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The C of E’s £200m safeguarding farce – a dispatch from the front line

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THIS week Melissa Caslake, the Church of England’s first permanent Director of Safeguarding, resigned after 18 months. She gave no reasons for her departure, but one of her close colleagues commented to the Telegraph: ‘Melissa wouldn’t be leaving unless she felt the task had become impossible. Perhaps she has discovered that the Church is simply too complex, too defensive and too self-absorbed to face up to its own cruelty.’ 

Well, perhaps. But what if the whole safeguarding enterprise is a useless expensive fraud and a gigantic act of virtue-signalling? I’ll come to the expensive aspect in a minute, but first let me speak from personal experience.

Although I have retired from my City of London parish and removed myself to the bucolic tranquillity of Sussex, I retain the Bishop’s permission to officiate (PTO) and so I am able to lead services, preach and preside at the Holy Communion. This comes with terms and conditions. One of these, a recent innovation, is obligatory attendance every five years on a ‘Safeguarding Course’. This involves my turning up at a traditionally draughty church hall and being told that I must not molest children. Well, dear reader, I must confess that, for the whole fifty years of my ordained ministry, it has never once occurred to me to want to molest children.

There was a screen and there was a presentation by our safeguarding tutor, a retired schoolmistress of forbidding countenance and stentorian delivery. Think the ogress Fairy Hardcastle in C S Lewis’s magnificent dystopic novel That Hideous Strength.  She spoke, but not as we speak in the street: ‘Vulnerable . . . mechanisms . . . sharing’ and other expressions from the glossary of politically correct psychobabble – Christians Awoke, you might say. She was not without religion and she began with a prayer in which she helpfully informed the Almighty that we were meeting ‘to discuss very serious matters’. When she had put God in the picture, she moved on to tell us things we perhaps had not noticed hitherto: ‘Children talk to one another.’ So, we might usefully listen to them.

When incidents of abuse are suspected and reported, social services might get involved. Our tutor surprised some of us by saying, ‘Social services don’t barge in and remove children from the family home.’ What then is the substance of the frequent media reports of their doing exactly that? What then of the cases I had come across myself in my parish work? I wondered whether, in any particular case, the effects of calling in social services might make a bad situation worse. The tutor told us that such a decision was not our responsibility. All that was required of us was to report the matter to our Safeguarding Officer, ‘Then you’ve done your job.’ Clearly, in the safeguarding mechanism, ethics is replaced by process, and moral problems are solved by systems which, we were assured, ‘have been put in place’.

Fairy Hardcastle ought to be made aware of T S Eliot’s strictures on ‘men dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good’.

We were given infantilised exercises: small bits of card with ‘typical signs of abuse’ itemised and we were invited to assess whether a woman’s bruises were caused accidentally or by her ‘partner’s’ violence, or if a child’s sleeplessness might suggest sexual abuse. ‘Watch out for changes in eating habits. What would you conclude from observing that a young person was constantly hungry and even scavenging waste bins for food?’

I suppressed the facetious remark that immediately sprang to mind, for in the safeguarding workshop’s pervading atmosphere of political correctness and menace, jokes are no laughing matter.

‘Some suspected/reported incidents of abuse give rise to grave concerns,’ said Fairy Hardcastle. As if other incidents of abuse might be just a bit of a laugh! For example, we were told of a Sunday School teacher who had sent what was alleged to be an ambiguous email message to a pupil. Did it contain sexual references? The recipient didn’t think so, but others did and so they called the police. No charges were brought against the teacher but because an official complaint had been made, he was put on the register of sex offenders. This is scandalously unjust: the teacher was neither convicted nor even charged with any offence, and yet he was punished as if he had been proved guilty. How does he even begin to go about trying to remove that stain on his reputation, let alone delete the inevitable reference to it in his record?

There are many such abuses of natural justice in the paranoid, surveillance-driven Church of England which safeguarding has created. The most outrageously corrupt and unjust of these arises from safeguarding’s cardinal dogma that the victim is always to be believed. But the so-called ‘victim’ is not a victim until a perpetrator has been identified and the fact of an offence proved. Until there has been a thorough investigation, the ‘victim’ is not a victim but a complainant.

Fairy Hardcastle gave us the opportunity to ask questions. I asked: ‘Would I be allowed to ask someone who claimed to have been abused whether she was telling the truth?’ The Fairy went tomato red, twitched and screamed: ‘No – that is the one question you must never ask!’ I ventured: ‘But what if my aim was to get at the truth? It is at least possible that the supposed victim might be lying. People have been known to lie on occasions, you know.’ Whereupon I feared I was about to be chucked out of the meeting. Clearly, whatever sort of process safeguarding is, it has nothing to do with truth-seeking.

Safeguarding is a woke obsession and it is rotten to the core. I doubt whether all the hectoring courses there have ever been have saved a single child from abuse. And so I come to the matter of expense: £5million is the annual budget. Now the authorities in the bankrupt Church of England have established a fund containing £200million with which to compensate the ‘victims’ of clerical child abuse.

 I suppose their ‘reasoning’ went something like this: ‘Oh heck, we’ve made a huge mess turning a blind eye to all these misbehaving clergy. Let’s throw the newspapers a massive sop. I think £200million should just about do it. We can put up the amount the dioceses grab from the parishes.’

I smell a racket, don’t you? There are more than enough crooks and villains around when it comes to the chance of money for – quite literally – nothing.

Melissa Caslake has gone – but don’t worry: her replacement will be along any minute, probably on an improved salary.

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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