Church of England told to ‘sort its own house out’ before paying slavery reparations

The Most Rev Justin Welby announced the fund this week - Jeff Overs/BBC
The Most Rev Justin Welby announced the fund this week – Jeff Overs/BBC

The Church of England should fund rural parishes and “sort its own house out” before paying slavery reparations, clergy have told the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This week the Most Rev Justin Welby, said that the establishment of a £100 million fund would “address past wrongs of slavery”. However, while he acknowledged that the cash injection comes amid mounting concern over parishes’ “stretched” finances, he said that “it is now time to take action to address our shameful past”.

The Church Commissioners, who handle more than £10 billion of the Church’s assets, announced the pledge following the publication of a report last year which found that much of the institution’s wealth originates from the slave trade.

However, in a letter to the Archbishop, the Revd Marcus Walker, the chairman of the Save the Parish campaign group, said that clergy and lay people are concerned that not enough money is being sent to the Church’s “frontline”.

In the letter, seen by The Telegraph, the rector at Great St Bartholomew’s, London, said that it is “right to feel shame” for the Church’s involvement in and funding of “the horrors of human slavery”.

However, he added: “The Church has shown that it has money when it wants, for matters that it cares about. Before the Church can find £100 million for this new project, it needs to show that it can sort its own house out and fund its frontline.”

Church ‘reducing clergy numbers’ to cut costs

Revd Walker, who is also a member of General Synod, the Church of England’s legislative body, added that the Church is merging parishes “while reducing clergy numbers to unsustainable levels” in a bid to cut costs.

The Church of England said that the £100 million fund would pay for a programme of investment, research and engagement. It said this would include funding to support “communities affected by historic slavery”, as well as funding to pay for further research into dioceses’, cathedrals’ and parishes’ historic links with slavery.

However, survivors of church-related abuse have also raised concerns that the release of new funds, while they have yet to receive the financial redress they were promised, is “a kick in the teeth”.

Graham, a survivor of abuse by John Smyth, the disgraced QC and evangelist accused of sadomasochistic assaults and the brutal beating of boys at a Christian holiday camp in the 1970s, described the Church’s admission of its role in the slave trade as “a welcome acknowledgment of responsibility”.

However, he added that it is also “a kick in the teeth for victims of church related abuse, still slaves to their trauma and PTSD”

“The Church of England can find £15 million for heating churches, £100 million for historic links to slavery, but is unable to address the plank in its own eye: its responsibility towards victims of church-related abuse”.

“The Church of England has announced an investment fund for slavery, yet, victims of abuse still get nothing,” he added.

While giving evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in March 2018, Archbishop Justin suggested that the redress scheme for victims of church-related abuse would amount to around £200 million. However, full payments for this scheme have been delayed being paid until 2025.

‘Abuse of power’

Sophie Whiting, a survivor of Church-related abuse who is struggling financially due to the delayed payments, said of the new fund to address the Church’s historic links to slavery: “I never want to be pitting one victim against another. If the church was truly serious about making reparations, they would pay the money.

“They have got the money, they don’t pay tax on it, they make millions just in interest. This is humiliating for us, and an abuse of power by them.”

A spokesperson for the Church Commissioners for England said: “We recognise this investment comes at a time when there are significant financial challenges for many people and churches, and when the Church has commitments to address other wrongs from our past. We will continue to support these groups and remain committed to existing funding obligations.

“In 2022 we announced a 30 per cent increase in our funding of the Church of England, which will amount to £1.2 billion in the next three years.”

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