Examination of witness (Questions 1080
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 Afternoon sitting
1080. No, quite. If you thought people were
in moral danger in a unit you might well feel that you ought to
do something about it without at all divulging information which
has been given to you confidentially about individuals, is that
right? You see what I am driving at, do you not, Chaplain-General?
I am trying to get a clear feel for the guidelines under which
you operate. I am sure that it is your task to set those guidelines
or review those guidelines and make sure that all the chaplains
are quite clear about how they will respond to these dilemmas.
(The Venerable John Blackburn) It is not up to me
to set the guidelines under which a man conducts himself as a
minister. Those guidelines, those base lines are set by the sending
churches not by me. A man who comes into the Army is commissioned
as a chaplain and he comes in with the mandate of the sending
churches. I operate under a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury
as a chaplain to Her Majesty's Forces. It is not a licence granted
to me by the CDS or the Minister of State.
1081. Those guidelines might be different depending
on the denomination of the chaplain?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) Precisely but when
they come in, because it is a united chaplaincy, we tend to have
rules which operate right across the board. The confidentiality
issue was set by my predecessor and signed up by the Chaplain-General,
the Deputy Chaplain-General and the principal Roman Catholic Chaplain
in consultation with the sending churches.
Mr Davies: We have got the confidentiality
principle absolutely clear and you are very firm about that, and
I am delighted to hear that by the way. Can you tell the Committee
what, beyond that principle, you tend to say to your deputies,
to other chaplains, either who consult you or in general terms
if you are briefing them or discussing this matters with them
by way of guidance?
Chairman: Mr Davies, what relevance does
Mr Davies: Obviously it is important
in terms of whether or not the chaplaincy is in fact a conduit
for information to senior officers about problems that may arise
in the areas of moral and discipline.
1082. My question is because the Chaplain-General
has given a very clear outline of the primacy of confidentiality
for priests and ministers and as a Committee we have witnessed
for ourselves how a commanding officer who is keen to keep in
touch with the issues and concerns and situations that might potentially
cause disciplinary problems will, amongst other people, look to
Service chaplains to highlight general issues that are coming
up. Am I correct in saying that?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) I think that is a reasonable
1083. There is nothing you want to add to that
(The Venerable John Blackburn) Not at this point,
1084. Let me finally ask you a quantitative
question, if I might, Chaplain-General. I realise a large part
of your work is individual counselling, the sort of thing you
have been talking about but obviously there is the formal part
which is the provision of services and so on. There are about
200,000 men and women in the Army Service at the present time.
On average how many of them turn up to a Sunday service or, if
you like, to put it the way the Church of England count their
numbers, how many would turn up if they were present in their
units on that day to an Easter Sunday service?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) That is a very difficult
question to answer because it is often put to me "Oh, I was
in X, Y, Z Garrison Church last Sunday and there were 40 or 50
people who were there and, shall we say, 25 per cent of them would
have been former Service personnel". I do not have a problem
with former Service personnel being there.
1085. Of course not.
(The Venerable John Blackburn) If they feel comfortable
in a garrison church context because of the service they have
given to the Crown I am more than happy for them to be there and
support younger Service personnel. If you look at it on a Sunday
by Sunday basis, we would have to aggregate those kinds of figures
by X number of garrison churches but that is not the whole story,
is it, because when I was a senior chaplain in Catterick, for
example, I could have two or three weddings on a Saturday
1086. I can see we are going to get caught up
in the methodology. Let me just ask you how many Service men or
Service women on a frequent basis out of the 200,000 or whatever
it is attend a service?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) I could not begin to
1087. Have you any idea of that at all?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) No, I have no idea
Mr Davies: I am surprised.
Chairman: I did raise that issue in Kosovo
with the chaplains.
1088. We asked one individual chaplain, I am
trying to see if the figures are aggregated but obviously they
(The Venerable John Blackburn) No.
Mr Davies: I think that is a very revealing
1089. Chaplain-General, can I ask you a more
practical question, if I can. We have seen as we have gone round
one of the major concerns is the state of their living conditions,
married quarters, single quarters, they really are, in some cases,
quite appalling. We have seen good ones and bad ones, not many
good ones but degrees of bad ones. Can you explain to us how Service
chaplains are housed? Do they live with the officers? Can you
just explain the practicalities?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) Most chaplains, whether
they are single or married, would be housed in Service families'
accommodation. I think that is, especially with regard to the
single chaplains, for one very important consideration. If somebody
wanted to see a chaplain in his own home to preserve the parishioner's
privacy to some extent it is far easier to go into a house than
for Corporal Bloggins to go into the officers' mess to see the
chaplain. Service chaplains would be housed along the same lines
as A.N.Other officer. Now this can cause us a certain number of
problems because, as I have just outlined, with the age of ordination
rising, therefore a chaplain could come into the army bearing
the badge of rank, shall we say, of a captain, chaplain to the
forces fourth class. He could have three or four teenage children
so the normal accommodation given to a young married captain is
just not suitable to his family needs and then given, on top of
that, that he would, in an ideal world, also like a room away
from the family where he could see a Service member of HM Forces
who would want to see him in a house. On the whole the Defence
Housing Executive understands these needs and I am fairly satisfied
that my chaplains are well housed. There will obviously always
be cases where they would say "Oh, if only I lived two or
three doors up the road it would be so much easier" but for
example in 1978 when I went to Hong Kong I was chaplain to the
First Battalion of Royal Green Jackets. They gave me a Lieutenant-Colonel's
quarter. I then left that and went to Northern Ireland in 1980
to be chaplain to the Second Royal Tank Regiment. There were not
enough officers' houses in Lisanelly Camp so for six months I
lived alongside sergeants in the regiment. One has to take the
rough with the smooth, I am afraid.
Mr Keetch: I am grateful.
1090. We have noted there are different promotions
and structures within the different forces for the chaplains.
Which is the most helpful and if you were to adopt one system
of structures and promotion which one would it be and why?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) I do not think we can
adopt one system. What the Navy do works for them. They say that
they bear no badges of rank but they wear an officer's tunic,
if you like, and an officer's cap badge. They say their tradition
is "Well, the chaplain adopts the rank of the person he is
speaking to". I hesitate to wonder what a naval chaplain
does when he is addressing God but I will put that to one side
for a moment. Clearly working in a ship, in the camp, altogether
that works for them. My chaplains work in various different formations.
I have never found that wearing badges of rank has ever deterred
a soldier from coming to see me. When I was Assistant Chaplain-General
in York a young lance-corporal in the Signals came to see me,
although I was badged up, as I say, almost like a full colonel.
It depends on how the chaplain goes about his business. That is
true of any other walk of life, people are approachable or they
are not. I hope, in the main, my chaplains are approachable. I
always take the view that the rank I seem to carry, I am not a
major general, I am a chaplain general, I wear to ensure that
I can get an audience which I believe is helpful to Service personnel.
It is not a matter of personal adornment, although it may seem
that way on occasions, it is a way getting doors open to get things
done for Service men and woman. The Navy are the odd ones out,
because RAF chaplains and Army chaplains wear what appears to
be military rank, but I was commissioned as a chaplain.
1091. Chaplain-General, you said earlier that
you have 32 chaplains at Army training units. I suppose most people
think of chaplains taking services on Sundays or at the frontline
or out in the field, and so on, but that is only a tiny part of
what you do. Can I take you back to Harrogate for a moment, I
was in Harrogate last Friday at the Army Foundation College, which,
of course, is the successor to the Apprentice College that you
knew, and I was astonished to discover that the chaplains are
responsible right across the Army for the first introduction to
the values and standards of the British Army that come down from
the Adjutant General. All our newest soldiers and Service personnel
seem to be introduced to it by the chaplaincy. I asked the chaplain
for a copy of his syllabus and I was amazed to discover that he
was responsible for teaching core values, the values of military
life, authority, relationships, moral choices, prejudice, just
war, the morality of war and a number of other things. This is
a little known facet of the work of the chaplaincy, I wonder if
you can explain how important you see it to be as part of the
(The Venerable John Blackburn) It is all part of what
is called Individual Training Directive 11? My predecessor worked
very hard with people in the Director of Personnel Services and
others in drawing up that syllabus. When a chaplain delivers that
what we are seeking is not so much compliance but trying to establish
a baseline of moral formation, which will enable people to make
the choices that you have outlined. We think, for example, there
is a spiritual dimension which should be brought into any discussion
about prejudice. If you take, for example, the theological point
that men, and by that I mean men and women, are made in the image
of God that should call from us a certain response, which may
be different to how other people see it. We are saying if you
are made in the image of God are you, therefore, entitled to a
certain respect for that. If you take that right across the other
spectrums, we talked about selfless commitment, and so on, we
as Christian clerics would see that selfless commitment may be
seen in the work and the service that Christ gave. What we have
also to be sensitive to is that when we do that there may be and,
indeed, there more than likely will be people of no faith or other
faiths to us, and they have to be respected. When we do it it
must not be seen to be done in any way as aggressive proselytism.
I think we all have a very useful role to play in this. We are
not saying you must do this just because of the law, we are trying
to move the discussion on to another plain as well.
1092. Could I ask finally, this is not a loaded
question, are there any female Army chaplains or Service chaplains?
(The Venerable John Blackburn) Yes, there are three
female chaplains in the Royal Navy, regulars, full-time. There
is one I believe in the RAF. I have no regular female chaplains,
although one is the process of applying. I have three females
in the Territorial Army and five in the Army Cadet Force. It would
be wrong to say that my chaplaincy does not have female chaplains,
it is just that they have been slow in applying. When I was the
Deputy Chaplain-General, about 18 months ago, a dear, sweet lady
phoned up and said, "I am the Reverend X, Y, Z and I would
like to apply for regular Service". My heart leapt for joy,
and I said, "What is your interest in this?" She said,
"My Daddy was a colonel in the Cavalry". I still leapt
for joy. I said, "Madam, how old are you?" She said,
"53". I said, "I do not think I can take you on".
It was such a shame.
1093. As someone who is very keen on woman priests,
I think they have done a very great service to the Church of England,
which is my church, I hope very much we will find a fertile recruitment
ground, which will not shock too deeply the officers messes.
(The Venerable John Blackburn) You might like to know
that in the last two adverts I have placed in the Church Times
I have made it crystal clear that applications from female clerics
would be welcome. I do not have a problem with females coming
into the Army whatsoever.
1094. I am both glad and sad to say that one
of the most active local ministers in my constituency left to
become a Naval chaplain, we were sorry to lose her, but thought
she would go on to do a very good job. Can I thank you very much,
indeed, for giving us so much of your time and for the evidence
you have given to us. Certainly the points you have made have
added to our appreciation of the very important and valuable role
Service chaplains make to our Armed Forces. I think all of us
feel obliged or certainly would want in the future to ensure that
they, perhaps, get a bit more credit and a bit more of a mention
than maybe they have had in the past. Thank you very much, indeed,
for coming along this afternoon and for all the service you and
other Service chaplains provide.
(The Venerable John Blackburn) Thank you for asking
me. Thank you for this opportunity and thank for your concern
and support for my chaplains and the chaplains of the other Services.