Steven Croft Bishop of Oxford Archbishop Cranmer blog
Civil Liberties

Bishop of Oxford instructs lawyers to censor Archbishop Cranmer

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev’d Steven Croft, has instructed lawyers to demand that a post on this site be taken down. Never in its 16-year history has the Archbishop Cranmer blog received such a censorious order. That it should come from lawyers acting on behalf of the Bishop of Oxford is disappointing, to say the least: ‘Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?‘ (1Cor 6:1).

They write:

 

 

 

 

I am a solicitor representing the Bishop of Oxford.

I refer to your blog post entitled Bishop of Oxford “colluded with the forces of darkness”, and is himself a safeguarding risk published by you at https://archbishopcranmer.com/bishop-of-oxford-colluded-forces-of-darkness-safeguarding-risk/

•   There are no outstanding ‘unresolved safeguarding cases’ relating to Bishop Steven Croft, and to suggest that any such cases remain open or to infer that he has been guilty of any misconduct is deliberately misleading and defamatory.

•   The suggestion that the Bishop of Oxford has colluded with ‘the forces of darkness’ is wholly inappropriate and is damaging to the Bishop given his calling and office. The Bishop has simply responded to safeguarding allegations about Dr Percy made by third parties, as he was required to do under the Church of England’s safeguarding policies.

•   Dr Percy was never barred by the Bishop (or the Church) from attending the Cathedral. Dr Percy himself agreed as a part of his settlement agreement with Christ Church that he would not enter the Cathedral. The Bishop was not a party to that agreement, which was between Dr Percy and Christ Church.

•   You are the ‘publisher’ of the blog, and must take responsibility for all of the comments added to it. In failing to moderate these properly, you leave yourself open to legal action for defamation.

There is no objection to fair comment on the history of this difficult and sad matter, as long as the comment is honest and accurate. However it is clear that many of your contributors are merely engaging in idle and ill-informed speculation which is unhelpful and misleading.

You will please take down from your blog post today the misleading and defamatory references to Bishop Croft.

Yours etc

XXXXXXX
For and on behalf of Birketts LLP | birketts.co.uk

 

The solicitor’s name has been removed in order that he doesn’t become a target of any unpleasantness. If you comment in the thread below, please do not say anything which may be considered inaccurate, misleading, or defamatory (or, indeed, idle and ill-informed speculation).

It is curious that the Bishop of Oxford has decided to target the Archbishop Cranmer blog, which publishes nothing but honest opinion in the public interest, often drawn from material which is already in the public domain. It is concerned with matters of truth and transparency; of trust and integrity. It has always welcomed open, honest debate, and its comment threads are a well-known beacon of free speech in an increasingly censorious world of approved opinion and ‘right’ theology. The blog has a well-documented history of exposing problems (and suggesting solutions) within the Church of England which has proved beneficial to many (including a few bishops who have said so over the years, if not publicly).

It is even more curious that the Bishop of Oxford is demanding censorship of a blog post which is merely reporting what may be read elsewhere. The lawyer writes:

The suggestion that the Bishop of Oxford has colluded with ‘the forces of darkness’ is wholly inappropriate and is damaging to the Bishop given his calling and office.

It is indeed a damaging allegation against the Bishop (given his calling and office), but the words are those of the former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Rev’d Prof. Martyn Percy, as reported in the Times Magazine. Yet (at the time of writing) Times lawyers have not received a litigious demand to remove the “wholly inappropriate” phrase from Andrew Billen’s article.

Why would the Bishop of Oxford object so vehemently to the humble blogged report of such a damaging comment, but not to the mainstream source? Why should the use of a biblical metaphor be censored?

Martyn Percy feels so besieged by these “forces of darkness” that he has today announced via Prospect Magazine that he is leaving the Church of England, after 30 years of faithful service and ministry. And he makes it clear that he is doing so for his own safety:

…In order to support this seventh “safeguarding allegation,” an extraordinary 19-page “Safeguarding Risk Assessment” was compiled against me which suggested that I somehow posed a sexual threat to children and adults, yet without any detailed substantiating evidence. It would appear that some of the bishop of Oxford’s own staff were involved in approving this document, and the bishop himself seems to have taken against me, even though he must have known that some of the same individuals were behind the previous allegations dismissed by Smith.

Once the police and judge Sarah Asplin (presiding over the preliminary “Clergy Discipline Measure”) determined that there was no serious case to answer regarding my alleged conduct, let alone sexual harassment or assault, the bishop seemed reluctant to accept this. He pointedly told me that he “did not read the police and Judge Asplin’s judgment as others did,” suggesting that the complainant’s case had not been heard.

All this contributed to my decision to leave. I had discovered that the Church of England lacks transparency, accountability, external scrutiny and, as far as I am concerned, integrity.

…My bishop decided that it was too risky to give me a licence. He would not even allow me to preach at my own farewell service—or perhaps ever again. He has no accountability, save only to God. In the end, taking leave of the Church of England was the only safe and sensible option remaining.

After the purgatory that Martyn Percy has endured over the past four years, why is the Bishop of Oxford determined to keep his name under a “significant cloud” by withholding his permission to officiate? Why compound the chronic injustice by denying him the necessary licence to preach so he can at least earn a living? Doesn’t losing one of the Church of England’s foremost public theologians represent quite a considerable catastrophic failure on the part of the Bishop of Oxford – of pastoral care, if not in the administration of justice?

The lawyer also asserts:

There are no outstanding ‘unresolved safeguarding cases’ relating to Bishop Steven Croft, and to suggest that any such cases remain open or to infer that he has been guilty of any misconduct is deliberately misleading and defamatory.

Who is inferring what? There was a clear link to the website of IICSA (the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) and a direct quotation from Matthew Ineson, a survivor of abuse by a member of the clergy. The allegation of ‘unresolved safeguarding cases’ was made by him, and merely reported on this blog (not for the first time). But why did the lawyer place these words in inverted commas, as though a quotation, when the phrase appears nowhere in the blog post or the testimony? Why would the Bishop of Oxford object so vehemently to the humble blogged report of this damaging comment, but not to the primary source, which was Matt Ineson’s honest opinion expressed in a quasi-judicial hearing?

A lawyer who specialises in abuse and human rights corroborates:

Bishop of Oxford safeguarding risk Richard Scorer

Does the Bishop of Oxford intend to instruct his lawyers against Richard Scorer, demanding that he take down his tweet? Or is the target simply this lowly blog?

The Bishop’s lawyer then demands that all comments on the Archbishop Cranmer blog be moderated, which is fair but not remotely practicable. The commenting policy is clearly explained: it is simply not possible to pre-approve hundreds of comments every day before they are published. Anything reported as a serious violation is, of course, considered around midnight, but speculation in a comment thread about who agreed to do what or who banned whom from entering the Cathedral is not so substantially ‘misleading’ as to merit intervention and censorship. It is simply a discussion, however “idle and ill-informed” it may be considered by an industrious and enlightened lawyer.

Perhaps readers and communicants might like to consider this final demand:

You will please take down from your blog post today the misleading and defamatory references to Bishop Croft.

Although the lawyer says ‘please’, it isn’t at all an adequate justification for censoring a blog post, which would be a 16-year first. After much reflection (perhaps rather too much into the early hours of this morning), it is not at all clear that allegations of ‘misleading’ and ‘defamatory’ have been adequately substantiated. Perhaps if the Bishop had phoned so that any misunderstanding may be resolved; or if the Bishop’s lawyer had written ‘Will you please…?’ or ‘Would you please consider…?’, it might have been better received. But ‘You will please…’ is slightly passive-aggressive, almost designed to intimidate, if not bully into compliance.

This calls for corporate wisdom and discernment. Carter Ruck are no longer affordable.

A reminder: if you comment in the thread below, please do not say anything which may be interpreted by lawyers as “merely engaging in idle and ill-informed speculation which is unhelpful and misleading”.