Thursday, April 26, 2007

Stick it up your mitre

Peter Halliday, a former choir master, was jailed for 30 months after today after admitting sex offences against boys in the 1980s.

The lead story on the morning's news was the Church of England's decision not to report him to the police when complaints were first made in 1990.

The BBC quotes David Wilcox, the Bishop of Chichester, who was party to the decision in the days when he was Bishop of Dorking (not a see you often hear about). He defends the Church's actions in the following terms:

"I believe that we sought to act in the best interests - not only of the Church, but of the family and of everybody concerned at that time."

"Things were very different then. I think that we make the mistake of trying to read back what we now know and how we now do things."

Behind this defence lurks the idea that child abuse is a recent discovery. This is nonsense, and I have written a book chapter (hem, hem) arguing just this point. And vicar-and-choirboy stories have been a staple of the News of the World for as long as anyone can remember.

It is particularly bizarre to argue that we did not know much about the sexual abuse of children in 1990. In those days it was something close to a national obsession. It had been put at the top of the agenda in 1986 by Esther Rantzen's ChildWatch programme and the subsequent launch of ChildLine.

This is was followed by a new Children Act in 1989. And in 1991 social workers were raiding homes in Orkney to rescue children from satanic abuse.

I started working for The Psychologist magazine in 1988. As I recall, people wrote about little else but the sexual abuse of children in those days.

It is therefore ludicrous for the Bishop to pretend that no one knew much about this sort of abuse in 1990.

Yes, concerns about child abuse can often do more harm than good.

Yes, there is something depressing about the way we can no longer conceive of an Innocent friendship between an adult and a child.

But if you have serious concerns that a child is being abused then you should report them to the police. That is true today. It was true in 1990. And it was true in 1890.


Anonymous said...

You are distorting what the bishop said. He did not say that he did not know about child abuse, he said that going to the police did not seem the best thing to do.

I notice that the victims families apparently wanted it dealt with quietly, as they did not go to the police. Adult rape victims also sometimes (often?) choose not to report the crime, preferring to get on with their lives.

I have no doubt that a huge amount of child abuse within households is kept quiet even now.

I agree we should report evidence of child abuse to the police, to prevent abusers from moving on to new victims. Although the publicity had started in 1990. I do not think people then were aware of how likely abusers were to go on to abuse again.

Even now, I think most people think of paedophiles as weird strangers and are unaware of dangers closer to home.

Anonymous said...

The idea that in 1990 the CofE didn't know it was wrong to cover up the crimes of a child abuser and do nothing to ensure that person didn't work with them again somewhere else is laughable if it wasn't such a serious matter.

I find this defence blase and somewhat arrogant.

We are talking 1990 here, not 1890 - as the original post points out.

To ponder how many other cases of abuse may have been covered up by the churches is very depressing indeed.