The Revd. Mark Bailey Writes…

The Revd. Mark Bailey Writes…

The Church of England has recently been in the spotlight and has been found wanting. The Independent Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse has brought to the fore the failures of an institution whose culture has, in places, lent itself to the exploitation of the vulnerable. Giving testimony to the Inquiry the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby responded with the following comment, “I have seen afresh the insanity of clericalism and of a deferential culture and how we have to struggle against that.”

Everyone but particularly religious leaders, including parish priests, need to tread very carefully when being deferred to. Someone who is called to work in the vocation of ministry should quite rightly command a certain respect. The job itself is laudable and has as its focus the business of responding to the needs of others. At heart, the task is to place at the centre the wellbeing of the whole of humanity and all of God’s creation. The office of a priest is itself held in high esteem by many and those who pursue this path should be worthy of pursuing that calling. Respect for clergy is often a given, and sometimes unquestionably so, so that when it comes to a matter of opinion, for example, one might give way in favour of the opinion of the priest – even if one’s own instincts tell you that the opinion of the priest is illogical. This is but one example of deference.

Deference involves a certain amount of submission. It gives power to the other and if that other is manipulative or has an unhealthy tendency to act out destructive and perverse behaviours then, potentially, someone is being put in a position to be exploited. We now know that a good number of priests and other office-holders in the Church of England have fallen below expected standards of behaviour and have callously abused their positions of power. This is clearly unacceptable, and it is good that this has now been laid bare for all to see.

Priests are human beings, and like all human beings, priests are subject to fail and at times catastrophically so. Such priests can have no part in the ministry of the Church. And here perhaps it is important to distinguish the difference between respect for the priestly role and respect for the person fulfilling that role. Should the latter fail in their expected duty then respect must be withdrawn and those who would defer to them must be protected by all of us.

God Bless