The Church of England is proud to promote abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, yet in the not-so-distant past, it was the Church of England that offered a "moral justification" for the institution of slavery by citing Christian teachings. Not only had it offered this rationale for other people, but the Church had also owned slaves, such as the people who worked on a church plantation in Barbados, as seen in this video clip. And the church was not any less ruthless a slave owner than other plantation owners, occasionally branding slaves with hot irons or whipping them to death in order to put an end to their lives. Slaves on the church plantation in Barbados ranged in age from ten to eighty when they were first brought there.
In the 19th century, when slaves were finally granted their freedom, the Church demanded and received a sizeable sum of money as compensation for the 'loss of property.' However, the slaves themselves received nothing.
In the wake of recent apologies issued by British organisations for their ties to the slave trade, the Church of England has referred to the historic linkages to slavery that exist via clerics as a "source of shame."
According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, an investigation of a database maintained by the University College London discovered that approximately one hundred members of the Church of England clergy had benefitted from slavery.
On Thursday, the Church reaffirmed its commitment to combating slavery "in all its manifestations today" despite the fact that it had previously said that it had offered an apology in 2006 for historical incidents.
Research by the Telegraph found that 96 Church of England clergymen were involved in claims for compensation paid to slave owners when the trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1833.
These claims would total £46 million in today’s money, while the construction of 32 churches is linked to claimants, the newspaper reports.
“Slavery and exploitation have no place in society,” a spokeswoman for the Church of England said.
“While we recognise the leading role clergy and active members of the Church of England played in securing the abolition of slavery, it is a source of shame that others within the Church actively perpetrated slavery and profited from it.
“In 2006 the General Synod of the Church of England issued an apology, acknowledging the part the Church itself played in historic cases of slavery.
“We reiterate our commitments to support every effort by the Church and other agencies to oppose human trafficking and all other manifestations of slavery across the world.
“The Church of England is actively committed to combating slavery in all its forms today, particularly through the work of the Clewer Initiative which works with our 42 dioceses to help support victim of modern slavery and identify the signs of exploitation in their communities.”