Abigail Frymann Rouch is a religious and social affairs journalist. She has written for the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, Channel4.com and Deutsche Welle. As a commentator she has appeared on Sky News, BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service, BBC World News, and regional radio. For nine years she was foreign editor, then online editor, of The Tablet.
Growing secularisation is leading to an increase in violence and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, experts fear.
Priests told of experiences including discovering a witchcraft symbol sprayed on a church door and being followed home as academics launched a mass survey of priests to find out the scale of the problem.
There are also concerns that sex abuse scandals and a growing number of female clergy is contributing to a growth in threats and violence against priests.
Academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, are to survey around 7,000 Church of England clergy using £5,000 in funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The survey, which is to be circulated online this month, will ask clergy whether they have experienced verbal abuse, threats or physical violence in the last two years, and how often church property is damaged.
Abigail Frymann Rouch speaks to clergy victims of stalking, and asks whether enough is being done to support them
IT WAS trauma that brought the Revd Graham Sawyer into closer contact with one of his female parishioners: she witnessed her husband killing himself, in front of their children.
“I then exercised the pastoral care that would be expected of any priest,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, she became very dependent on me, and it became a sort of infatuated obsession. . . Her demands on me became impossible for me to meet, which gave her a pseudo-legitimacy to turn her obsession into hate.”
So Amber Rudd has resigned, saying she had “inadvertently misled” MPs over whether she knew the Home Office set targets for deportations of illegal immigrants. Cue unusually widespread outrage. This could only have happened right after the Windrush scandal had come to light. Thanks to the diligent reporting of the Guardian, alarming stories emerged of long-term tax-paying, law-abiding, UK residents being treated like illegal immigrants: facing eviction; withdrawal of benefits, eligibility to work or NHS access; and being threatened with forced returns to countries they had not lived in for decades.
Theresa May said yesterday that regarding illegal immigrants, the Government was “responding to the need that people see for the Government to deal with illegal immigration”. Her “hostile environment” comment followed an election pledge to reduce net immigration to the “tens of thousands” annually – that was not an example of her going out on a limb, but formed part of her party’s manifesto in 2010 and again in 2015.
Former home secretary Ken Clarke on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4’s World at One [13’07”] said: “There are hundreds of thousands of people here who get smuggled in on lorries or overstay their visitors’ visas and work in the black economy, get sent to prison sometimes, and still don’t leave. The Home Office doesn’t talk very much about the illegals that we have, mainly from the Middle East, some from the Sub-continent and a lot from Africa, and to persuade ordinary, sensible, civilised people that we do have some control, you need to tackle that.”
What if Rudd had done more to explain that last week, albeit with more temperate language and precise figures, and making the distinction between the various categories, instead of trying to deny that there were targets for deportation?
Certainly, the usually anti-immigrant parts of the press made that distinction, expressing outrage at the appallingly unjust treatment of Windrush citizens.
Last night Tory MP Oliver Letwin, grandson of refugees, told BBC Newsnight that politicians had for decades downplayed the benefits that migrants bring to this country.
What is the reason that successive governments have instead pledged to reduce (totally legal) immigration – and then not done so? At the most mercenary level, because they appreciate the economic argument for migrants’ labour and skills, given our own ageing population, skills gaps, low birth rate and so on.
A positive legacy from last week, as Sajid Javid takes over from Rudd, would be a more nuanced public discourse on immigration that includes the humanising and informative distinctions of who, when and why. Ken Clarke’s breakdown didn’t give the full spectrum of why people come here: work, study, family, or to claim asylum because of war or persecution – or that some people who are trafficked may be victims of modern slavery in need of rescue, not arrest.
Anti-migration pledges have long felt like crowd-pleasers – and that’s just it. Why have politicians made such pledges? Because that’s what they think will tickle voters’ ears. Why do right-wing tabloids put negative stories about migrants on their front pages? Because that’s what they think their readers want to read. So the villain of the piece is not Amber Rudd, or even Theresa May before her. Politicians were doing what they believed a substantial chunk of the electorate wanted, and this, whether we like the result or not, is what it looked like.
Given that Holy Week and Easter are about many superlative things – the heights of divine grace, the depths of human betrayal and cruelty – I will resist the urge to join in with making it a time of moaning (Easter eggs not having the word Easter on them etc.)
Populism is fuelled in part by political correctness that tells people their views cannot be aired. That was one conclusion of a panel of experts last week at a launch of a report by the think tank Demos. Those discussing the report, “Mediating populism”, thought that if views are silenced, they do not disappear, they only go underground to reappear more vigorously in the future, trampling on bounds of “acceptable” discourse. For example in Germany, where the Third Reich is taught as the most sombre warning, the suggestion that ordinary soldiers could be remembered well has morphed into a recommendation from a far-right leader that alarmed many Germans. The co-founder of the increasingly popular Alternative für Deutschland said Germans should be proud of soldiers’ actions in the two world wars just as Brits are proud of Nelson or Churchill.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book this year comes from an Italian academic and Benedictine monk called Luigi Gioia, who chided himself as “lazy” for not finding ways to describe God other than “He”.
The book itself, Say it to God: In search of prayer (Bloomsbury), is an insightful and thought-provoking meditation on dialogue with God, which Lord Williams, presenting it in his successor’s absence (Welby was in Switzerland), hoped would become an “instant classic of the English-speaking world”.
It’s easy to be appalled by the dinner, where women working as hostesses were instructed to wear skimpy dresses, and its afterparty, at which some of the guests – wealthy business leaders – harassed and groped some of them.