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Learning from complaint and criticism

There were two excellent programmes on TV last week that both featured people fighting to achieve justice in the face of bureaucracy, poor police practice and simple attempts at cover up. ‘Anne’ told the story of a Liverpool mother’s tireless campaign to find out the truth about what happened to her son who died at Hillsborough in 1989. ‘Four Lives’ described how four young men were murdered in East London between 2014 and 2015 and how police mistakes and seeming indifference hampered the investigation, until one man was caught and convicted. Both programmes shown over consecutive nights were very affecting and left me feeling quite angry.

Organisations, including the church, can often go into ultra-defensive mode when errors are pointed out to them or complaints made about poor practice or individual behaviour. To some extent it’s the immediate instinct to circle the wagons and protect those within, and that immediately gives out the wrong message. Even when an organisation tries to appear transparent and acknowledges its failings it can still be seen by those on the outside as unwilling to listen or change. Bureaucratic inertia can be crippling.

The 2015 Past Cases Review, in particular, demonstrated that the Church still had to take steps to address where its own processes, or individuals’ actions, were not good enough to address safeguarding concerns brought to its attention. Since then a lot of effort has gone into refreshing our policies and revamping our training, and the recent IICSA report acknowledged positively the journey that the Church has made.

But what came over from both programmes was a strong suspicion of professional indifference and ingrained attitudes, towards football fans and young gay men in these two cases, in addition to organisational defensiveness.

None of us like being criticised, even if the criticism is well intentioned and helpful, but being active to achieve safe space for all means checking unconscious bias and both personal and organisational sensitivity at the door.

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