Lord Carey, IICSA, and safeguarding in the Diocese of Oxford – a letter to Bishop Steven

I wrote this letter in response to the statement relating to ++George Carey’s PTO (Permission To Officiate) issued by +Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, who is my diocesan bishop. You can read the statement in full on the diocesan website here

Dear +Steven,

I read with considerable concern your statement issued on the diocesan website on Friday, regarding Lord Carey’s PTO.

No doubt you will be aware that many, including survivors of abuse, are unhappy with the wording of the statement. However, whilst I share many of those criticisms, the wording is not my primary concern. My primary concern is with the substance of the statement – namely that in the light of this week’s IICSA proceedings Lord Carey is to retain his PTO. In particular I am worried about how this decision, and the way it has been communicated, will impact safeguarding practice within the diocese.

You say in the statement that “there has never been any suggestions that [Lord Carey] is himself a risk to children, young people and vulnerable adults.” Whilst it is true that there is no suggestion that he has perpetrated abuse, I would say that the evidence heard by IICSA this week (which I have been following closely) made it abundantly clear that through his negligence in dealing with Peter Ball, Lord Carey caused significant harm to a number of young people and vulnerable adults.

In terms of safeguarding within the diocese, I worry that by granting Lord Carey PTO, you are setting an unhelpful precedent. By this decision, you seem to be suggesting that a priest or bishop who fails to deal adequately with abuse perpetrated by someone under his or her authority need not expect any serious consequences for that failure. In a church culture where we know many clergy are already reluctant to deal robustly with safeguarding concerns, especially when they involve people in positions of power and responsibility, this seems like a dangerous and damaging message to give out.

At a time when many of us are working hard to rapidly improve the safeguarding culture within our parishes, your statement on this matter feels very undermining. Whilst we are repeatedly saying “you must report everything, you must act on every disclosure”, it would be very easy for those who are reluctant to comply to point to this statement and say “but the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t, and the Bishop thinks that’s ok (otherwise he wouldn’t be giving him PTO) so why should I?”

It is vital, especially at this pivotal time for the church in terms of safeguarding, that we are presenting a clear and united message that not only is abuse unacceptable, but any failure in safeguarding practice which (intentionally or otherwise) colludes with the perpetrators of abuse is also unacceptable, and will be treated as such by the church.

In any other organisation (and my own experience is primarily in the education sector), anyone suspected of the sort of safeguarding failures in which Lord Carey has been implicated during this week’s inquiry would be suspended from all duties until all relevant investigations had run their course. You mention in your statement “a process of review and support”, but I cannot see why Lord Carey is allowed to retain PTO while that, and the IICSA process, are still ongoing.

I do hope that you will urgently reconsider your position regarding Lord Carey’s PTO, and consider withdrawing it, at least until the findings of the IICSA inquiry, the outcome of the internal “process of review”, and any other investigations pending, are known. That would send a strong signal to all those responsible for safeguarding within the diocese, and beyond, that negligence in the way we deal with cases of abuse is not acceptable, and will have serious consequences. It would also, I am sure, be welcomed by those abused by Peter Ball who suffered further as a result of Lord Carey’s mismanagement of the case.

Yours in Christ,

Ruth Harley
Children’s, Youth and Families’ Minister
All Saints Church, High Wycombe

What’s in a name?

I wonder if you know what your name means? I do, because I’ve got it on a keyring – a keyring which my brother brought back from his Year 6 school trip because he knew how fed up I was that named things – pens, badges, etc – never seemed to have *my* name, but always had his.

Names matter. They are an important part of who we are. When we are baptised, we are baptised by name, as Vince will be this morning. Names matter because who we are matters – matters to us, and to our families and friends, and matters to God.

When you arrived this morning, you were given a card which says “God says _____ I have called you by name” with a space for you to write your name. I invite you to do that now and, if you want, to decorate that card, perhaps with things that reflect who you are.

“God says _______ I have called you by name.”

Today we celebrate Mary Magdalen, and our gospel reading today includes my favourite story about her. When she meets with the risen Jesus, she doesn’t recognise him… until he calls her by her name. And then – straight away – she knows who this is who knows her name, knows who she really is, and she knows who he really is too – “Rabbouni”, teacher.

Because God knows more than just our names. God knows who we really are, and when we say that God calls us by name, we mean that God calls us as our true, God-created selves, whoever we are. We have been thinking about this at Ark lately, as you can see in our new display.

“Whoever you are, you are loved by God and you are welcome here.”

Who we are can be a complex thing. Our identity may be composed of many layers of meaning. For me, nobody captures this better than TS Eliot in his poem “The Naming of Cats”:

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Sometimes the names we are called are not who we really are. When we are called names on the playground, or on social media, when we are given labels which don’t fit, when we are called by cruel, unpleasant, untrue names, it hurts. Many trans people are deeply hurt and damaged by being called by names and pronouns which aren’t right for them, which don’t fit the gender they really are, don’t reflect their true self – and the church is very far from blameless in this.

Names matter. Identity matters. Our deepest, truest identity is found in who we are in Christ. That is what we celebrate in baptism. Today as he is baptised, we celebrate Vince’s identity, both as a unique individual, created and loved by God, and as a member of the Body of Christ. All of us are invited to join in the responses during the baptism liturgy as a reminder that this is our identity too – fellow members of the Body of Christ, each of our individual selves, our gifts and calling, contributing something vital to the true identity of the Body of Christ.

So I invite you to take away your name card, put it either in a bag or pocket, or somewhere you will see it often at home, and consider it further. Go deeper than your “everyday name” to ponder, like the cats in the poem, who you truly are, your own “deep and inscrutable singular name”, known perhaps only to you and to God. Reflect not only on what it means for God to know your name and call you by it, but also on what it means for you that God knows who you truly are, God knows your whole being, and loves you, loves you immeasurably, exactly who you are.