(17-22 March 2021).
Within the Diocese of Christchurch countless parishioners, lay-workers, religious sisters, deacons, priests, bishops, youth and children’s workers, social workers and teachers have served the church of God through 165 years in ways which have given glory to God.
Sadly, painfully, tragically, in some instances, this has not been so. In parishes and in associated institutions and ministries, vulnerable persons in our care have been abused. This should never have happened.
Abuse is contrary to any and every understanding of the gospel as the good news of God’s love for all God’s creatures. Further, in some instances, our church, including our Diocese, has not responded to disclosure of abuse in a manner which has been kind, fair or generous to survivors of abuse. Accordingly, an important part of this letter is the provision (at the foot of the letter) of apologies made by our Archbishops and Bishops (including me) when we appeared before the Royal Commission recently.
In the history of our Diocese, 1989 was a turning point in our understanding of abusive ministry. Through disclosures of abuse made by some courageous women, senior leaders became aware of significant abuse of power in the ministry of a senior priest. Subsequently, through the 1990s, our Diocese took the first steps on a journey of change including concrete actions to demonstrate we had heard. Two particular learnings stand out from that period.
First, many eyes were opened for the first time to the fact that when a power imbalance occurs, between say a priest and a parishioner, then a sexual relationship between the two persons is not only an immoral affair, but it is an abuse of power and of trust.
Second, we realised that we needed someone other than the Bishop to receive and to respond to a complaint about ministerial misconduct, especially when the complaint involved disclosure of abuse.
Practically, as a result of the learnings. three significant changes were implemented.
First, establishment via Synod of the role of Diocesan Monitor supported by a Monitoring Committee with all complaints about misconduct to be either received directly by the Monitor or to be handed promptly to the Monitor by the Bishop.
Second, we began “boundaries training” for licensed ordained and lay ministers to educate ministers on boundaries between persons, the crossing of which boundaries may constitute harassment, bullying, abuse or lead to unnecessary conflict.
And third, from 1999, we required all people engaging in ministry to vulnerable persons to have a police check.
Alongside these new directions (the second and third of which were also being implemented in other Dioceses), our whole church via General Synod revised our canon on ministry standards, known as Title D, with a minor revision at the beginning of the 1990s and a major revision completed in 2000.
We can also note that through the first decades of this century, bishops have agreed to a higher or tighter standard in respect of declaring a minister “safe to receive” when moving from one Diocese to another.
Concomitantly, in social service organisations and in our schools, standards of care, standards of professional accountability and knowledge of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours continued to improve as learnings in social work and teaching led to changes in expectations about safe conduct of these professions.
Therefore, since 1990, measurable improvements were implemented. The Diocesan Monitor’s role began managing complaints as they arose. Each complaint was seen as a learning opportunity and boundaries training through the years has taken into account these learnings. Nevertheless, sadly some professional misconduct by ordained and lay ministers has still happened.
Our current situation
Since General Synod’s revision to Title D in 2000, various learning experiences and one particular case (within the wider Anglican church) led to another revision that has just this year come into effect (on 26 January 2021). This latest revision means that now all complaints about misconduct, whether of serious misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministry duties, must be made to a national Registrar (or, if received by the local bishop, or other office of the church, must be passed onto the national Registrar). Further information about this new process can be found on our website: www.anglicanlife.org.nz/about-us/complaint-process
Possible further changes are being signalled
The recent engagement of our church with the Royal Commission (www.abuseincare.org.nz) has yielded another fresh set of learnings and a new set of tasks to do.
While the final recommendations of the Commission will not be available for a while yet, we can and should make a start on what we anticipate the Commission may recommend. Some of this work will be done nationally, through our archbishops, General Synod Standing Committee and other bodies such as Tikanga Ministry Councils, but some of it is in our hands as a Diocese.
Obviously, we must continue to address matters of safety in ministry such as safe ministry practice and behaviour by our ministers. That means all ordained and lay ministers, pastoral carers, youth workers, children’s workers and so forth continuing to complete requirements for regular boundaries training along with any other enhanced training about safe ministry practice that implementation of Commission findings requires. But the larger question before us is the question of the overall culture of our Diocese.
Is the culture of our Diocese life-giving and fruitful for healthy spiritual ministry and mission? How well do we relate to one another in everyday circumstances? In conversations over a cuppa after church or in vestry meetings, are we respectful of each other as we engage in topics on which we disagree? Does a new person feel warmly welcomed? Are we able to fully include people who are different to the majority who make up the regular congregation? Are we committed to receiving wisdom and guidance from those who challenge us to be the best church we can be? (Sometimes that challenge will come from external voices, for instance as found in this Otago Daily Times editorial: www.odt.co.nz/opinion/editorial/saying-sorry-not-enough).
I have returned from the hearings to the Diocese keen to take the lead on addressing these matters including some that will involve national church decision-making. Here I mention three matters only—the full list is much longer!
First, we will continue to transform our culture so that across all ministry units, major ministries (such as Anglican Care), ministries of associated bodies (e.g. Cursillo, SERH, schools, chaplaincies) and through every layer of our Diocese (from Bishop to the person in the pew, from Standing Committee to Vestry, etc) we each understand and are committed to the best possible ministry.
Part of that means being open to engaging in generous Redress for those who have suffered abuse and to deepening our understanding of how we eradicate abuse while being passionate for ministry and mission which is healing, reconciling and life-giving through the Holy Spirit.
Second, we need to address aspects of our past which remain unsettled. One question asked of me by the Commission was whether I was confident all those who have suffered abuse in the care of the church were known to us. I am not yet confident. One commitment I made at the hearing was to pursue the possibility of formally recognising the courageous women who made disclosures of abuse in 1989. I believe we can do something about this.
Third, we need to prepare for a significant programme of education and training in what great ministry, as well as safe ministry, looks like. Likely such a programme will be part of a nationally co-ordinated effort and will take two or three years initially. The aim will be to involve people in every ministry unit in our Diocese along with associated bodies.
In the regular e-Life newsletters in the months ahead I will give further information as we know more and have dates to announce.
Finally, I encourage any readers who have experienced abuse in the care of the church to communicate about your experience.
Please speak to:
- the Royal Commission (www.abuseincare.org.nz or 0800 22 727),
- the national Registrar for our Ministry Standards Commission (email@example.com),
- David Coster our Diocesan Monitor (027 220 5765) or myself (03 348 6960) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in our shared ministry in Christ,
- Archbishop Philip Richardson’s apology www.abuseincare.org.nz/library/v/216/statement-of-archbishop-richardson-for-the-faith-based-redress-hearing
- The combined Archbishops’ apology www.abuseincare.org.nz/library/v/217/statement-of-archbishop-tamihere-archbishop-fereimi-cama-and-archbishop-richardson-the-primates
- My apology www.abuseincare.org.nz/library/v/215/statement-of-bishop-carrell-for-faith-based-redress-hearing
- National Anglican complaint process www.anglican.org.nz/Complaints