LONDON, Jan 11, 2023 - The Church of England says it will be committing £100m ($121 million) to establish a fund to compensate for its participation in, and benefit from the Trans Atlantic slave trade.
The Church Commissioners, established in 1948 and who manage the church's 10-billion-pound investment portfolio, says, in an effort to “address past wrongs,” the Church will use the money for a fund that will invest in communities affected by past slavery, and research and engagement related to its links with slavery.
A report commissioned by the church found last June that a predecessor of its investment fund, called Queen Anne's Bounty, a financial scheme established in 1704, invested significant amounts in the slave-trading South Sea Company in the 18th Century.
The scheme was bolstered by donations from individuals who were likely to have profited from transatlantic slavery, by which enslaved Africans were transported to work in crop plantations mainly in the West Indies and the Americas, the report said.
Gareth Mostyn, Chief Executive of the Church Commissioners, told BBC radio that "there's no doubt that those who were making the investment knew that the South Sea Company was trading in enslaved people, and that's now a source of real shame for us, and for which we apologise."
The report said: “The South Sea Company became a significant participant in the slave trade … during the early 18th century. Over the course of at least 96 transatlantic voyages during this period, the South Sea Company purchased and transported human beings as chattel property; 34,000 enslaved people in crowded, unsanitary, unsafe and inhumane conditions.”
The church is not using the term “reparations” as the scheme will not compensate individuals but will support projects “focused on improving opportunities for communities adversely impacted by historic slavery”.
The Church of England is to form an “oversight group … with significant membership from communities impacted by historic slavery” to ensure the church’s response is carried out “sensitively and with accountability.”
The archbishop of Canterbury and chair of the Church Commissioners Justin Welby, said the report “lays bare the links of the Church Commissioners’ predecessor fund with transatlantic chattel slavery.
I am deeply sorry for these links. It is now time to take action to address our shameful past.”
Welby, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion of about 85 million Christians and also chair of the Church Commissioners, said it was necessary to address the church's past transparently to face "our present and future with integrity".
In a statement, Welby said: “I am deeply sorry for the links with transatlantic chattel slavery that the Church Commissioners have identified. This abominable trade took men, women and children created in God’s image and stripped them of their dignity and freedom.
“The fact that some within the church actively supported and profited from it is a source of shame. It is only by facing this painful reality that we can take steps towards genuine healing and reconciliation – the path that Jesus Christ calls us to walk. This is a moment for lament, repentance and restorative action.”
Chair of the of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Committee and vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies Sir Hilary Beckles, two years ago said “It is the Church of England’s time to join civil society’s conversation about reparations for development,” noting that the church’s General Synod approved a resolution apologizing to descendants of victims of the slave trade in 2006.
“Apologies are not enough,”: said Beckles. “Apologies are precursors for reparations. Apologies are signals of an intent to participate in a reparatory process.
Apologies are stage one of an effort that says, ‘we acknowledge the harm that we have caused and we are prepared to enter phase two which is a discussion and a negotiation about how to repair that harm and suffering that continues to be the legacy in the Caribbean today.”
Beckles said that Caribbean people continue to suffer economic deprivation and poor health as a direct result of the injustices of slavery. He argues that European institutions that created and benefitted from the slave system must play a role in addressing these issues.
“Britain and Europe chose to walk away from this mess that they have created,” Beckles said. “They have left it entirely to the democratic leadership of Caribbean governments and civil society. This was a deliberate and strategic effort, to walk away and refuse to take the responsibility for the legacies of slavery and colonization.
The model which was used by Britain at the moment of the ending of colonization, was that Britain should exit colonization and its legacies on the cheap. That they should exit without responsibility; that they should walk away and not look back,” Beckles lamented.
The Church of England relinquished its slaves only after slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833 and was paid £8,823. 8s. 9d restitution by the Crown for 411 slaves owned in the Caribbean at the time of abolition.