Unhappy Father’s Day
How this father – let us call him Mr D – has coped, His Grace can scarcely begin to imagine. As you read, you will wonder, too. In short, Mr D was rendered homeless at a stroke by proceedings launched by his ex-wife last January. In fact, he had been the victim of abuse at her hand, and was later granted a divorce on the basis of this. He even has video footage which shows his former wife holding their son in one hand while thumping him with the other. “Hardly Baby P,” said the Judge.
Mr D has not now seen his 2-year-old little boy for more than six months, despite a court order mandating what the courts term ‘contact’. Surrounded by lies, frustrated by the injustices, silenced by the ‘Family Court’, out of sheer desperation he started the blog ‘Love From Daddy’.
Read it and weep. Just over this past week, he discovered from his son’s medical records that his little boy had spent several days in hospital in April, following a fit – and that his GP has no record of the father’s existence: he had been expunged from his son’s ‘official’ life. Mr D’s former father-in-law verbally assaulted and threatened him outside the court in March. But no action was taken against the abuser: instead, it is Mr D whose life has been torn to shreds. It is he who is now hundreds of miles from his son, deep in debt, struggling with his health and employment. His suffering continues, at the hands of secret courts, CAFCASS and their solicitors, all courtesy of the taxpayer.
His Grace has touched on crypto-Soviet ‘Family Courts’ before. They are nothing but an abuse of state power. By writing his blog and speaking out, Mr D risks prosecution, and even faces losing his son forever. Every instinct for natural justice wants to tell the whole story, yet the local authority bullies, in partnership with inept social workers and in collusion with the courts, would exploit the transgression and submit it as evidence that they and they alone are acting in the best interests of the welfare of the child.
But there is a dimension of this case which makes it of greater interest to His Grace: both Mr D and his former wife are members of The Salvation Army, who, far from showing love and compassion, appear to have exacerbated Mr D’s trauma. Scripture exhorts believers to resolve their differences amongst each other and avoid action in the secular courts. Of course, this is not always possible. But one would hardly expect the Church to make things worse.
Commissioner John Matear is leader of The Salvation Army in the UK and Ireland, and has been intimately involved with Mr D and his former wife from the outset. After many months of tireless (yet fruitless) effort to deal with the matter in camera, Mr D has decided to bring the matter of Commissioner Matear’s ‘intransigence’ into the public domain. He is fully aware of the consequences of doing so, not least to the good name and reputation of The Salvation Army.
Launching the study The Seeds of Exclusion, the Commissioner identified family breakdown as the primary cause of homelessness and other forms of social exclusion – ‘people who are lonely, marginalised, and without friends’. What is The Salvation Army for if it is not to minister to such people?
Yet in January this year, Mr D was forcibly removed from worship by the police, merely for attempting to see his son. He was later found to have committed no offence, but it was the leader of the meeting who had called the police after refusing to read the court order she claimed Mr D was breaching. Mr D drove to Bristol to seek help from Commissioner Matear’s subordinate, a Major Hill. By coincidence, that evening he also found Commissioner Matear visiting. Mr D was much encouraged by their words.
He also wrote to General Shaw Clifton, asking questions not specifically about his own predicament but about the absence of policy on this issue, including:
What are the Christian expectations of how two spouses should approach one another and their relationships with their child upon divorce?
What responsibility does the Salvation Army bear to children within its sphere of influence who are affected by the breakdown of their parents’ relationship?
General Clifton asked Commissioner Matear to reply on his behalf, in view of the former’s impending retirement. To date, these questions remain unanswered.
Instead, Mr D received censure. Within days, he was counselled not to blog, and not to return to his son’s church. Contrary to his better judgement, he was told to contact his abusive ex-wife, and (as predicted) his compliance with this earned him a non-molestation order (for the two emails and one text message he sent to her asking when he might see his little boy). He was then told to use secular legal means to resolve the dispute, despite having pointed out that this was unscriptural and that he was in any case without the financial means to do so.
Mr D wrote further letters to Commissioner Matear asking for his assistance, as each passing week without his son left him ever more sorrowful. The summation of Commissioner Matear’s only substantive response expressed the view that the mother’s refusal to comply with the court order for contact between father and son is ‘not a pastoral management matter’ for the Christian denomination to which both parents and the child belong. The Commissioner avoided altogether the question of whether Mr D’s ex-wife should remain a uniformed member of the Army, despite her violence, her abuse and lies. And despite refusing all mediation and repeatedly using court processes to make it impossible for anyone to contact her directly.
In addition to Mr D’s unanswered questions, His Grace ponders how The Salvation Army, which in a recent document said that ‘Biblical values must be upheld by the Church even when they are not upheld by the State’, has come to the conclusion that a child’s right to a meaningful relationship with his or her parents is ‘not a pastoral matter’, but one for the secular law alone.
How can the matter of a Christian Salvationist mother abusing her Christian Salvationist husband and preventing her own son from knowing his father not be a matter of pastoral concern?
‘Love from Daddy’ documents the disturbing details of a process by which a young father has, with no small degree of creativity, sought to expose the impact of family breakdown, as highlighted by his own son’s plight. As a consequence, Mr D has been threatened with a ‘super-injunction’. He despondently concludes that Commissioner Matear has ‘chosen expediency over principle’. Undeterred, Mr D has decided to bring matters into the open; to expose them to the disinfectant of a little daylight.
It is evident from the correspondence that Commissioner Matear and others have sought to avoid answering difficult questions (for a question is indeed difficult if one does not have a comfortable answer). Mr D has shown himself patient, tenacious and at all times reasonable.
But what impresses His Grace further is that, far from wallowing in self-pity (which would be an eminently understandable and completely excusable response to such personal trauma), Mr D has joined with like-minded Christian friends to establish a service to assist fathers who find themselves victims of the crypto-fascist ‘Family Courts’ which purport to have the best interests of the child at the forefront of their minds.
Father’s Outreach is a service open to all. Their ethos is unapologetically Christian – they seek to assist anyone and everyone ‘regardless of background, age, sex, creed or colour and regardless of means’. They explain:
We have looked hard to see what practical support is available to parents and their families who find themselves in this desperately sad predicament, and we found none. We asked our Church what its policy was – it had none. We looked to other denominations, convinced that we would find someone offering some sort of outreach – we found none – no organised support at all.Today is Father’s Day. His Grace encourages his readers and communicants to reflect on this sad story, and to remember those fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who are routinely deprived of access to the children they adore. And pray also for Mr D, who fears either reprisals from the courts or excommunication from The Salvation Army for bringing all this into the light.
We decided that “none” simply wasn’t a good enough Christian answer to such a widespread problem, and that if no-one was trying to reach out to meet these needs, someone definitely should be.