When the gamekeepers become the poachers
The Church of England is rightly seen by the general public as the Guardian of our Nation’s Moral Standards. Whether such guardianship has EVER been fully claimed or willingly assumed by the Church or even deserved is really immaterial. But Society rightly or wrongly will always judge the Church and its members by their actions and by whether they “practice what they preach”. Any failure, great or small, by the Church to meet the requisite standards has, unfortunately, a disproportionately large and negative effect on its reputation
Those involved in running small parish churches, who are seeking to boost the numbers of their dwindling congregations, are having to do so bearing the additional burden of the present highly negative publicity being given to the disclosure of a number of immoral and evil crimes committed by members of the clergy since the end of WW2. The serious nature of these crimes and the Church’s failure to deal correctly with the associated complaints by protecting known guilty persons by the use of “cover-ups” to avoid the reputation of the Church being further damaged is a matter of lasting shame both for the Church of England and the Catholic Church. Some of those guilty of such crimes were protected by the Church whilst, in sharp contrast, certain other - by then deceased - members of the Church had their reputations shredded by being posthumously and probably unjustly vilified for crimes they almost certainly did not commit. Such self-destructive behaviour has not been limited to the Clergy either & has included in recent years crimes committed by lay holders of voluntary positions of trust such as Churchwardens and PCC Members. One suspects that there may be inevitably and unfortunately even more of the same kind of damaging revelations to come on this toxic issue in the future.
The fact is that ordained priests are human beings with weaknesses, like the rest of us, and thus finding that criminal or immoral acts have been sometimes perpetrated by Clergy, whilst being shocking, should perhaps not in itself be completely surprising. More shocking though, has been the cover-up of such matters by senior figures in the Church. That such people still claim a special relationship with God is something only worthy of disbelief, though precisely what God does or does not permit in terms of anyone’s activities may perhaps not always be absolutely clear to everybody. As a result, the Church can no longer make convincing claims to having any special moral rectitude and because of the widespread adverse publicity that goes with such revelations the Church’s moral integrity is being quite rightly questioned by all intelligent people. The Church’s activities are supposed to be all about caring for people’s souls and propagating the message that Jesus and God both love us and that we should in turn love them and care about each other and follow God’s commandments.
In parallel to the above, the stark reality of criminal online “grooming”, exploiting and abusing of young and vulnerable people has also come to light in recent times in many parts of the country. Surprising little has been heard about the Established Church as the moral guardian stepping-in to help these vulnerable young people and to prevent such things occurring in so many British communities. We may indeed count ourselves lucky that we haven’t yet don’t come across such things in the cosily-named “Shakespeare’s Country” of rural Warwickshire, although drug-gang-related stabbings are now apparently erupting in nearby once “respectable” towns like Banbury and Leamington. We may dismiss such things as being irrelevant to our bucolic rural existences, but such terrible events might well spill over into our villages in exactly the same way that they have spread out from our Big Cities unless we take good care of our communities.
This highly negative background does not make it easy for congregations to “Make New Disciples”, which is one of the major requirements to secure the future of all churches at the parochial level. Many of the countless church-related good works can be so easily set at nought by these damaging revelations referred to above. If our churches cannot enjoy or should lose the basic goodwill of most members of their community and that includes non-churchgoers that it still has then they and we will be mortally wounded. The fact that such wounds are occasionally self-inflicted only rubs salt into those wounds. But despite all of the above we soldier on and do what we can!