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Cardboard cutout bishops stand silent as their leader makes an ass of himself


The Archbishop of Canterbury is about to undergo plastic surgery after losing his face a few days ago. Sussex Police gave Justin Welby a bloody nose when, like the trump of the archangel, it revealed that it was no longer investigating the ‘fresh’ allegation that Welby’s Safeguarding Stasi had made against Bishop George Bell.

Lambeth Palace went limp. Welby’s media witchdoctors ran out of holy mumbo jumbo to spin the story. Drawing the lush palace curtains, they announced a blackout on Bell. For once, the Archbabbler of Canterbury heeded the counsel of the book of Proverbs: ‘By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back.’

A year ago, Welby made a birch for his behind by insisting that a ‘significant cloud’ hung over Bishop Bell even after Lord Carlile’s diligent investigation found that the Church of England had ‘wrongfully and unnecessarily damaged’ Bell’s reputation by accusing him of molesting a child more than 60 years ago. Rather than apologise for the C of E’s botched job on Bell, Welby insisted that Bell was ‘accused of great wickedness’.

Bell supporters held a ‘Rebuilding Bridges’ conference intended to restore Bell’s reputation on February 1, 2018, to which I was invited as the keynote speaker. On the eve of the conference, the C of E’s National Safeguarding Team released a statement saying it had given Sussex Police ‘fresh information’ concerning Bishop George Bell. The C of E’s Dirty Tricks Department failed to sabotage the conference and now we know that the ‘fresh information’ on Bishop Bell is a ‘tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing’. Welby is forced to eat his mitre – well done, with extra-hot piri piri sauce.

No other archbishop in recent memory has made such an ass of himself. Why has the highest position in the Anglican Communion been brought so low? Could fellow bishops who had the courage to dissent from Welby’s Pravda and defend their deceased brother bishop Bell have saved Welby from eating crow?

On the issue of George Bell, there was not a peep of dissent from a single bishop in the Church of England. A couple of senior clerics hummed a discordant note. The dissenters were all laity. The bishops played along with Welby’s Blairite delusion that ‘I am right when everyone else is wrong and if you are not for me you are against me.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury is not the Pope. He is primus inter pares among his bishops – first among equals. His equals ought to have corrected him when he was wrong and rectified his blunder by setting the record straight. This did not happen because it could not happen. The ‘equals’ are now ‘clones’.

Under CEO Welby a new management mode has taken over the House of Bishops. Gone are the days when a handful of brave or foolhardy bishops made public pronouncements that were either eccentric or prophetic.

Off the record, one bishop explained to me how Welby had imposed his corporate management structures on his fellow bishops. In the new regime, no bishop should speak on any issue unless they are the ‘lead bishop’ for that area. For example, only the lead bishop on safeguarding may address this issue in public. This masquerades as efficiency but has the effect of silencing alternative voices on a sensitive matter like George Bell’s reputation, my contact said.

The new gaggle of bishops and bishopettes are cardboard cutouts. They look the same, talk the same, and think the same. They are browbeaten into Groupthink. They are nervous sheep rather than shepherds trained to face wolves. The rot begins at selection with two governing euphemisms deciding suitability. First, the candidate for bishop must be a ‘team player’. This is Anglican-speak for ‘yes man’ (or woman). Second, he or she must be a ‘focus for unity’. Translated into English, this means he or she mustn’t believe anything too strongly. Additionally, he or she must be a mediocre middle manager who won’t think independently and make trouble.

(There are notable exceptions to the clones in the episcopal Jurassic Park. The Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Rylands, made a brilliant contribution in his piece ‘Why I voted for Brexit’. His comrades mocked him for ‘coming out’ as a Brexit bishop. Bishop Rylands has been commended as ‘the humblest bishop’ for deciding to return to rural parish ministry in Devon.)

Last month, Charlan Nemeth, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, published her book In Defence of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business. ‘When we are exposed to dissent, our thinking does not narrow as it does when we are exposed to consensus,’ she writes. ‘In fact, dissent broadens our thinking . . . we think in more open ways and in multiple directions . . . On balance, consensus impairs the quality of our decisions while dissent benefits it.’ Hmm . . . Justin?

Now the C of E bishops under CEO Welby have decided to revise the theme song from the sitcom Dad’s Army. Here’s a sneak preview:

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Welby?

If you think we’re having fun

We are the bishops who will play your little game

We are the bishops who won’t make you think again

‘Cos who do you think you are kidding Mr Welby?

‘Cos we know the Church of England’s done.

This is an edited version of an article which can be found in full on Rev Jules Gomes’s website.

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‘Rebel Priest’ Rev Jules Gomes
‘Rebel Priest’ Rev Jules Gomes
The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.

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