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UK News

Clergy were 'paid off to keep quiet about racism' in the Church of England

A former race advisor to the Church of England has told how some clergy and staff who complained about racism within the Church, and received compensation, had to sign non-disclosure agreements.

In the BBC Panorama programme Is the Church Racist? broadcast on 19th April, Dr Elizabeth Henry, who retired after seven years in her job, recalled an incident involving a young black man:

"I felt frustrated by the lack of progress with issues of racism," she told Panorama."A really shocking incident was a young black man who received a picture of a banana but that banana had his head superimposed upon it and underneath it said, 'Bananaman'.

"That is a deeply offensive and deeply racist image. He took it to HR [human resources department] and he did file a grievance - and the decision was that it was not racist.That person left and he received a very small compensation - however, he was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement," she said.

Another account contained in the programme was that of Peterson Feital. Born in Brazil, he was a trainee vicar when he was hired by a church in London with a mainly white middle-class congregation. Despite successfully reaching out to diverse communities who became church attendees, Peterson was criticised for the way he spoke English and told he was "too Brazilian in your compassion." His preaching was also criticised and he was told he wasn't very coherent.

He told the BBC that for seven years he repeatedly complained to senior staff in the Diocese of London about the racism and bullying he experienced but was told to "keep his head down".

Last month he was made redundant and given a £2,000 redundancy payment. He is currently unemployed.

The Diocese of London told the BBC it was "appalled at what Peterson has experienced." They are now working with him regarding the process for lodging a formal complaint. 

The Church of England issued a statement on its website responding to the programme and pointing out that the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, was interviewed in the programme.

"The allegations, whether involving individuals or the wider structures or culture of the Church, are deeply worrying and there is no place for racism or discrimination within the Church," the statement said.

"This week the Church of England publishes the report of the Archbishops' Anti-Racism Taskforce which was commissioned last year by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to scrutinise previous reports and recommendations made to the Church of England over the last 36 years and establish what progress, if any, the Church has made on racial justice.

"It followed a public apology at the General Synod in February 2020 by the Archbishop of Canterbury for racism experienced by black and minority ethnic people in the Church of England since the arrival of the Windrush Generation. He also said that there is 'no doubt' that the Church of England is still deeply institutionally racist."

The report, which will be published on Thursday, will make specific recommendations to the Church, with a timetable for action, designed to make the Church fairer and more diverse.

The Archbishop of York added: "The stories we've heard are shocking and there is no doubt that the Church has failed our UK Minority Ethnic brothers and sisters.

"I hope that we are at least now approaching the challenge of tackling racism in a more intentional way and that that this will lead to much greater participation at every level of the Church's life in order that we might become the change that we long to see everywhere. The heart of the Christian faith is that in Christ there is a new humanity. The old barriers of separation and exclusion no longer count.

"This is the faith that was born on Easter Day 2000 years ago, a faith that drew in excluded people and I want us to recover that vision of this new humanity where barriers of separation are broken down."

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