My blood ran cold the day I watched The Crucible. It was a “reality show” vividly depicting how the vindictive hysterics and histrionics of a young woman infatuated with a married man could destroy an entire community. The Crucible is a partially fictionalised portrayal of the infamous Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the spring of 1692.
What freaked me out was the realisation that justice was now at the mercy of hysteria. The Salem witch trials are back in the form of the new ‘safeguarding’ hysteria in the Church of England.
Anxious to wash the blood from his hands while the mob bays for more, Archbishop Justin Welby has thrown one of his predecessors to the wolves and is determined to put an end to the global ministry of Archbishop George Carey.
How did safeguarding, which rightly exists to protect the vulnerable, get turned on its head to punish the victimised innocent? Now the powers that be have decided to pursue anyone they believe to be guilty. But guilty of what? They treat a sin of omission as if it was the sin of commission. If a person is deemed not to have fulfilled their responsibility in adequate safeguarding, albeit many years previously when no such concept existed, that person is now going to be held responsible, penalised and punished. The media frenzy that follows effectively destroys the reputation of the person.
The hysteria began with Jimmy Savile. Savile’s acts were an abomination. So are all who perpetrate such dreadful acts on innocent children and adults. But where does responsibility start or end for those caught up in it? For example, if a sergeant has misbehaved, should the general be sacked? Of course, if his captain or major knew something and did nothing, they should be dismissed, but should the colonel and the general also take full responsibility and be removed? What of the politician?
We are now in a Kafkaesque situation where it is impossible to satisfy all the authorities’ requirements. Equally we are in an Orwellian society, where anyone who does not spy on the rest and report any real or imagined faults is held guilty. Justin Welby is becoming a new Borgia in relation to Savonarola, where the planning of a person’s destruction becomes paramount because they do not agree with him. He may argue that he is simply allowing the safeguarding process to take place unimpeded. But by his actions he has shown the opposite.
The Church of England and its hierarchical structures have chosen to take safeguarding into a new stratosphere. They have weaponised it in order to protect themselves. This weapon has now become not only defensive but also offensive. In its offensive form it is immensely destructive. With no lower limit on the time since the event or the smallness of the omission, this weapon could be used selectively to remove from ministry anyone the hierarchy may have taken against.
Whether offensive or defensive, the weaponisation of safeguarding will ultimately alienate anyone from entering the priesthood or from taking any role within the church, whether choir member, lay preacher or archbishop. Yet, this ticking time bomb is not recognised. Truth has been turned on its head. Truth is now kicking its legs, calling for the world’s attention, and everyone is silent.
Everyone lives in fear. No one knows who will be next. The witches are watching. Soon they will be pointing. Then they will start screaming. And the next head will be strung up on the gallows.