Sad and familiar tale from a different angle

Sad and familiar tale from a different angle BBC's Panorama investigates the church-related child abuse that has tarnished the reputation of the Church of England.

Every now and then watching a programme on TV you might regret your initial reaction.

Watching Panorama: Scandal in the Church of England, on BBC last week (BBC1 Monday, BBC2 Friday) I couldn’t help feeling a little relieved that for a change it wasn’t the Catholic Church under the microscope, or under the cosh. Unworthy I know! It was a sad and familiar tale – clergy or lay Church leaders in positions of trust, betrayal of that trust, fear, victims not listened to, over concern with the institution to the detriment of care for the victims, inadequate responses from authorities and so on.

Familiar and disturbing though it was, a few things stood out for me. Though the title was somewhat sensational and presenter Jane Corbin did some editorialising, there were no creepy shots of church imagery accompanied by brooding music, the kind of approach typically used by RTÉ when covering similar ground, the kind of approach that makes all religion seem menacing.

Further, as this was the Church of England, the questionable theory that celibacy is a root cause of clerical child abuse couldn’t be used.

One child abused by a cleric kept his faith and went on to become a vicar himself, but he was still sore at how he was still being treated today by fellow clergy in positions of authority.


An Anglican clergyman involved in investigating the issue tried to be positive, but it didn’t help that he was reluctant to give figures just after he said he wanted the figures for abuse out in the open. He said they would be made public in due course.

At least no-one used the phrase ‘learning curve’. I was surprised in a way that the experience of the Catholic Church in dealing with these issues wasn’t referenced and by how little media reaction there was in the aftermath of the broadcast.

Other controversial issues surfaced at the start of a new series of The Pledge on Sky News, last Thursday night. It’s a freewheeling, light-hearted discussion programme that can deal with the most serious of issues. Here the chair seems to rotate as each guest picks an issue to run with.

One of the things I like most is the diversity of viewpoints on show – some conservative, some liberal, and sometimes a person can be liberal on one issue and conservative on another. Thankfully at times it’s not that easy to know what the conservative or liberal response is – now that’s challenging for those who like knee jerk reactions! And so it was for example in the discussion about whistleblowing in the light of the UK government leak about the 5G Huawei controversy.

Most importantly, the show teaches a lesson our society needs to learn urgently – that you can disagree with people and still get along with them, disagree with them and treat them respectfully.

One of the best shows of the week was Our Dementia Choir (BBC1, Thursday). This kind of show has been done before, particularly by our own David Brophy with choirs for the homeless and the elderly, and this was equally special as actress Vicky McClure presented, with admirable empathy, emotional stories about the powerful effect music can have on those suffering from the many forms of dementia.

What was most striking for me was how so many younger people were afflicted- including one man in his early thirties. The human stories were quite touching – there was sadness, hope, courage and love, the best of human relationships and more than few heartfelt tears.

McClure also appeared last Sunday night in the drama series Line of Duty (BBC1) – a riveting series finale of the show about ‘bent coppers’. McClure was excellent as always, but Adrian Dunbar should get an award for his intense and emotional performance in this episode, as the policeman who finds himself uncomfortably on the receiving end of the kind of police interrogation that he normally conducts himself – the show has become famous for these cat-and-mouse scenes where surprise revelations are the order of the day.

This time we learned more than before about his time serving as a Catholic in the RUC, with attendant challenges relating to the Troubles.

While this latest series became extremely complicated and was a tad too clever for its own good, it is still better than most cop shows on TV.


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