Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG) is the Church of England’s insurance company. It was founded in 1887 to insure the Anglican church (…against acts of God?). Mark Hews, CEO, says: “We protect the irreplaceable – not just the bricks and mortar, objects or organisations but what they represent to the people that love and depend on them.” It must be quite a lucrative account – certainly one that they wouldn’t want to lose, for then, of course, the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group would simply become the Insurance Group: you can’t be very ecclesiastical if you don’t have a church.
Three bishops (Durham, Lambeth and Buckingham) have excoriated EIG over the way they have handled issues of historic child abuse. The Archbishop of Canterbury has done the personal apologising to Gilo, a survivor of child sexual abuse at the hands of a Church of England priest. Gilo wrote 17 letters (seventeen) in the hope of seeing a little justice, or some acknowledgement of the suffering he endured. He received a response to just one – from a terse correspondence clerk – offering prayer.
That’s not really adequate when you’ve been systematically groomed, plied with alcohol, striped naked and thrown face down on a bed by a minister of Christ, and then ignored by every priest and bishop you ever reported the matter to (except one, who kissed and cuddled rather a lot).
Gilo was eventually bunged £35,000 and told to go away.
He carried on knocking, until the door was finally opened.
And today he takes a giant step toward greater justice, for not only has Archbishop Justin Welby apologised profusely to Gilo for the church’s systematic failings (he must read this blog) , but three Bishops have condemned the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group for its failings, deception, and its heartless ‘horse trading’ with survivors. The letter is published here in its entirety:
This is prosaic, but important. It signals a change, but it may be more than that. This is a very public acknowledgment of the immense emotional and physical cost of child sexual abuse, which is then grievously aggravated by the church’s chronic failure. It is one thing to insure the Church of England against damage and loss, but quite another to ensure the Church of England offers justice, healing and reconciliation. The Bishops further state: “We are acutely embarrassed that it has been survivors who have over many years, decades in some situations, had to find the courage to drive forward change. We hope we can now match that with our own determination and bring our own necessary courage to the task. If healing and reconciliation is to happen we must for the sake of justice learn from the tenacity of survivors. And we as two bishops commit ourselves afresh personally to changing our culture and our structure.”
The thing is…
Bishops Butler, Thornton and Wilson are basically writing to fellow members of the clergy who are or have been officers of Ecclesiastical Insurance. The Very Rev’d Christine Wilson, Dean of Lincoln is presently on the Board of EIG. Former officers (with their former offices) include the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines (Bishop of Croydon), the Very Rev’d Nicholas Coulton (Sub-Dean of Christ Church, Oxford), the Very Rev’d Thomas Evans (Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral), the Ven. Reginald Harris (Archdeacon of Manchester), the Rt Rev’d Dr Nigel Peyton (Bishop of Brechin), the Very Rev’d John Simpson (Dean of Canterbury Cathedral), and the Rt Rev’d Donald Snelgrove (Bishop of Hull).
With Anglican clergy supervising and controlling EIG (which also insures a lot of church schools where there have been incidences of child abuse), there’s clearly a conflict of interest. Indeed, ‘horse trading’ is inevitable if one group of clergy seeks to ensure minimal settlements to protect the interests of Ecclesiastical Insurance, and another group of clergy seeks generous settlements and maximum justice for the victims of abuse in order to protect the reputation of the Church of England.
Aren’t low compensation settlements simply a logical economic consequence of seeking to maximise profit so you can swell the coffers of the Church Commissioners?
Ecclesiastical Insurance have released their response to the three Bishops. It is an artful and comprehensive rebuttal, but it basically tells the Bishops they’re completely wrong: