How far are we from Rotherham?

Gaby Hinsliff has suggested that the newly appointed chair of the inquiry into historic child abuse looks at Louise Casey’s inspection report on the Rotherham child abuse scandal. Louise Casey points out the failings of council, police, childrens’ services suggesting that people and agencies were far more concerned about their reputations than about the victims. For Hinsliff the tragedy in Rotherham was made possible by the most ordinary of things. By this, she means that it is ordinary organisation that makes for such tragedies: “Ordinary people, doing ordinary jobs, ordinarily badly”. She writes, “what leaps out from the report isn’t the influence of politics with a big P so much as office politics; all the surprisingly humdrum, niggling things about status and hierarchy and process that determine who counts in an organisation and who is heard.”

The Rotherham Council who presided over the whole very sorry affair have been accused of being over-sensitive in a politically correct sort of way. They were, in fact, not sensitive enough. They were dismissive of uncomfortable truth and bullied disagreeable voices into silence and hundreds of girls and families have suffered as result of these ordinary people doing ordinary jobs ordinarily badly.

But how far are we from Rotherham? Uncomfortable truth and disagreeable voices are hard to hear and easy to ignore. We like the sound of our own voice, and we like the ones who are like us and form them into our company. So, how far removed is our ordinary organising (intrapersonal and interpersonal) from the folly of Rotherham?

Louise Carey’s report focusses on Rotherham, but is more than Rotherham. It’s about all ordinary organisation that doesn’t listen to the “wrong” people and that is insensitive to the plight of the wronged people. It’s about government, institutional life, the office, family and my own self-ish ways. It’s about intentional and unintentional victims and how we listen to them and how we listen to each other.

The church also, and perhaps particularly, is not a million miles from Rotherham in doing an ordinarily bad job of not listening to uncomfortable truth and allowing abuse to flourish unchecked. Pope Francis, in his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (just reading) is conscious of this background. He encourages a better sort of organisation in which the right and wronged people are heard, in which the poor are the evangelisers and in which the church and pastoral workers continue to be evangelised and changed. He yearns for a a church which is poor (not so bothered by its own reputation?) and for the poor (198) and he begs the Lord “to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor”. Hinsliff’s appeal rings the same bells: “all institutions need faintly oddball, stubborn, counter-cultural people who may well be irritating to work with but ask the questions others don’t.”

Rotherham is our own backyard. Rotherham is in our mind. Rotherham is only extraordinary in the scale of its terrible consequences. A lot of our organisation is ordinarily bad, lacking sensitivity, intelligence and curiosity.

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