A couple of weeks ago I was approached by someone new to Springfield Church about how we handled money. The backdrop was that we were having a Serving and Giving day and the person wanted to know how we spent money given to us and how open and transparent we were.
A totally reasonable question.
I was also asked in our recent PCC (the Church council) meeting why we hadn’t shared with the church some problems as to where we were going to hold our holiday club.
Again, a totally reasonable question.
But organisations often appear to be very defensive about being questioned.
So, we see organisations such as FIFA displaying an arrogance and almost a lack of understanding of the problems that everyone else sees and they refuse to see. So we saw Sepp Blatter at his news conference coming out with a phrase that every organisation that tries to hide uncomfortable truths will try and use in some variety or other:
“Crisis? What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis. We are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties and these will be solved within our family.”
Firstly, it is to deny that there is a crisis. The organisation tries to pretend that there is merely a little local difficulty. That the problem isn’t really a crisis. That no change really needs to be made.
Now of course, in certain circumstances that may be the case. But in this case? When more than just the two suspended members of FIFA have been accused of bribery and corruption (one reports eight people being accused– 1/3 of the total FIFA board). At the moment FIFA are proclaiming that they are innocent as there isn’t enough evidence against them. The problem is that more and more allegations are being thrown at people on the board.
The same has been true of the church. The allegations against it to do with paedophiles have been handled differently in different countries with a marked difference of outcome. So in the UK the Nolan Report addressed the issue head on and openly and the Catholic church changed its policies and procedures to ensure children were protected and where things went wrong that cases were dealt with openly and transparently. The Church of England went down a similarly transparent route and recently went further by checking through records to ensure that no cases had been “hidden”.
If you compare that to Ireland and Belgium and some other parts of the world where the church has tried to take the Sepp Blatter route then the difference is very stark.
Then secondly, there is the temptation in any organisation to hang on to power. So, there is the attempt to “keep it in the family”. Now again, for some small things that is fine. But for situations like FIFA in the full gaze of publicity or with the church and major allegations then that is simply not good enough. There needs to be more. Indeed organisations need to ensure from the start that they are open, accountable and transparent. In situations such as FIFA the headlines are appalling and are likely to only get worse. Allegations that a member wanted the FA cup named after him are probably merely the beginning. If FIFA goes ahead, as it looks likely to do, and re-elects Sepp Blatter then it will have shown itself to be unfit for purpose.
The same is true in the church. When major allegations started swirling around the churches in the UK they took a courageous decision to ask for outside help. The Roman Catholic church with the Nolan report in 2001 has ensured that the answers were dealt with. They modelled a good response. Unfortunately, the same hasn’t been true in other countries.
So, how did I respond to the questions asked of me?
Well, I shared with them that all our accounts are published; that the PCC minutes including budgets and what we have agreed to spend money on are published; that a standing committee has the right to spend up to £500 between PCC meetings where it needs to; and that although the minister/priest that I am not a signatory on the church account.
On the second question the issue wasn’t “privacy” and keeping things “under control”. The issue was a practical and pastoral one. The school we usually used was having large scale building works but until we could find an alternative we didn’t want to burn our bridges.
Organisations need to be open, accountable and transparent. I hope that we are at Springfield and I will continue to welcome questions and try ensure that people know as much as reasonable without damaging issues of confidentiality. Will we always get it right? I doubt it, we’re human. But I hope and pray that we won’t see questions as wrong to be asked or tell people that they can’t ask them.
FIFA need to do the same.