the effectiveness of the code for measuring clergy discipline and the rules discussed
THE General Synod voted by an overwhelming majority on Saturday to approve the 2021 Rules of Discipline for the Clergy. Introducing the debate, Reverend Paul Benfield (Blackburn) described the Rules as the framework by which the HOM operated, in terms of efficiency, clarity, active case management and vulnerable witnesses.
Greater efficiency, he said, would come from the provision of email addresses and the online request processing function, giving additional guidance at every step for those submitting documents. Clarity would come from the requirement to provide a statement of relevant events in a chronological timeline.
“Clergy disciplinary action is by no means a complaint procedure: it is a formal document by which legal proceedings are initiated,” Father Benfield said. Importantly, he said, the word “complaint” was replaced with “allegation of misconduct”. New powers were put in place to ensure cases progress much faster and that vulnerable witnesses would now be granted legal counsel if they had not requested one.
Canon Joyce Jones (Leeds) welcomed the changes to the rules and the updated code of practice. She hoped that these were transparent, so that people were informed as soon as possible of what they were accused of. The separation between “complaint” and “allegation of misconduct” was a welcome provision for providing pastoral care. There had been numerous instances in which the accused clergy had been totally isolated, she said.
Canon Simon Talbott (Ely) encouraged the clergy to join the Church of England Clergy Advocates, of which he was responsible. The group has supported clergy and lay employees throughout the CDM process, he explained. He noted that the Sheldon Hub was producing a document on the scope of the reforms, but asked who would lead and evaluate them. “The cases continue and the obvious flaws in the system continue to cause damage. . . even to people who commit suicide. These are small adjustments, yes, but clearly not enough. It’s tinkering around the edges of a broken system.
Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds) noted that there was always a reference in Article 38 to the need to have “due consideration”. IICSA had recommended not to use this term, and this had been one of the changes implemented in the draft Code of Good Practice for Safeguarding. It was advisable, during the revision, to replace “take into account” in all areas.
Bishop (retreatant) in LambethThe Right Reverend Tim Thornton was planning to present a report on CDM reform at the July synod. He supported the rule amendments and praised the work of Edward Dobson and Dean of Arches, Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC. It would take constant updates to do justice to everyone involved, he said. It was not helpful that too much pressure had been put on the CDM. “I will outline that we not only need a new CDM measure, but we also need to look at the role and affirmation of the clergy – how they understand each other and take the pressure of discipleship, and how they can be sustained throughout. throughout their ministry, “he said.
The Dean of Arches and Auditor, Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, said the rationale had been to do as much as possible under secondary legislation to make the process more agile. The Committee had been well informed by the practical experience of those who administered the system in the field. She welcomed the protection of vulnerable witnesses and the change in nomenclature from “complaints” to “allegations of misconduct”.
Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) noted the reference to the broader work around conditions of clergy service: the need for the Synod to be “active in working with us in all of this. . . We can have rules as wonderful, effective, and good as we could imagine, but if they are not used with humanity, care and diligence, they will fall far short of what we need. “
David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) proposed its amendment, which provides for the chronology of events to be a separate document to accompany the form setting out the allegation of misconduct rather than being included in the form itself. This was a very simple amendment to Rule 3, which made the timeline a stand-alone document, so it wouldn’t be necessary to change all of the statutory document forms, he said.
Valerie Hallard (Carlisle) agreed, saying some victims were unable to produce such a document. “Use the amendment to make sure these aren’t at a disadvantage. “
Jayne ozanne (Oxford) drew attention to the difficulty for victims to go back and think about the order of events. She thanked Mr Lamming – who was attending the synod from his hospital bed, awaiting transfer to Papworth Hospital for heart surgery – for his diligence in reviewing the tooth and nail rules.
The amendment was adopted by 300 nem. con. The final motion as amended was adopted 306 nem.con. The rules will now be tabled in both Houses of Parliament.
AS THE General Synod was ahead of the agenda on Saturday morning, it also agreed to propose a requested debate on matters deemed approved: Clergy Discipline 2003: Code of Practice.
Introducing the debate, the President of the Maison des Laïcs, Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham), said the Clergy Disciplinary Commission (CDC), on which he served, was responsible for enforcing the CDM and promulgating a code of practice for it. This is the latest revision of the code, but it should be noted, he said, that it does not have the force of law. “Compliance with the code is considered best practice. “
Among the main changes proposed were to make the code more user-friendly and easier to navigate, and to incorporate guidelines issued by the CDC on the use of the code. The code itself now included a procedure for more minor complaints that did not justify the use of formal CDM protocols.
Canon Simon Talbott (Ely) was worried about references to professional conduct guidelines in the new code, which he said were ambitious and “a little fuzzy”: complaints should only be about more serious issues. He welcomed the new wording which would reduce the number of minor grievances sucked into the formal CDM process.
The Vicar General of York, The Most Venerable Peter Collier, supported the amendments, in particular the distinction between serious misconduct and more minor grievances. A formal framework for minor complaints was requested by the Synod in the 1990s when it first considered what would become the CDM, but it never happened. It is not clear where the proposals for a broader reform of the CDM came from, he said, and called for more clarity.
The Archdeacon of Leeds, Ven. Paul Ayers (Leeds) welcomed the new code, but more work was needed in some areas. Currently, Archdeacons who made allegations on behalf of the complainant had to sign a form declaring the allegation to be true, which was problematic. Attention should also be paid to the practical aspects of supporting the clergy who were in the middle of the CDM process.
Martin Sewell (Rochester) asked for clarification on whether church proceedings would take precedence over parallel processes regarding identical or similar allegations outside the church.
Canon David Félix (Chester) said there had been a plethora of new guidelines, terms of service and codes of practice in recent years for the clergy. “There must now be some kind of manual for the clergy where it is all gathered, so that it is clear exactly what is expected of them and how they are to function. Right now it’s a bit like a dog dinner.
Marie durlacher (Chelmsford) said it was vital that the Synod be given the opportunity to comment on the new code of conduct and asked that in the future this matter not be automatically conducted without debate.
Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) said that, by default, the Archdeacon was the person representing the plaintiff. She knew of many instances where this had been a problem. The complainant had lost control of her story and the flow of information to her was not always smooth, she said.
Canon Paul Cartwright (Leeds) echoed a point from Archdeacon Ayers that the Archdeacon is both the initiator of the complaint as well as supposedly the pastor of the priest against whom the complaint is brought. “Could we have a common reflection and train people to be peer helpers and offer someone from outside the diocese to provide pastoral support to the clergy in the CDM process? “
Dr John Appleby (Newcastle) said the code did not specify what would happen to allegations made after a cleric renounced holy orders.
Reverend Christopher Smith (London), responding to Canon Talbott, said people who sit in CDM courts have been using professional conduct guidelines for some time. Adding them to the code was just regularizing what had already happened.
The approval was raised to 285 nem. con. with six abstentions recorded.