Sunday, 12 May 2013

David Hope faces enquiry

David Hope, the former Archbishop of York, is now facing an enquiry by John Sentamu, the current Archbishop, into the actions he took and apparently failed to take in relation to allegations which were made to him  against Robert Waddington. Waddington had been Dean of Manchester Cathedral in the 1980s. The allegations were of abuse of two boys, one in Australia in the 1950s and another of a chorister in the 1980s. The first allegation came to David Hope in 1999; the second apparently some years later. My source is a BBC News report at:

Apparently David Hope stopped Waddington from functioning as a priest but did not report him to the police. He is reported as saying that at the time there was 'no automatic legal obligation on the Church to refer allegations by adults to the police or social services'. Moreover, he considered that Waddington did not present a continuing risk in that he was seriously ill following surgery for cancer.

While we should wait for the enquiry report and not prejudge his actions, there are several points to make about this. First, I must declare an interest, in fact two: in one of his earlier positions, David Hope was the vicar of All Saints, Margaret Street, in London, where I worshipped towards the end of his time there and the beginning of mine. He seemed to me a good and holy man and he seems so to me still. The other interest is that I have spent far too much of my life drafting procedures and indeed led the work on the church's current child protection policy, the 2010 edition of Protecting All God's Children as well as writing the Diocese's Safeguarding Handbook.

So the points I am about to make I do with some feeling.

The adequacy of the child protection procedures, or indeed, of any procedures on any topic whatever, cannot be assumed. However carefully they are drafted, consulted on and revised, there will always be gaps and even errors. And when it comes down to it, it is not simply procedures nor even the following of them, which protects children or achieves other desirable ends but also the exercise of judgement: we may be confronted by a situation which the procedure writer did not anticipate or where the guidance is unhelpful. We should not depart from them unthinkingly but we should not follow them unthinkingly either.

Then there is the fact that knowledge develops. Some of us, including myself, have had to learn painful truths about the continuing pain of survivors of abuse. They are not well served by regarding allegations of abuse some time in the past as 'historic' and downplaying its significance now.

Then there is the need for justice. Waddington may have been - by the time the allegations reached David Hope - no longer in a position to abuse anyone. And he died in 2007. But there is still the issue of calling to him account for what he is said to have done. And the judgement of whether he was fit to plead or handle a prosecution is one which should surely be made in the context of the work of criminal justice.

And then there is the issue of mistakes made in good faith. This is a difficult area but we will all be able to think of situations where we made what seemed a reasonable decision but which turned out badly in the end. Are we responsible for the consequence or only for the intention? Did we simply misjudge something, or were we reckless? Did we take into account all that we should, consult whom we should and identify correctly and ignore irrelevant considerations? Hindsight is wonderful. I know myself, from conducting and reading Serious Case Reviews, that it is easy in retrospect to identify what turned out to be mistakes. But in the heat of the moment, with many other competing demands for our attention and decisions it is perhaps not so easy. So let us not rush to judgement on David Hope.

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