MY friend and colleague Father Alan Griffin has taken his own life. We were neighbours at two City of London churches. Alan was the very model of what a priest should be: Theologically-educated, pastorally-sensitive, kind, gentle and convivial.
Fr Alan, 78, died in November 2020 having spent a year under investigation without ever having the allegations spelled out to him. He was yet one more victim of the pernicious safeguarding system which allows the nasty officials who now run the Church of England to act as a Gestapo.
There have been so many clergy, some known to me personally, who have been hauled up before the safeguarding bureaucrats and baldly informed that, from that moment on, they no longer hold the Bishop’s Permission to Officiate (PTO). No more preaching, christenings, weddings or funerals and, the worst deprivation possible for a priest, no more celebrating the Holy Communion.
No questions allowed. The priest might ask uselessly: ‘But what am I supposed to have done?’ And the only answer given is: ‘Certain allegations have been made.’
The malevolent procedure is straight out of Kafka or the regime of Joseph Stalin.
In Alan’s tragic death, there is no consolation for his relations, his friends or anyone. There is only the nonchalant cruelty of the officials who destroyed his life. At least coroner Mary Hassell had the courage not to mince her words.
She said the claims by the authorities were ‘supported by no complainant, no witness and no accuser.’ Ms Hassell added bleakly: ‘He could not cope.’
Fr Alan was found dead at home on November 8, 2020. In her full report, the coroner wrote: ‘He was an HIV positive gay priest. He killed himself because he could not cope with an investigation into his conduct, the detail of and the source for which he had never been told.
‘The Church of England had passed a short written summary of allegations that contained inaccuracies and omitted mention of Fr Griffin’s earlier suicide attempt on learning of his HIV status.’
And then, in an explicit affirmation of Fr Alan’s entire innocence, she recorded: ‘Fr Griffin did not abuse children. He did not have sex with young people under the age of 18. He did not visit prostitutes. He did not endanger the lives of others by having sex with people whilst an HIV risk. There was no evidence that he did any of these things.’
So how did this travesty of justice unfold?
To think of Fr Alan as an abuser of children is to conclude that anyone who enjoys sitting by the fireside must be an arsonist.
According to the coroner, the investigation began because an official in the Anglican Diocese of London was retiring in 2019 and he suggested to his archdeacon that he undertake a ‘brain dump’ of information he had acquired over the preceding two decades.
Ms Hassell said that this ‘brain dump’ by the retiring official was a mixed bag which ‘ranged from descriptions of past convictions that had been dealt with and recorded, through to current safeguarding concerns that might or might not have been acted upon, to what witnesses described as gossip.
‘These 42 entries were not accompanied by signed statements setting out distinct allegations. The origin of the information in the entries was in places obvious and factual, but in other places entirely nebulous.’
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was sent a detailed report by the coroner which pointed out ‘the breadth of the systemic and individual failings that have come to light during the course of this inquest’.
She continued: ‘It is often the case that organisations have already themselves recognised their errors and have undertaken meaningful attempts at improvement by the time of the inquest.’
Her emphatic, damning final sentence: ‘This was not the case here.’
The summary statement concluded that Fr Griffin was falsely accused for two reasons. First, he was said to have ‘used rent boys’ an outdated phrase suggesting the use of male sex workers. The false allegations were compounded by buck-passing within the Church of England.
The archdeacon who had received the information contained in the ‘brain dump’ said that assessing whether it was ‘gossip’ was not his job and so he left it for the Director of Safeguarding, who in turn said deciding what to do should be for ‘safeguarding professionals.’
So no one took responsibility for making reasonable decisions based on the evidence – with disastrous consequences.
The whole safeguarding system is not merely open to corruption but, by its declared methods, it is of itself corrupt. Monstrous procedures which often lead to the destruction of the lives of innocent people are endemic.
I have first-hand experience of this. As all clergy are obliged to do, I attended a safeguarding meeting at which, in sociologese and psychobabble, we were told of our responsibilities if ever we came across an allegation of abuse.
We were told: ‘It’s not your affair. All you have to do is report it.’
We were all being handed the same get-out that was offered to accused war criminals: I was only obeying orders.
Towards the conclusion of this fatuous exercise, we were invited to ask questions. Impertinently, I enquired: ‘Am I allowed to ask an accuser if he or she is telling the truth?’
The Gauleiter leading the course banged the table and disintegrated into a raucous fury: ‘That is the one question you must never ask!’
The truth plays no part in the safeguarding system’s destruction of priests’ lives. This travesty is confirmed by the fact that accusers are prematurely described as victims before there has been any examination or enquiry whatsoever.
And the safeguarding sham is not cheap. It costs the Church £5million every year and a fund of £200million was set up in 2020 to compensate victims of abuse. Are all of these victims, or are some only accusers to whom the question of truth must never be put?
Fr Alan was a faithful Anglocatholic priest who, after his retirement, was received into the Roman Catholic Church. I can only imagine his torment over his last 12 months as he was driven to take his own life. For, as a devout Catholic – whether of the English variety or the Roman – he would have been ever conscious that suicide is what used to be called a mortal sin.
‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer.