I don't know whether I should write this or not, but another week has passed when another name known to me has reached the headlines. No, I cannot claim any association to Joey Essex or Steve Davis - this is another priest arrested for offenses against children, known to me personally, who practiced his ministry in the town where I lived and in the parish where a significant number of my own family lived until recently.
I am fast running out of fingers to count the names of men that I know who have been arrested, charged or convicted for offenses against children - children that are about the same age as I was, and I must confess that each new "story" is another significant blow.
I write as one who is familiar with this issue, though you will forgive me if I don't (can't) go into specifics. I find myself wondering what it is about Eastbourne that attracts the kind of priest that seem so keen on those who are too small, weak and innocent to defend themselves against those who come armed with the significant power-armour of a minister of religion. Where does a youngster go to find the words to explain that one he trusted undertook acts of such unutterable degradation upon their tender frames? Who would ever believe them? Surely not him? That kid was always trouble, after all.
I write this post as one who approaches it with a sense of profound sadness. I am realistic enough to know that in every barrel of apples there are one or two that are on the mushy side, but why the barrel that existed in and around my neighbourhood? Why does it seem that half of the sodding thing was steeped in mould? I feel like every one (beyond my blessed family) that I have ever trusted or looked up to is in fact a monster. It makes me feel sad at times to be a priest, more often sad to be an Anglo-Catholic, and daily saddened that my faith and vocation were expressed and explored in this toxic sea air.
All praise to +Martin, though. The Bishop of Chichester is doing much to repair the damage caused by these toxic tsunamis, even within the midst of evidence that emerges afresh with every single passing week.
I wrote a post some time ago about being a child of Chichester - a post that was in many ways the sand into which I placed my greying head. It was a post of half-truths and a healthy amount of self-denial, because I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that so many men who have actively nurtured my faith and calling have hands that would cause unutterable pain to children. I look back upon a church-centred childhood and I wonder. Was he? Were they? To tell you the truth, I don't know which way is up any more and that makes me feel afraid. I extrapolate my Eastbourne life onto my wider existence and I am fearful that I am starting to see shadows everywhere, or that I am a shadow in the making and that I just don't know it. Most of all I want to go back to those days when I was a teenager in Eastbourne when so many of my peers were being gently destroyed, and beg it to stop. Oh for the power of hindsight.