RT REV CHRISTOPHER FOSTER: Balance, trust, and vigorous defence of the vulnerable

The Bishop of Portsmouth reflects on the inquiry into Gosport War Memorial Hospital deaths.

Thursday, 28th June 2018, 10:56 am
Updated Monday, 16th July 2018, 4:58 pm
Families in Old Portsmouth after the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, unveiled a report into deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Portsmouth Cathedral. At least 456 patients died after being given opioids 'without medical justification'. Picture: Malcolm Wells (180620-5105)

We were profoundly shocked by the findings of the Gosport Independent Panel, published last week.

Listening to the deeply disturbing and personal accounts described by the panel in Portsmouth Cathedral, those on the periphery could only begin to imagine the pain and anger experienced by so many over such a period of time.

Echoing the voices of those who were so long denied a voice, we need to see action taken, and new ways of establishing good accountability within all our national and public institutions and services.

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Rt Rev Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth

Accountability, checks and tests, and good procedures are all vital in our world for the protection of those who are vulnerable, and for the redressing of either individual or institutional failures.

But such things are by no means at odds with renewing trust, even if it can sometimes feel like that.

I’m mindful of this because alongside the stories of gross injustices and failures across many public institutions and services, we continue to find stories of those who persist in doing good, whose work for the sake of those in need and for the common good continues quietly, strenuously, and with dedication.

We find ourselves faced with the complex balance of being vigorous in defending those who are vulnerable, and diligent in combatting and redressing wrong – yet extending trust to those upon whom we can properly rely, those who do uphold the standard of care which we are privileged to expect.

This might sound a bit abstract in the midst of pain and anger, and I use the word balance deliberately, because it’s not about calming that legitimate anger, or covering up the pain.

The point about balance is not that it’s a vague middle ground. Something can be balanced with no weight on either side, or it can be balanced with heavy weights on both sides.

And what we need are heavy weights – serious action for justice, along with serious affirmation of the good whenever we do find it.

A heavy balance like this is difficult to maintain, and it brings strain, no doubt about it.

But I think it’s also how we grow as a society, how we work to keep on building institutions that can be trusted, and being willing to affirm the work of those who show that trust to be well founded, as much as to seek justice when that trust is broken.

Such balance asks much of us. It asks the best of us in the most difficult of circumstances, but it holds promise for us as well.