Opening comment from Ian Elliott

I welcome the release of this blog and hope that it will stimulate comment and discussion on these very serious issues that face the Church of England. There is a great and pressing need for change and it is already overdue.

I had the opportunity to review some of the practice of the Church through a review that I undertook of one survivor’s case, and presented my findings a year ago. Those findings are still relevant today.

Over the weekend I read with interest and some degree of sadness, the report and recommendations completed by Dame Moira Gibb and her team. Her analysis is revealing but I feel that the recommendations fail to address one critical problem that I had identified, and that is monitoring a deviant or incompetent bishop who seeks to hide their bad practice. I recommended that there needed to be critical, independent oversight and scrutiny of the safeguarding work undertaken in dioceses. Sadly, I note that this recommendation is not repeated by Dame Moira. History will show which approach is correct.

Ian Elliott,  Safeguarding Consultant

CofE & Insurance affiliation

This first article, about deep-rooted affiliation between the Church of England and its insurer, will hopefully provide a better understanding of CofE response to CSA survivors.

Some background history. Ecclesiastical Insurance was created in 1887 by the CofE to provide for its own insurance needs. Self-insurance was common among religious institutions at that time. The Methodists were first, creating their own insurance company 15 years earlier. It made economic sense – money went out from individual churches and returned to the central coffers to support the work of the Church.

For nearly a century Ecclesiastical was fully owned by the CofE. Then in 1972 the Church created Allchurches Trust Ltd to take on legal ownership of the insurer. The signatories of incorporation included both Archbishops at the time, Michael Ramsey (Canterbury) and Donald Coggan (York), plus the Dean of St Pauls, Archdeacon of Lincoln, and Secretary General of Synod and other CofE figures. Both archbishops used Latin place names (Cantuar and Ebor), a legal entitlement permitted to bishops. They were clearly acting as senior officers of the Church, and the Trust was perceived as a CofE body. The Trust has recently wanted to distant itself from this on Wikipedia.

In the decades that followed, Ecclesiastical gradually acquired several other companies to become Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (or EIG). They own Ansvar, one of the main insurer of UK charities, and Lycetts, a major equine and farm/estate insurance provider, amongst others. The group involves several layers of ownership with some subsidiary companies owning smaller subsidiaries. But the whole group is owned by Allchurches Trust Ltd (or ATL), and run as a charitable enterprise. Profit from EIG goes to ATL which distributes grants to churches & charities around UK and elsewhere.

Ecclesiastical also created an investment management firm in 1987 to provide investment products for clergy and dioceses. Originally called Ecclesiastical Investment, it was rebranded in 2015 to EdenTree as ‘Ecclesiastical’ was considered off-putting for an investment house seeking to widen its client base beyond the church. EdenTree is also fully owned by ATL and gives profit to the motherlode.

This short film celebrating EIG’s recent £50million donation to ATL within 3 years, shows the various components. And demonstrates the close affiliation to the Church of England.

Emphasis is on the many small charities the insurer supports, and it seems on the surface a ‘virtuous circle’ that Sir Philip Mawer (ATL Chair) describes. Indeed many small charities benefit from this enterprise.  But there is something missing from the picture….

What EIG and its owner ATL are less keen to draw attention to in this film, is the funding priority to support CofE Dioceses through ‘block grants’. Their annual reports and Companies House filing history give a clearer picture. A quick exploration shows that ATL gives between 80 and 90% annually to CofE and Anglican churches. In 2014 the total shared between CofE dioceses, cathedrals, churches and other Anglican churches was 92% of that year’s grants. So as a circle, it’s not hugely different from the good old days when Ecclesiastical was outright owned by the Church and ran as a financial loop.

To recap, a simple diagram of the flow of money might look like this: Follow the Money

Senior Clerics on EIG board of directors

The Church, EIG and ATL have all claimed the “church is simply another client” and that the insurer is entirely separate from the CofE. Whilst this may be legally accurate, Companies House records show high-ranking clerics on the board of directors of EIG across the past four decades. Archdeacons, deans and even bishops have been involved in running the insurer. Sir Philip Mawer, former Secretary General of the CofE Synod, has been on the board twice. The first time during his years serving as the church’s most senior civil servant.

It may be coincidental, but during decades of cover-up and suppression of abuse stories, the board has had three and even four senior church figures at a time. For example in 1993 – an archdeacon, two cathedral deans and a bishop – over a third of the board. Currently there is only one senior cleric – but until recently there had always been three or four. That’s considerable institutional heft and influence. It’s not hard to imagine the deference, embedded loyalty, patronage, and shared mutual interest that would have accompanied so much senior church presence. A bishop in any boardroom is likely to receive most deference in the room. A board made up of a third senior clerics cannot in any way be characterized as a “church is simply another client” situation – as one of the bishops and EIG and ATL have tried to claim in emails. The Church needs to be a good deal more honest about this corporate affiliation and the flow of money.

Clerics on EIG

This powerful nexus throws up many ethical questions. I have tried to engage both church and insurer with a range of conflict-of-interest questions for nearly two years. But there has been little will to address them. The Church’s senior caseworker treated the questions with hostility and boredom during a mismanaged meeting last year. When raised with the National Advisor and current Lead Safeguarding Bishop, the questions have drawn a blank. When raised with two trustees of ATL last year after the Elliott Review, an irritated retort from one senior cleric was “We don’t own our own insurer”. This senior cleric sits on the board of Trustees that owns the insurer, and also on the Archbishops’ Independent Safeguarding Panel. If that’s not a conflict of interest – I don’t know what is. It’s not surprising that many survivors feel the CofE National Safeguarding is in place to safeguard institution and hierarchy! And EIG’s compliance director has treated me in phone conversations as an idiot who knows nothing about the world of corporate affairs. Most people don’t need a degree in ‘corporate’ to recognise moral affiliation … and the moral responsibility that should accompany it.

The two may be legally separate. But in terms that the general public would understand, the church and its insurer are morally and institutionally joined at the hip. These two corporate cultures have clearly shaped and reinforced each other over the decades. It’s a strange picture when put alongside the silencing and cover ups so many survivors have experienced. Would it be likely that senior figures in Ecclesiastical have been club-able with other bishops who’ve covered up abuse in the past? If any of these figures were approached by survivors in their dioceses – would they have informed them as part of their pastoral response of the potential conflict of interest? Have these senior clerics been advised to quietly encourage the structure to turn a blind institutional eye? Cover-up seems almost to have been a requirement for the job in past bishops! And ultimately, to whom have these clerics owed alleigance? The Church and its stated pastoral aims, or does fiduciary responsibility to the insurer claim priority? These are just some of the questions raised by this interwoven nexus. But cognitive dissonance and denial in CofE culture prevents senior figures or a too deferential Safeguarding from engaging with them.

Together with a whistle-blown House of Bishops document published last year, the image is of a church that pretends a ‘robust’ response whilst consciously operating a mirage. Instructions from the CofE’s legal head advised diocesan bishops to use “careful drafting” to “effectively apologise” without enabling victims to get compensation. The Church and insurer have in effect ran an ‘affiliated corporate hand-wash’ with both parts washing hands of responsibility for actions of the other. They maintain the pretence of seperation. The Church wants to quietly have its cake and eat it.

“Because of the possibility that statements of regret might have the unintended effect of accepting legal liability for the abuse it is important that they are approved in advance by lawyers, as well as by diocesan communications officers (and, if relevant, insurers).

“With careful drafting it should be possible to express them in terms which effectively apologise for what has happened whilst at the same time avoiding any concession of legal liability for it.”

excerpts from House of Bishops document

Not one bishop commented on this document when it emerged last year. A nameless ‘spokesperson’ issued a three line defence. This corporate strategy bats any further questions away. Yet the policy and culture hidden in that document since 2007, involved all of the senior layer, and ran counter to the Church’s stated aims in Responding Well. This was a moment when bishops might have taken ownership of the deceptive mirage played out on survivors. Instead the article came out to a backdrop of silence as bishops ran to ground. Survivors see again and again this running to ground by the Church which only seems to respond when embarrassment is sufficiently acute. One wonders whether any of the bishops stood up, when the advice was issued by their senior lawyer, to say “Not my role to be an adjunct to an insurer – my role is to be a pastor and help heal survivors, not hoodwink them.” Perhaps some did say something like this privately. They didn’t have enough moxie to speak out.

The document matched the blanking and silencing of major questions by senior bishops leading up to the Elliott Review. Ultimately 17 letters to Archbishop Welby were ignored on the advice of the insurers and laywers acting on their behalf. Finally after an 18 month wait and colossal effort, two bishops – Bishop of Durham and Bishop of Truro – are due to come to a mediation to account for the blanking of these questions and give personal apology. To my mind it is the insurers who have most dug these bishops into such an uncomfortable and embarrassing position. That and a culture of denial and fear in the senior layer. And poor theology.

MACSAS tell me many survivors could match this document to their own experience of the Church’s response. It ticks too many boxes. Perhaps in time when attitudes change across the top, mediation will be a way forward where bishops have responded to survivors dishonourably or without healing in mind. Many current senior figures face difficulty, with a significant portion of senior bishops having faced recent CDM’s (Clergy Disciplinary Measure proceeedings) including Archbishop Sentamu, Bishop Paul Butler, Bishop Steven Croft, Bishop Martyn Snow and others. Eventually the Church will put its hands up properly and start being transparent.

Headmasters on EIG board of directors

In addition to senior CofE figures, three headmasters have also been on the board of the insurer. Ecclesiastical’s website states that it insures over 40% of independent schools. These three headmasters, across more than three decades, are listed on Companies House as having been directors (governors) of other prep schools in addition to headship of their own schools. More than half these have had abuse cases and media reports. One example is Caldicott. All three headmasters had governance of this school at different times – a school with a complex abuse history spanning decades and centred around its own headmaster. But many of the other schools too have been subject of abuse allegations:

Abingdon, Ashdown, Ashfold, Cothill Trust, Loretto, Millfield, Mount House, Radley College, Repton, Stoke Brunswick, Summerfields, Wellington College

Does the presence of headmasters, presumably representing the interest of all these schools, on EIG raise similar ethical questions? Have survivors from these schools been informed that heads/governors of their schools were part of the insurer possibly handling claims? Those I’ve asked had no idea and were shocked to discover these potential conflicts of interest. One Caldicott survivor told me that one of these had praised Peter Wright as the “finest prep school headmaster of his generation” at Wright’s retirement speechday. There’s no grounds for suspecting any of the three had prior idea that Wright had been subject of rumours from the late 1960’s onwards and across the decades. But these links between the worlds of private school, church and insurer are bound to raise questions for survivors. Has EIG insured all these schools? I asked a few. They were reluctant to say.

EIG headmasters

“Virtuous Circle”?

The CofE is making exponentially rising amounts of money from one of the UK’s major insurance businesses. Some dioceses encourage parishes to regard Ecclesiastical as the ‘official insurer’ of the diocese and in effect the only go-to. This is the case in my own diocese. There are currently only two insurance companies for CofE churches to choose from – Ecclesiastical and Trinitas – but Ecclesiastical insures the vast majority. About 95%. This effective monopoly clearly benefits dioceses, by a far mile the major beneficiary of the charitable enterprise. It’s entirely up to the Church of England how it wants to manage part of its corporate affairs. But if that involves a contaminated structure in which survivors are being further harmed – then it needs bringing into daylight.

This contaminated response is mirrored elsewhere. Many CofE survivors have been harmed by the Church’s affiliated hand-wash and toxic fusion of pastoral and legal games. The CofE needs to sort out its broken culture, acknowledge the embedded conflict of interest and potential corruption in this nexus. They need to recognise the need for urgent structural change. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation could best be celebrated by having another.

The ‘circle’ will only really recover virtue in the eyes of survivors when the Church creates an authentic redress system. One that is fair, dignified, transparent, and above all focused on healing – to replace the current adversarial rollercoaster the CofE relies on. If the Church wanted, it could almost overnight begin to remove the toxic barriers (blanking, silencing, amnesia, denial, legal games, closing down of cases, fog & obfuscation, complicity, hand-washing, etc) that cause much additional suffering to survivors.

I’m not the first to raise some of these questions – far from it. Bishop Paul Butler and Archbishop Welby buried their heads in the sand for at least five years to repeated challenges from survivors about ‘smoke and mirrors’. When will the Church stop walking behind the crisis of itself – and give shape to a transparent and genuinely healing response to CSA survivors? Will the House of Bishops wake up at this late stage? Perhaps the next generation of bishops will be the ones who redeem the chaos of wounds and bewilderment left behind by the current senior layer.

Comment from Bishop Alan Wilson

Bishop of Buckingham invited us to include this in the press release, and we share it here

“My concern is that although the Church has made some progress with safeguarding over the past few years, there is still a long way to go if it is to become a safe place. Many survivor experiences still fall well short of the good intentions recently expressed towards survivors of John Smyth abuse. There is still no national safeguarding service with the authority to do a proper job. Over-dependence on ecclesiastical lawyers and insurers leads to defensive behaviour, selective memory, and serious pastoral inadequacy. Training is welcome, of course, but of limited usefulness if all people are being trained in is a weak and ineffective system, founded on a culture of excessive deference and secrecy. Payouts that should be the beginning of a pastoral relationship with a healing community are still too often the last word. There is still much bafflement and ignorance within the church about spiritual abuse, and even a refusal in some places to acknowledge let alone take responsibility for what are patently harmful theologies. The senior ties of the church to Ecclesiastical our insurer looks very weird through the eyes of survivors, and this is another area that calls for full disclosure and explanation. All organisations have ground to make up in this area, but I dream of a day the Church of England will stop dragging its feet, be honest, take responsibility, and become a leader in understanding and effective response to and action for those who have been damaged by contact with it.”

Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson