Wealth Warning from the Archbishops’ Council: This article is EXTREMELY CONFlDENTIAL and may contain material which might seriously inhibit your preferment. Please cut along the dotted line and shred it before reading.

Few institutions can be more addicted to secrecy and ‘confidentiality’ than the Church of England. From the workings of the Appointments process, through the functioning of the Archbishop’ Council, to all the lesser boards and committees, the cult of secrecy prevails. Openness and transparency is viewed with horror as a sin against the Holy Spirit.

There is no point in challenging this cosy coterie of confidentiality, quite simply because the whole mechanism of obfuscation serves no useful purpose. Any challenge (as was the case when clergy gained statutory access to their confidential files) will fail because, in a society addicted to secrecy, it is not documentation but gossip and innuendo which really counts.

Confidentiality in the Church of England, we can confidently conclude, has three main functions.

First it adds to the kudos and self-esteem of those who are charged with its maintenance. Second, it elevates the trivial and inconsequential, so that the institution itself seems more important than it really is, and the matters with which it deals more momentous than they really are. Third it renders gossip and indiscretion the more delicious to both author and recipient. Small wonder, then, that many in the Church are as eager to play cloak and dagger as they are to play cope and mitre.

Then there is the appeal to ‘Chatham House Rules’. With the delightful consequence that someone present at a meeting can claim that anything anyone wants to have been said was said, providing the opinion is not attributed to anyone who was actually present. The scope for the accomplished player is enormous.