Are we witnessing the death throes of the big institutions? It seems to me that we are. The searing light of truth was first shone on the Church and an extensive paedophile ring was uncovered. Prosecutions followed. Child protection rules were changed. Yet, no doubt, abuse still goes on.
Then came the horrific exposure of the entertainment world, which is ongoing. The phrase ‘Jim’ll fix it’ took on a new and dark meaning. Jimmy Savile certainly fixed it for himself to remain a secret paedophile until after his death. Then Stuart Hall was convicted of sexual abuse. Perhaps most shocking was the conviction of Rolf Harris.
We can only wonder at how these men were able to abuse for so long without being prosecuted. Maybe society is only just waking up to the immense evil and damage that child sexual abuse causes.
Now it seems to be the turn of people in high office in government. The stomach churning story of the prolific paedophile, the late Cyril Smith MP, shocked me to the core. Senior police officers investigating Smith were visited by shadowy figures who told them to stop the investigation and removed all the case files.
In each of these cases, it seems that the institution had become more important than the protection of children and the vulnerable. The institution was more important than the truth.
As I write, news is unfolding about a possible paedophile network involving people in the top positions of power in government. The internet is swirling with claims of what went on at the infamous Elm Guest House and who was involved. The abuses and abusers from that episode have been known for a long time. The victims have repeatedly given evidence but no action has been taken on most allegations.
Even now, this month, Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who outed Cyril Smith as a child abuser, was warned by someone stepping out of the shadows in parliament to stop pursuing this case. Who is being protected? Not the abused children that is for sure.
Maybe it was ever so. Jesus warned his followers about those who were corrupt at the heart of the institutions.
‘Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.’
Luke 20:46, 47
It seems there has been a moral collapse at the heart of every one of our institutions. The MP’s expenses scandal looks a trifling matter now. Yet again, the small, powerless and weak in society are crushed.
The world is crying out for lives like Jesus – who walked in truth, exposed corruption and showed a new way to do community.
The institutions are dying. No wonder new groups like the Northumbria Community, for example, are growing as people search for spiritual truth and meaning outside the institution of the Church.
Jesus didn’t found an institution. He gave birth to a radical spiritual community. It withstood the persecutions of the Roman Empire. It will survive the death of the institutions.
Where do we begin in our search for new community? I have explored this a little bit in my book Excess Baggage. But, in short, in begins with ones and twos. It has the DNA of a family, not an organisation. I predict these new small communities will multiply over the coming decade as the institutions collapse under the weight of their own corruption.
In the meantime, let us pray for truth, for justice and for the protection and healing of the abuse victims. May they not only be heard this time, but may their stories get the justice so long denied.