The Rev Trevor Wilmott, the Bishop of Dover and the Bishop in Canterbury attended the home of Kendall House severe abuse survivor Teresa Cooper.
The meeting was observed by Journalist Sylvia Jones and her thoughts were sent in writing to the Bishop. It did not receive a response from either Tony Clarke or the Bishop himself.
The true reflections of a man who is unlikely to kneel and wash the feet of the sick and the poor.
Reflections on our meeting 2 Nov 2018
This was the third time I have supported Teresa at a meeting with the Church of England. I thought the previous two were frustrating and ended with inadequate understanding of, and responsibility for, Teresa’s long-term welfare.
In the intervening years, her already failing health has deteriorated with alarming speed and there are days when she can barely function because of excruciating pain that racks her whole body and stiffens her swollen joints so that she is unable to move.
Doctors are alarmed by her decline and their inability so far to alleviate and treat her rare and devastating symptoms. But the increasing list of medical specialists she visits all agree on one thing – that her physical problems are caused by the staggering cocktails of dangerous psychotropic drugs she was forced to ingest daily while in your care at the Church-run and funded Kendall House children’s home.
Teresa regularly updated me about her contacts with Tony and the start of her much-needed sessions with her therapist, which you recently agreed to fund. That belated but welcome beginning encouraged me to hope that the meeting with Bishop Trevor would finally – four decades after her shocking medical as well as sexual, emotional and physical abuse – lead to the Church providing proper care for her in her declining years when her need is so obvious and severe.
Sadly, the meeting with the Church again fell well short of offering to provide care appropriate for her needs and, yet again, left her feeling humiliated and rejected.
Despite the devastating and long-term damage caused to Teresa while in your “care”, the message from the Bishop seemed clear: the cost of caring for her now in her greatest need will have to be paid by the cash-strapped NHS and the State…not the institution responsible for her plight. I always applaud the current Archbishop of Canterbury when he highlights unprincipled businesses and corporate practices that prey on the vulnerable.
He should, however, begin with his own organisation, forcing it to face up to its moral and ethical responsibilities for past wrongdoing, let alone actually performing its Christian duty. I am now convinced that the Church believes that advice from lawyers is more important than its own religious teachings – it certainly seems to carry more weight in Teresa’s case.
A long overdue apology from a senior cleric – although appreciated – will not pay the bills or help Teresa out of bed when she wakes up in agony. Sadly, neither will your prayers unless you can muster a miracle. Suffering may be universal, but victimhood is optional and, thank God, Teresa is a remarkable woman and in permanent fight mode. But she still needs – and deserves – your practical help. There was a shocking irony about stating your desire to help Teresa “rekindle her faith” when the one thing that would help her do that would be to see the Church begin to practice what it preaches.
That would mean not only helping Teresa, but the other women damaged at Kendall House and at least one other children’s home where girls were also forced to consume huge amounts of dangerous drugs over long periods without any medical need.
All records of those drug experiments should be urgently handed over to doctors treating the dozens of women now suffering the same symptoms as Teresa. This is vital as it appears that the cumulative drug damage has become genetic and is being passed through the generations to their children and grandchildren. If the Church has an ounce of humanity or decency, it will act immediately to fully expose what happened and try to ensure that such a shocking and appalling tragedy will never happen again. It might be very painful, but it will be the right thing to do.
Sadly, I am not hopeful the Church will do this and I fear more people will have to suffer, have a diminished quality of life and probably live and die in agony. The moral authority of the Church will diminish and no amount of prayers will stop it.
The tenor of the meeting was strange as well as strained…. more damage limitation than shouldering responsibility, I felt. I found Bishop Trevor cool, aloof and almost angry that his personal apology was not given the significance he felt it deserved. But as Teresa and I agreed later, he is just a bloke like any other and will have to earn our respect with actions, not words. I’m afraid a ring and vestments do not cut it in the real world in which we live.
The Bishop’s abrupt departure from the meeting without the courtesy of saying goodbye to me was, frankly, shocking. He seemed to physically recoil from Teresa’s touch when in her very distressed state she tried to hug him – and he virtually fled from the room. My instinctive observation was that he is clearly not the kind of priest to kneel and wash the feet of the sick and the poor to give them solace and comfort. He may have relented as he and Teresa stepped outside, but by then it was too late to ease her feeling of rejection and rock bottom self-esteem. There seemed no real compassion for fear that would cost money and the lawyers might object.
It took some time afterwards for Teresa to regain her composure after what was one of the most destructive meetings she has so far had with the Church. I think this was partly because she had high hopes that there had been a change of heart and the Church would finally give her some vital help to cope with her increasing mobility problems so that she can continue to live a useful independent life. But Tony’s repeated references to the “full and final settlement” dashed any hope very early on.
Yet it is worth pointing out that civil court judges these days take a very dim view of parties to litigation failing to disclose crucial information, – particularly highly relevant medical records – and, arguably, taking advantage of the other party’s extreme personal and domestic circumstances. It doesn’t take a legal brain to work that argument out. Teresa shouldn’t have to fight you anymore, but I know she will if she has to.
When I drove away from her house and reflected on yet another wasted opportunity to right terrible wrongs done to her by the Church, I felt very angry. I wanted to climb into every pulpit in the land and shout: “Shame on you! Shame on you!”.
I decided to wait a while and calm down before writing some of my thoughts. But as I continue to try to help Teresa though yet another avoidable crisis, I am just as angry. And I still want to cry: “Shame on you! Shame on you!”
Senior Investigative Journalist
12 November, 2018