Tim Hazelwood: The costly price of Church mismanagement – Time for honest change
It isn’t often that a story about a priest in The Tablet ends with the contact number for the Samaritans. That is what happened in the recent (July 31st) edition. It told the sad story of Fr Alan Griffin (76) who took his own life in November 2020.
Alan was born in Dublin. He became a Church of England minister who was received into the Catholic Church and joined the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in 2012. In 2019, information about Fr Alan was passed on from the Church of England to his diocese and this led to an enquiry and his standing down from ministry.
During the following year he was never given any information as to the nature of the allegations. At the inquest into his death the Coroner, Mary Hassall, said “no complaint, no witness and no accuser” supported the allegations. The situation was made worse by the safeguarding team in Westminster diocese who she claimed, “did not show sufficient professional scrutiny”. Martin Sewell, a retired child protection lawyer commented, “The Church has evolved a successful strategy of learned helplessness.”
The result was that Fr Griffin was left in limbo and led to the drastic action that he took. The coroner has requested responses by September 3rd from the Church of England and the Catholic Church to explain the steps they will each take to prevent further deaths.
Fr Griffin is not the first priest who felt so betrayed and abandoned by the Church. We have had many similar sad cases here in Ireland and we continue to have them. In this case, the Catholic Church is being asked to account for its treatment of priests and that is a welcome first.
Such a call in Ireland would be most welcome but will only happen when a priest takes a legal case against the Catholic Church. It is the experience of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) that the treatment of clergy is worse in Britain as no comparable organisation to the ACP exists to highlight the plight of priests and to offer support.
The Catholic Church in Ireland regularly boasts of its excellent safeguarding policies and standards yet in our experience the standard that deals with the accused priest – Standard 4 – is being ignored by most in leadership and as it is not audited there is no one to call them to account. (Standard 4 states the church has in place a fair process for investigating and managing a complaint. It also says it has a system of support and monitoring for those who are accused.)
I look forward to reading the responses from both Churches to the coroner’s request on September 3rd. My fear is that it will be more empty promises and nothing will have been learned from this sad loss. Fr Alan Griffin RIP.
Samaritans: Ireland 01 6710071/Britain 116 123
ACP Helpline Numbers on https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie