Address given by Revd Patsy Kettle

I want to explain why I’m here. My name is Revd Patsy Kettle. I have been in church ministry from 1968 and started in the Chichester diocese. It was nearly 20 years before I was allowed to be a deacon and then I was ordained a priest in 94 and I’m now currently in the Guildford diocese and I have retired a couple of times because of an interregnum in my village.
Again, the main reason I am here is because I have known Richard’s mother and therefore Richard for nearly 50 years and I have stayed in contact with them.
And I can’t remember now how long ago it was that Richard started to talk to me about George Bell. I might have heard his name but if I had, it was very peripheral. But what I detected in Richard, who is a political animal, in the right sense, was that he was sniffing out an injustice. He wasn’t sure of his facts, because he hadn’t looked into it sufficiently, but he sensed that something was amiss. Why should the school not be named after him any more? Why should the streets be changed and so on, and it was really a bit of a hunch.
Then Peter Hitchens picked it up which was I think Godsend. Because he had a journalistic flair and a wide respected readership. And word got out. And then others of you, eminent people, joined and then there was Lord Carlile himself, so the whole thing from a very, if I can put it like this, humble beginning, someone who didn’t know a lot has actually become a very important force and it has already been said here, but we should all be really grateful to Richard that he sniffed it out in the beginning.
So that is why I’m here. And being an Anglican priest, obviously I am concerned with my church that I love.
Now, the whole safeguarding thing, as the Bishop has indicated has so changed everything and a couple of times my present incumbent has called me aside and said “Patsy, you can’t do that now, “Patsy, every visit you make you have to document. “Oh but I only..”. It has to be documented.”
And I was saying at lunchtime, I was officer of the clergy widows but because of data protection I am not allowed to know of any widows who are coming into the diocese. How can I welcome them? How can I send Christmas cards to them? How can I visit them? I don’t know how many letters I wrote to the pensions board† can’t do anything about it. It is my own Bishop.
Where retired clergy are concerned on their own or not, there is more of a grapevine, but to follow the widows is impossible and the jobs gone and that applies to other diocese as well. Data protection is stopping pastoral care. Now where sexual abuse is concerned, in my younger days, 30, 40 years ago, when one heard, well one didn’t actually hear of this sort of thing that we hear about today, but on the rare occasions you did, my understanding then was if this was a man of God (and it was always men), if this was a man of God who was truly repenting, then you could take that seriously, you could believe him, maybe he should change jobs, but I had no understanding of the perversity and the power and the deviousness that addictions lead to.
I thought the Christian repentance and a new person in Christ and grace could mean a change in a person. So if today I was told of someone who was guilty of and of course more recently since of some sort of sexual abuse, I would treat it so differently from the way I would have done then, when I had, not a young man, now a man in his 50s, come to talk to me about John Smyth, I said to him, “I have got to take this to our safeguarding officer of the diocese. Either stop talking or can I do that?”
I wouldn’t have known that 10 years ago. So the way it is dealt with is different and those priests who in bygone days didn’t deal with it in a way that now would seem to be right, they weren’t doing anything that was perverse, they weren’t trying to distort justice in any way. They were doing what they were doing in the light of the knowledge they had then with a certain innocence, a certain, they were naive, and therefore they let things go which now they wouldn’t, but they didn’t know. We were all children of our time.
Now, I think for me, the biggest thing about the George Bell case is what it is doing to present clergy. George Bell died some years ago. To many people out there they haven’t heard of him. If something is said about him, oh, okay, so what? But today there are clergy who are being accused of some sort of abuse and they have no redress for it because of the attitude of the church currently.
I actually feel sorry for Justin Welby, I like him and I respect him and I think for him to have this barrage of what clergy in the past have done must have been absolutely horrific. He must have had so many sleepless nights when he thought of what his church had done to innocent people and covered it up. And he was going to put that right, he was going to show that everything he got he was going put a different emphasis. We as a church, this matters! We will not cover up clergy any more! In the midst of all that, the George Bell pops up, someone called Carol says: This man did this to me. To be true to what was in his head then, this is how I see it, oh, right, let’s put it right for her. We didn’t put it right for ‘n’ others, let’s put it right for her. Quick, far too quick. Wrong, for acting on the spur of the moment because of the climate of opinion. And then of course it has come up to bite him and Lord Carlile said what he said, and I sincerely hope and pray that Justin Welby will actually have the grace to say there is no cloud, because we know all of us know now that where there is a case of abuse it is never one, and in the early days of Richard when we had our chats about everything, I said I am going along with your theory because publicity is getting out a little bit and no one has come out of the woodwork. If there is abuse there is not just one, which is why Cliff Richard has been able to say: I am innocent; which is why Jimmy Saville was not innocent.
No one has come out, although there was the opportunity, they tried to say there is something. So, because of the present climate, a clergyman accused doesn’t know where to go, he goes to his Bishop. The Bishop, well the climate of opinion is we believe the called victim, and I agree with the report and Carlile, ‘victim’ is the wrong word, it is claimant.
And therefore, oh well, I don’t know if I can help you because actually you may be guilty. All those were guilty and they covered it up, I don’t know that I can cover you up, I will go to my safeguarding officer. Oh, not sure about this. And there are people out there who are without a ministry, without a salary because of being falsely accused. And there is no one at the moment to take it up.
Now this is what concerns me, and our friend here is a key person. The reason I think you are a key person is because you are not within the Church, but you are hearing from people who are within the Church who are saying this is happening to me. And I think for you to somehow get this out there, so that our Bishops hear it, because the pendulum has swung so far, those that we were covering wrongly we are now not covering when they should be. And that is where I think this whole George Bell is absolutely key. If this can be put right, then it gives the opportunity for our Bishop, safeguarding officers and the like to put it right for those that come to them. At the moment they are floundering, they don’t know how to deal with it, because there is no clear lead. It has gone the wrong way, well it has gone too far. That is the main thing I wanted to say.
(applause)