Way back in March 2020 just as we were descending into our first experience of lockdown Kirsty Johnson wrote this article in the NZ Herald recounting the extraordinary achievement of the woman we now know to be Jacinda Thompson. Ms Thompson did not give up on seeking justice for herself and change for those who would come after her as a victim of dreadful abuse. Abuse from her parish priest (as recently as 2004-5) but also abuse from the institution of the church in the way it tried to avoid accountability for years and years.
In March 2020 most of the clergy were figuring out how to get our congregations online and so I didn’t hear any discussion of this very important story.
In December (as we were all getting ready for Christmas) Ms Thompson bravely told her story to the Royal Commission on Abuse.
I watched all the evidence livestreamed by the Commission concerning the Anglican Church. Be warned if you choose to watch it, it is harrowing. But watch it we should. We in the church need to know and learn from these stories.
When I first tuned into the Commission I was expecting to hear stories of Anglican institutions for children and to hear about Dilworth School, the news of the terrible abuse there having just broken in the media. I had not realized the brief of the Commission was wide enough to include stories from regular parish life; nor that some of the stories would be so recent.
Our church is continuing to fail parishioners and others in its care.
Last week our church leaders appeared before the Commission to offer apologies and evidence of change and redress. Again I listened and watched with interest.
They had a hard time of it as they honestly answered questions which laid bare all or our failings as a church over decades. To their credit they did not try to defend or excuse anything. As Archbishop Philip Richardson said at one point “We haven’t attended, as our gospel would require us to do, to the most vulnerable.” You can watch their evidence here
In December they had issued this letter which rightly commits the church to preventing abuse and offering redress when it occurs.
And for the Commission on Monday they issued this formal apology
In 2020 our General Synod (apparently) made major changes to our processes in the part of our canons (rules) known as Title D. These changes sound excellent, including the establishment of a Ministry Standards Office. This was described in some detail at the hearing.
But as yet those of us clergy at the coal face who are covered by and accountable to these new rules have not been given any information about them.
What do the changes mean for us, who is on the Commission, how will it operate? We do not know. Let’s hope we hear soon.
In the meantime I hope the distractions of lockdowns and Lent and Easter will not take us away from seeing the Good Friday moments happening in our churches right under our noses.
Watch or read the Royal Commission evidence and the church’s response. Be aware of what is going on around us. Hold the church and its processes to account. And let’s support the work of the Survivors network whose voices are finally being heard.