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Last Updated: Monday, 26 March 2007, 04:11 GMT 05:11 UK
Church 'needs to make amends'
By Robert Pigott
Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

A Church "partly shaped by slavery" still needs to make amends, says the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Amid the debate about how meaningful an apology is - when it's made by people several generations distant from the suffering and trauma inflicted - another question has loomed.

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Williams said the question of reparation must be considered

Should there be some form of physical reparation for the terrible trade in people in which Britain had a disproportionate share?

It comes as a bit of a surprise to some that an organisation as benign as the Church of England might have to consider such a question.

But its leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, thinks it must.

The Church owned slaves on plantations in the West Indies. Properties such as the Coddrington estate in Barbados provided the Church's missionary wing - the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel - with about a third of its income.

Moral problems

It seems that contemporary Anglicans were aware of the moral problems posed by owning slaves. They took comfort in using the income to spread the Christian message.

The slaves were eventually freed in 1834 - 27 years after the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire that's being marked this week.

Government compensation for the loss of slave labour included almost 9,000 for the Church, a huge sum in those days.

We are here, where we are and who we are partly because of terrible things that our forbears did
Dr Rowan Williams
Now, almost two centuries later, Dr Williams accepts that the Church needs to consider whether it should make reparation.

He told BBC Radio 4's Trade Roots that Anglicans needed to acknowledge that they belonged to an institution in part shaped by this history.

"We are here, where we are and who we are partly because of terrible things that our forbears did," he said.

"Face it. Get used to it, and, you know, make that history your history."

But, Dr Williams was asked, does that mean paying reparations?

'Question asked'

"While it sounds simple to say all right so we should pass on the reparation that was received [when the slaves were freed], exactly to whom?" he asked.

"Exactly where does it go? And exactly how does it differ from the various ways in which we try to interact now with the effects of that in terms of aid and development and so forth?

"So I haven't got a quick solution to that. I think we need to be asking the question and working at it. That, I think we're beginning to do."
Campaigners in yokes and chains
Campaigners who walked from Hull joined London's Walk of Witness

The Church apologised for its part in the cruelty and hardship of the slave trade last year, and marked the bicentenary of the act of abolition this weekend with a walk through London led by Dr Williams and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.

Dr Sentamu came out against the payment of reparations, but he did call on the government to go further in making its own apology for slavery.

He pointed out that the country had enriched itself by trading in people as it did in onions and maize.

So far, Tony Blair has restricted himself to expressing Britain's "deep sorrow and regret" for its role in the slave trade.

But the Church is evidently now considering a more significant act of restoration.

"If you are living off that kind of historic legacy then, I think, you have a responsibility," Dr Williams said.

Trade Roots will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 1100 BST on Mon 26, Tue 27 and Wed 28 March.


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