Victims and survivors of church-related abuse have welcomed the news that the Venerable Julie Conalty is to be the next Bishop of Birkenhead describing her as “one of very few senior figures who recognise that corruption in the Church needs to be faced.”
One campaigner-survivor described how he was invited by Julie to be one of her referees for the Birkenhead post, a move he sees as indicative of her commitment to ensuring the voice of victims and survivors is heard.
Gilo, who is co-editor of Letters to a Broken Church, and who has previously helped Archdeacon Julie write a set of prayers for survivors of church-context abuse in the Diocese of Rochester, says: "I am not a Church insider, so I approached the reference in terms of my experience of Julie's honest engagement and compassion towards survivors.
“If the Church were seeking someone who would conform to the status quo, not speak out of turn or rock boats but deliver sound-bites – then I knew they would not be ready to embrace the witness to truth and justice that Julie brings.
“I think many of us are confident that Julie will help accelerate change in the Church. She takes the need for culture and structure change and the need for justice and rebuilding of lives very seriously.”
Referring to a speech she gave at a meeting of General Synod in 2020, Gilo says: “Anyone who heard her courageous speech will remember the electrifying moment she called out the Church's insurer and lawyer for their unethical strategy and behaviour.
“She tells it as it is because she instinctively knows that the tenacity of the Church has to match the tenacity of survivors. And she is one of very few senior figures who recognise that corruption in the Church needs to be faced.”
Bishop-designate Julie Conalty on a visit to Grange Precinct, Birkenhead
Phil Johnson, Chair of the support organisation, Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS) has also lent his support: "We are delighted at the appointment of Julie as the new Bishop of Birkenhead. She has been a powerful advocate for survivors of abuse, speaking out on our behalf at General Synod and in the media.
“She has also supported many survivors both directly and through her work on the support scheme, we have every confidence that she will continue to do so."
Jo Kind, MACSAS Committee member and their representative in Wales says: "I am absolutely delighted for Julie that she has been made Bishop of Birkenhead. Those who live in that part of the Diocese of Chester are in for a treat.
“Julie has incredible honesty, insight, and integrity which shows itself in the way she listens to people, is willing to call out injustice and to challenge, or equally to give praise where it is due. She is a key part of the ‘culture change’ in the Church of England which is talked of so often. I wish her so well in her new role.
Speaking on the day Downing Street announced her appointment, Bishop-designate Julie said: “Being nominated to be the next Bishop of Birkenhead is a huge privilege. I am both honoured and daunted to have been appointed. I have a strong sense of calling to this role and to serve the people of Chester Diocese but that doesn’t stop me feeling unworthy and slightly terrified.
“I am assured that I will receive a warm welcome and I really look forward to getting to know my new colleagues and community. Please pray for me as I prepare, just as I will pray for you.”
The Bishop of Chester, Mark Tanner, says: “Julie comes with significant experience as an Archdeacon and ordained minister but also brings with her many years of professional expertise in safeguarding. Her passion for justice and truth, and her joyful faith will be an asset and a blessing to us."
The appointment of the two suffragan bishop posts completes the new episcopal team for the Diocese of Chester after Bishop Mark Tanner’s appointment as the diocesan Bishop of Chester in May 2020. Bishop-designate Julie succeeds Bishop Keith Sinclair who retired in March 2021, and Bishop-designate Sam succeeds Bishop Libby Lane who left the diocese in 2019.