By Tim Wyatt
George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, is back in the headlines once again after it emerged that “concerns” had arisen during a safeguarding inquiry by the Church of England.
There are no allegations of abuse made against him, but during an investigation into the case of the late John Smyth new evidence has emerged that has led to the Diocese of Oxford suspending Lord Carey’s permission to lead services.
Before Mr Smyth died last year he had been accused by several people, including the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev Andrew Watson, of repeatedly beating and abusing young men he had met through a Christian summer camp in the 1970s and 1980s.
Lord Carey, 84, has said he has no idea what the new safeguarding concerns could be and has no recollection of ever meeting Mr Smyth. George Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, when he was ennobled.
He lives in the Diocese of Oxford and as well holding permission to officiate. He was also an honorary assistant bishop, a role often played by retired bishops. However, he was forced to step down as assistant bishop in 2017 by the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, after he was sharply criticised in a report into the sex abuser and former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball.
While Lord Carey was at Lambeth Palace in the 1990s, he had taken part in a de facto cover-up of Ball’s crimes, failing to pass on letters from other alleged victims to the detectives investigating the case.
He also did not add Ball’s name to the internal list of clergy who were deemed unsuitable for appointment, and arranged that Ball landed safely with funds and a place to live after he had to stand down as bishop.
At that point, his permission to officiate in the Diocese of Oxford was revoked for the first time but he was swiftly restored to being able to lead services and preach at churches from February 2018. It is this permission that has been suspended for a second time after new evidence coming to light during the review into Mr Smyth.
Lord Carey has a reputation for being outspoken in his retirement and almost as soon as he left Lambeth Palace continued to opine regularly in the media, for a period in a regular column in the News of the World. He has weighed in on issues as diverse as Islam and extremism, assisted suicide, immigration in Britain, gay marriage and religious liberty. This has often caused tension and frictions with both his successors as archbishop, Rowan Williams until 2012, and now Justin Welby.
Some in the Church of England have suggested he is too quick to breach the unwritten rule that ex-archbishops refrain from public comment on issues affecting their successors. Others have unflatteringly contrasted his pugnacious public profile in retirement to the more retiring Lord Williams, who since departing Lambeth Palace has led a relatively quiet life as the head of a Cambridge college.
Lord Carey, on the other hand, has suggested he is unfairly impugned by the C of E establishment, telling friends in 2017 of his outrage that Archbishop Welby had insisted he stand down from public ministry following the damning report into Ball.
One Anglican commentator who is familiar with Carey family said he understood the clan, which includes the religious affairs journalist Andrew Carey and vicar the Rev Mark Carey, “have felt quite unfairly done by”. Writing in the Church of England Newspaper, Andrew Carey bemoaned the “absence of any public expression of sadness and sympathy for my father from the current crop of archbishops and bishops” after his forced withdrawal from ministry in 2017.
Lord Carey has long been seen as somewhat of an outsider in the broader church. Born into a working-class East End family, he left school at 15 before converting to Christianity aged 17 after stumbling into a church with some friends.
After putting himself through night school to get through university, he quickly found his vocation as a vicar in Durham, when he trebled his city centre church’s congregation in two years. As a straight-talking evangelical, he found favour with prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who was raised as a Methodist and encouraged him into the role of Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991 despite his relative inexperience as a bishop and without significant backing from within the church.
Throughout his tenure he experienced a degree of hostility from some in the church because of his evangelical convictions: the tradition was then not as prominent or mainstream in the C of E as it is today.
Some commentators have argued there was also a streak of class snobbery in the opposition throughout his archiepiscopate; the Dagenham-raised cleric was the first person in more than 600 years to hold the post who had not been to either Oxford or Cambridge university.
Since his retirement, the position of the evangelical faction within the church has been hugely strengthened by a new generation of leaders entering the ranks of the bishops and the growth of church-planting networks such as that led by Holy Trinity Brompton in central London. Archbishop Welby is an evangelical and closely connected with Holy Trinity .
However, Lord Carey finds himself today, facing another safeguarding scandal, relatively friendless. Contemporary Anglican evangelicals tend not to see him as a trailblazer or figurehead. This is in part because some of his trenchant interventions in retirement have contradicted mainstream evangelical belief — such as his conversion to the cause of assisted suicide in 2014 — and also because he has drifted towards the more antagonistic and conservative end of the evangelical spectrum.
This has put him at odds with the consensual and more apolitical evangelicals now ascendant in the church. As a result, it is hard to see his reputation and public ministry in retirement recovering from this latest safeguarding setback.