We would have a staff meeting once a week when I was a curate. There were four of us, my excellent Rector, a retired priest and a lay assistant. My Rector adhered to the highest possible levels of confidentiality, information about pastoral care was only ever to be shared on a need to know basis. At one meeting our lay assistant commented, “While we keep things secret, everyone in the street knows about them!”
It seemed a very offhand comment at the time, and I probably leapt to the defence of the Rector for whom I had the highest regard. There are things I have heard that I will take to the grave with me, it being no-one else’s business what I have been told or what I have learned. But I wonder sometimes if the man had a point, that sometimes bringing things out into the light of day would allow things to be resolved. It was the culture of secrecy that allowed space for for paedophiles; it was the culture of secrecy that allowed women to suffer years of domestic violence.
Sometimes the church intervened. I heard a story of one country rector, a mountain of a man who had been a keen rugby player in his younger days. Calling at a house one day, he met a woman cut and bruised from the thumping her husband had given her. He warned the husband that if it happened again the husband would be on the end of a beating. The rector called one Friday evening to find the woman had again been assaulted, her husband had gone to a bar in the village to drink with his friends. The clergyman went to the bar and a few moments later the husband was lying in the street outside. Humiliated in front of his friends and fearing further retribution, the husband is said to have refrained from violence afterwards, though the abuse undoubtedly continued in other ways.
Most times, the church kept silent about bad things going on, often it was itself responsible for evil deeds. The movement of paedophile clergy from one parish to another, allowing them a new set of victims, leaves an indelible blemish upon church history.
Maybe words are better than silence, maybe calling things as they are, even if it means saying bad things about people, is better than pretending that all is right with the world when everyone except ourselves knows that things are very wrong.