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Petitioner slams Dean "Vicious Viv" after Christmas bells remain silent at York Minster

Petitioner slams Dean "Vicious Viv" after Christmas bells remain silent at York Minster


By Jules Gomes
December 28, 2016

Dr. Jules Gomes interviewed Heather Cawte in the scandal of the Dean who banned a bell-ringer.

As the scandal of the bell-ringers remains unresolved and after every effort by the Dean and Chapter to recruit bell-ringers from outside York Minster to ring the bells at Christmas failed, CAWTE initiated an online petition calling for the removal of the Dean of York.

VOL: Hope you had a great Christmas--despite the bells of York Minster being silent for the first time since the 14th century! Am I right?

CAWTE: Yes, I had a great Christmas--and yes, it was the first time since the 14th century that there were no bells! The Dean and Chapter managed to get some local ringers for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, but not for Midnight Communion. The ringing team in Leeds were asked but refused out of solidarity with the York team.

VOL: Do tell me something about yourself and why you decided to become involved and initiate an online petition? Are there two petitions on this issue? What is the difference between the two?

CAWTE: I'm not a member of the Minster congregation, but I have many friends at the Minster. I decided to start the petition to give a voice to the frustrated and angry people of York, who have had to suffer the Dean's appalling people management skills since the day she arrived.

It's not my petition that has amassed the 18,000 signatures--mine is the smaller one, which now has 432 signatures. I set mine up later, and it is calling specifically for the Dean's removal.

VOL: Surely this must be an exception to her 'people management skills'? Dean Vivienne Faull holds a very senior position in the Church of England and she must have taken a number of facts into consideration when disbanding the bell-ringers. Why are you calling for her to be removed from her position?

CAWTE: The dispute with the bell-ringers is just the last in a long line of examples. The way she has handled it has simply inflamed the whole situation instead of calming and resolving it. I don't want to break any confidences or reveal sensitive information, but I know the truth of the situation at the heart of this disaster, and the Dean has ridden roughshod over the facts.

VOL: How do you think the media has responded and how do people now view such a prestigious cathedral?

CAWTE: The Dean has created a situation which has seen her mocked in the national press and broadcast media, and the whole Minster community dragged into disrepute. York has become a laughing stock. This is not how we expect someone in such high office to behave.

VOL: Dean Faull has held many senior positions before coming to York Minster. Surely she was successful in these roles?

CAWTE: I have friends who have encountered her in her posts prior to York, and who make the same criticisms of the Dean as we have seen on Facebook, and in the comments on local press pages, since this whole fiasco began. She is universally seen as high-handed, inflexible, contemptuous of others and, sadly for someone in her job, un-Christian.

In her last post, at Leicester Cathedral, she was known as "Vicious Viv". This is not a person you want to have in charge of a well-loved Minster with massive volunteer support, and huge affection from the local community.

VOL: Do you know her personally or is this just another impersonal petition?

CAWTE: In my own dealings with her, I have found her to be condescending and inconsiderate. I was lucky enough to review the Mystery Plays this year, and so was invited to the press night drinks, before the show, in The Deanery. I use a wheelchair and, unfortunately, The Deanery is not accessible to wheelchairs.

In other situations where I have been personally invited to an inaccessible event, the organisers have bent over backwards to accommodate me, even going so far as to hold the event in a different building. All the Dean was prepared to do was to move the gathering into her garden.

On opening night, I broached the subject with her and requested a change of venue. She gave me a sickly, false smile and said, in the tone of voice one would use to a small and stupid child, "Oh, but it will be in the garden! I have booked lovely weather especially!" I was wryly amused when press night was very cold, with torrential rain, and the wind so high that the beer tent outside the Minster blew away.

VOL: Surely the Dean is accountable to her superiors? Have you made an effort to speak to them and seek a resolution at a higher level by talking to John Sentamu, Archbishop of York? Isn't York Minster his cathedral? Or does he not have any authority over the Dean and Chapter?

CAWTE: I have found it difficult to find out who actually employs the Dean, and so I have addressed my petition to the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York, who are her superiors in the Church of England. The hierarchy of the Church of England is pretty complex! I believe the Minster is the home of the Dean and Chapter, and I know that the Archbishop has to be invited to enter it. He has no automatic right to enter.

That being said, he is second in command in the Church of England. Surely he outranks the Dean? He made a statement to the press at the end of October about the bell-ringers, which was not very well expressed, but conveyed that he was firmly behind the Dean. I don't even know if she has told him the full facts.

I do not believe the Dean is suitable for holding a position of such authority in a major cathedral, and that she is doing irreparable harm to public opinion both of the Minster, and of the Church of England. She is simply not fit for purpose, and the Minster deserves better.

The Rev'd Dr Jules Gomes BA BD MTh PhD (Cantab), is pastor of St Augustine's Church on the Isle of man. He is an occasional commentator for VOL

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