DI Wayne Murdock, involved in the Peter Ball case, made it clear that “one of the factors that influenced his view of the public interest in bringing a prosecution was the risk that some church witnesses would be exposed as homosexuals in court. That would, in his words, have seen their roles within the church effectively finished.” As Murdock put it: “I believe that the issue of homosexuality had a detrimental effect in encouraging witnesses and potential complainants within the church to come forward” (IICSA, 23 July 2018).
So homophobia within the church deterred the reporting of sexual abuse.
When Fiona Scolding was interviewing the Bishop of Chichester, Rt Revd Dr Martin Warner, on 14 March 2018, she asked: “Do you not think that the Church’s difficulty in coming to terms with the complexity of self-identity when it comes to sexual orientation may have contributed to the misapprehensions you have identified because, you know, certainly amongst conservative individuals, homosexuality is seen as sinful?”
He answered “Yes.” She then asked, “The idea of civil partnerships is seen as anathema and the idea of getting married within the church is anathema. Do you think the church may have, albeit unwittingly, contributed to that by its approach to sexual orientation in the past?” Bishop Warner replied: “I think there has been contribution from the church on this”. He went on to talk about how covering up homosexuality contributed to a culture in which sexual abuse was also kept secret.
On 24 July 2018 Fiona Scolding, interviewing the former Archbishop, Lord Carey of Clifton, proposed that: “The church was so uncomfortable in dealing with and managing same-sex relationships that it didn’t really have an understanding of what was an appropriate same-sex relationship and what was an inappropriate same-sex relationship.”
Finally, at the 11 July 2019 IICSA hearing, Archbishop Justin Welby was asked whether “there is sufficient openness about human sexuality in the church now so that there is, and can be, proper debate and discussion with victims and survivors and proper work on minimising risk within the church?”
He responded, “Yes. I think there is far more openness than there was. I think the Living in Love and Faith Project has enabled a culture of transparency in ways that didn’t exist before.”
When I re-read that, I was taken aback. Openness? A culture of transparency? Really?
I don’t get the impression that there’s any less fear now of being ‘exposed’ as gay. Rt Revd Nicholas Chamberlain, the Bishop of Grantham, remains the only out, gay, partnered bishop. If people still think their roles within the church would be “effectively finished” if their sexuality were known, that shows that the church is still not a safe place.
That has implications for safeguarding as well as for LGBTI+ people in all roles in the church. Despite the impression given in the key cases explored by IICSA, sexual abuse is certainly not only about men abusing boys: far more such abuse involves men and girls, or men taking advantage of their power to abuse women who know that nobody will believe them. The church’s history of secrecy, pretence and denial is one of the reasons why the terrible harm revealed by IICSA happened.
We need to join up the IICSA evidence of why sexual abuse was not reported, and the opportunity LLF offers to understand how the church continues to fail those who are not ‘pale, male, stale’ – and straight.
Refusing to acknowledge that, in the words of Stonewall, “Some people are gay. Get over it” has contributed to the shameful history of abuse in the Church of England.
 Graham Tilby: former National Safeguarding Adviser. NST: National Safeguarding Team.
 On the reactions to his coming out, I recommend Grace Davie and Caroline Starkey, ‘The Lincoln letters: a study in institutional change’, Ecclesial Practices, 9 (2019), 44-64.