It has been known for some time that Ecclesiastical Insurance (EIG), the favoured insurance company of the Church of England, has a tendency toward callousness, obstruction and indifference in their approach to the victims of historic child abuse in church and church school contexts, but the revelation that they have sought to impede a bishop in his pastoral ministry is really quite shocking.
The Church Times has the story (including a response from Ecclesiastical), and the evidence is damning:
The survivor, Julian Whiting, alleges that he was abused by a pupil and two housemasters of the Blue Coat School in Birmingham. Neither adult was a cleric. Several years later, in 2012, Mr Whiting approached the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who is President of Blue Coat, for pastoral help.
In a letter to a redacted recipient dated April 2013, the casualty-claims employee for EIG in Manchester states: “I feel we may need you to help persuade the Bishop of Birmingham to take a less active role in his pastoral care of a claimant which we feel could have a knock-on effect to the current outstanding abuse claims we have for a Julian Whiting.”
He then says of the Blue Coat allegation: “Importantly, he [Julian Whiting] has never pursued a formal claim. There has been a lot of email traffic, but the position is that until the claimant properly formulates the claim, we have rightly shown little interest in the matter.
“What has recently complicated matters is that the Bishop of Birmingham in his role as Blue Coats [sic] School President has met with Whiting to hear his story. Whilst I fully understand the position taken that there is a pastoral care aspect here, my concern is that a continued dialogue with the Bishop and Whiting could prejudice the positioning we have taken in respect of the two claims.” (Mr Whiting was also pursuing a claim that, in 2009, he was groped by a church employee at a social event at Lambeth Palace.)
A further letter from the insurers makes the intention to impede pastoral care rather more explicit: “[name redacted] is our prime company contact with the Church of England and my intention is to see if he can help concerning restricting further the recent interventions of the Bishop of Birmingham.”
So the Church of England’s insurance company, charged necessarily with limiting the church’s liability (and so maximising EIG’s profits), goes as far as restricting episcopal ‘interventions’, which some might term pastoral care.
What broken and hurting victim of child abuse, seeking healing and compassion for the cure of his soul, is going to entertain for a moment that God’s instrument for healing and compassion is first going to have to check with the church’s insurers before they may pray? What bishop, whose vocation it is to guide, heal, reconcile and sustain, is going to pause before embarking on the practical application of pastoral theology, lest he or she may inadvertently implicate the church in an abuse scandal and so negligently leave the institution vulnerable to financial liability?
The Bishop of Birmingham clearly did not do that, but the inference from this EIG correspondence is that he should have antennae for it. And having been once made aware of the need to limit his ‘interventions’ (which some might term ‘pastoral care’) in cases of child abuse, is Bishop David Urquhart not then conflicted in his mind before doing the work of his heart, which is to ensure the wellbeing and flourishing of the flock in his care?
What is the point of studying pastoral theology if the application of that theology to the person is impeded by an insurance company? When one sheep goes astray, Jesus didn’t exhort the shepherd to report the matter to his insurers, or to be mindful of his negligence in leaving the 99 to go in search of the one: the Good Shepherd was concerned with doing pastoral care, not with contemplating liabilities or reflecting on theoretical possibilities.
In the theoretical study of pastoral care there is a wealth of scholarship admitting many different definitions and understandings. But none of them talks of the art of counselling to ensure there is no financial liability to the Church. None of them talks cynically of the need to turn a profit. Yes, there is church polity and administration to consider, but pastoral care (which some might term ‘love’) must be concerned with real faithful practicality before theoretical financial liability.
The problem with this revealed EIG approach is that a part of the Church community has not only become a stumbling block to victims of abuse, but a hurdle to healing and wholeness. Pastoral theology and pastoral care are where religious belief, tradition and practice meet real-life experiences, questions and actions. It is supposed to be mutually enriching, intellectually critical and practically transforming. If Ecclesiastical Insurance don’t understand that this ministry comes before Mammon (the two are not ‘in tension’, except in the minds of shareholders), they might consider how ‘secular’ their approach sounds to those in the Church community, and how callous it might appear to those without.