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Reparations for Slavery - Press Briefing from Lambeth Palace

Monday 26th March 2007

Some news reports today [Monday 26th March 2007] have suggested that Dr Rowan Williams is calling for the Church to make financial reparations in relation to the history of the Church of England and the slave trade.

The comments that prompted this coverage came in the BBC radio programme, Trade Roots.  The Archbishop's position, carefully articulated in the programme, actually pointed towards the need for a wider institutional sense of responsibility in acknowledging the heritage of slavery itself.

In response to a question from the Press Association this morning, the Archbishop made clear that the thrust of his contribution to the programme was not a call for reparations but rather for a wider sense of responsibility in those institutions with such a legacy:

"Reparations as such offer too mechanical and calculating a model for making amends and there are seriously challenging questions to be asked about what, under such proposals should be paid and to whom. The point about moral responsibility is that the slave trade yielded considerable profit for institutions - but how that is dealt with now means asking the wider question about how that heritage is used to help most effectively those suffering because of the legacy of slavery."

It should also be noted that during the February 2006 debate that approved the Church of England's apology for its involvement in the slave trade, the General Synod discussed including a call for "the Archbishops' Council to recommend appropriate reparations." This part of the motion was not carried.

The verbatim of the exchange recorded with Michael Buerk, is below.

M. BUERK: What do you think is the morally appropriate way to deal with this history? I mean is an apology too easy? You know what, how, how should you be dealing with this, two hundred years after the trade was abolished?

ARCHBISHOP: Yes, nobody I think has found an easy and morally clear way of figuring this. Are apologies too easy? Well they may well be, but they still have to be made I think, certainly an acknowledgement of the truth. It's not about lashing yourself with guilt over this, it's about saying 'well you know we belong to an institution which is in part shaped by this history, and we're, we are here where we are and who we are partly because of terrible things that are forbears did - face it, get used to it, and you know make that history your history'. Then the question is, where are we now? And while it sounds simple to say, all right so we should, we should pass on the reparation that was received in 1831 or whenever, exactly to whom? Exactly where does it go? And exactly how does it differ from the various ways in which we try to, to interact now with the effects of that in terms of aid and development and so forth? So I haven't got a quick solution to that. I think we need, we need to be asking the question and working at it, that I think we're beginning to do.

M. BUERK: But implicit in what you say is, is perhaps a need to make amends in some form?

ARCHBISHOP: I think so, yes. If you are living off that kind of historic legacy, then you have a responsibility I think - you have a responsibility.

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