How does Sir Paul McCartney keep looking so fit and well? Is it the vegetarian diet? Exercise or affluence? Whatever he does, I’d like some please. In the middle of his marathon set at Glastonbury on Saturday night, was the inclusion of a film clip featuring Johnny Depp. Was this quite the right thing to do? ‘Fans are divided’ say the popular press with those in the know quoted as suggesting it was a strategic move to start a ‘process of redemption’. Two court cases in two countries, one won and one lost, focussing on Depp’s relationship with Amber Heard and referenced earlier in this column, so take your choice.
Speaking theologically, and in the context of safeguarding, grappling with the concept of redemption can be tricky. One dictionary defines redemption as ‘the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil’. So how do we know with assurance that someone with a history of inappropriate behaviour has completed the process of redemption and is redeemed sufficiently not to pose a risk or threat? What test do they need to pass and are there grades of pass and failure? I feel I am in danger of getting above my theological pay grade here, but these are real questions that the Church at almost every level has to address when faced with the life stories of individuals that suggest they have made every effort to change their ways. A couple of questions we often ask though is ‘do they really get it?’ and ‘how do we know?’
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is nearing its final report’s publication date. One early and key message from the impending report is that in future all ‘child protection work should be victim focussed’, in a sense implying that the perpetrator’s journey of redemption or restoration , however successful, is of less importance. In its response to the interim IICSA report published in 2021 that focussed on safeguarding in faith communities, the Methodist Church welcomed this emphasis on victims’ needs having primacy.
Last year, Conference approved a report on the ‘Theology of Safeguarding’ and plans are now in hand to publish training and other materials to support the Church’s engagement with and learning about this topic. A deeper understanding of forgiveness and redemption with relation to safeguarding, and paying due attention to the new provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 that now identifies leaders of religious activities as being in legal positions of trust with regards to young people, means that the bar is now set higher.