I am writing to you with some information about the progress of the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry and some related notes about life in the Diocese of Christchurch.
Redress Hearings, 17 -22 March
The prompt for this letter to the Diocese is that in a week or so, from Wednesday 17 March to Monday 22 March the Commission will be focused on the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand in respect of redress for survivors of abuse.
Within the focus on our church there is a specific focus on the Diocese of Auckland (Wednesday) and the Diocese of Christchurch (Thursday). I will be in Auckland from Wednesday 17 to Friday 19 March.
All relevant information about these hearings, including accessing the hearings via livestream is at https://www.abuseincare.org.nz/public-hearings/about/faith-based-redress-hearing/ .
My understanding is that the questions I will be asked next week will relate to the “church” side of our Diocesan life. Questions about redress relating to our social services and to our schools are scheduled for a later period in the life of the Commission.
My understanding is also that the interest of the Commission will be on aspects of how the Diocese of Christchurch has responded to complaints about abuse in the past as well as on what we have learned from the past and what we are consequentially doing in the present.
The Diocese of Christchurch: the past
In respect of the past I want to republish here, with a little expansion, something I wrote in a memo to the clergy last year:
I acknowledge that in the Diocese of Christchurch it has not always been the case that church has felt like a “safe space where vulnerability can be expressed with the possibility of healing and not further harm.”
I further acknowledge and thank the women of our Diocese who have courageously and determinedly spoken up against sexual harassment and abuse in order to right injustice and to uphold responsible ethical behaviour.
It would be naïve of me to assert that our Diocese is in better shape as a “safe space” than it once was – it would only take one headline about hitherto unknown misconduct to reveal how complacent such an assertion was.
What I do say confidently and gratefully is that our continuing commitment to the Diocese being a “safe space” owes much to the women who have stood up through past decades for truth and for justice as they have called sexual harassers and abusers to account. Their stand underpins our strong commitment to boundaries training.
Such commitment does not mean that we have arrived in respect of the Diocese as a “safe space.” We have made progress across the Diocese and within each of our ministry units, social service ministries, schools and chaplaincies. There has been progress as we keep learning from the past but we have a way to go yet.
I acknowledge that there are matters from the past in our Diocese that have been responded to but for which closure has not yet been reached. I am open to working towards closure but I think it also important that this work is coherent with the Commission’s hearings because those hearings may yet highlight past failings which need to be reviewed before we work with complainants and respondents on formal closure.
The Diocese of Christchurch: the present
In respect of the present there are some recent learnings which are influencing changes in the way our church responds to complaints:
- Resignation of ecclesiastical office will no longer be deemed by the church to be an adequate response to misconduct.
- Full, careful, considerate investigation and due disciplinary process must now always take place, irrespective of whether a resignation is given and accepted.
- Our commitment to reporting a range of misconduct behaviours to the police is strengthened.
- ACANZP will no longer consider that clergy being “employed by God” is an excuse for not taking responsibility for clergy behaviour.
- For offences for which guilt is determined and discipline of the church is incurred, we are moving towards publication of the name of the perpetrator. Only in rare circumstances will our church be party to suppression of the name of the perpetrator (e.g. because the complainant requests suppression in order to protect themselves or members of their family from being identified).
- There will be situations in which full and frank disclosure of the reasons for a clergyperson ceasing ministry will be given to the relevant congregation or congregations.
- The licence or permission to officiate granted by a bishop to an ordained or lay minister now has heightened significance. It determines that (e.g.) the Diocese of Christchurch has significant responsibility for the behaviour of its licenced ministers. This places even more significance than at present on the importance of good quality “boundaries training” as well as on the importance of regular participation by licensed ministers in such training.
- Those we serve and those we work alongside can be assured that this Diocese is committed to providing ministry that is safe, appropriate, and skilled. It is reasonable to expect that our churches provide a safe space where vulnerability can be expressed with the possibility of healing and not further harm. To ensure this, there are two questions the Faith Trust Institute encourages each of us to answer, because we all have a part to play:
- Do we have the capacity to own our mistakes and seek to rectify the impact those mistakes may have had on others?
- And if we don’t have this capacity, does the faith community have the capacity to step in and ensure that we do no further harm?
Making a Complaint about Misconduct Today
I take this opportunity to inform you that since the revised Title D came into effect in late January 2021, there is new national Anglican church process for responding to complaints about misconduct.
A full set of materials explaining the process and giving key contact details is not yet available from the General Synod Office. When these are available further information will be communicated to every ministry unit and posters will be made and distributed. In the meantime, complaints received by me or the Diocesan Monitor will be forwarded to the new national Registrar who is leading this process.
Masculinity in Our Down Under Culture
It is sobering to observe to you that in the course of responding to the Royal Commission’s requests to the Diocese, I have read many files about complaints made within the Diocese of Christchurch about abusive sexual behaviour. Without exception, in every instance, the perpetrator has been a man.
Many other past and present testimonies and narratives about abuse – including current stories in Australia in relation to politicians and their staff – are raising searching questions about how our culture continues to permit sexual abuse by males. For instance there is new recognition that in respect of rape we should not be sending messages to women (e.g. to take care not to walk our streets alone or to what clothes to wear when out and about). We need to send messages to men, that there are no circumstances ever in which sexual aggression is excusable let alone justified.
Fr Rod Bower, Rector of Gosford, Diocese of Newcastle, NSW sermon 07 March 2021 speaks directly and strongly to such matters in this sermon https://fb.watch/45CLd_XkQU/ (which appropriately carries a “trigger warning” because it speaks openly about sexual abuse). I am grateful to the Reverend Patricia Allan for sending me this link.
Request for Prayer
Finally, the Royal Commission hearings next week will be challenging for many people, perhaps most especially for those who are survivors of abuse. I ask for your prayers that all involved in the hearings, whether tuning into them via the internet, reading about them in the media or present in Auckland will receive God’s grace and strength and that through the action of the Commission there may be healing for those who are hurting and hope for those who despair.