*** DEBUG END ***

Synod: A change in church culture

18 July 2014


Safety first: the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, presenting the draft proposals

Safety first: the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, presenting the draft proposals

THE Draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure and the Draft Amending Canon No. 34 received their first consideration in the Synod on Friday afternoon.

The draft legislation contains provisions arising from the review of the safeguarding issues in the diocese of Chichester.

Moving both pieces of draft legislation, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, summarised the proposals in the draft Measure and Canon.

If the Measure was passed, people would be barred from serving as members of PCCs, district church councils, and synods if they were convicted of an offence listed in Schedule One of the Children and Young Persons Act 1993.

In addition, anybody who appeared on a barred list under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 would be barred from serving as a churchwarden or as a member of a PCC, DCC, or synod.

The Draft Amending Canon would allow bishops to order clergy to undergo a compulsory risk-assessment, subject to an appeal against the order to the President of Tribunals (currently the High Court Judge Lord Justice Mummery).

The risk assessment would "not make determinative findings about disputed past behaviour", as this was the work of the disciplinary tribunals. Nor would an adverse assessment, in itself, result in the removal of a cleric from office.

Members of the clergy would be obliged to "participate in arrangements for safeguarding training approved by the diocesan bishop", and no lay person can receive a bishop's licence unless he or she had "undergone suitable safeguarding training".

Unlicensed clerics would not be invited to officiate, or allowed to robe during services, unless they had authority to minister from a diocesan bishop.

The Measure would also require diocesan bishops to appoint a safeguarding adviser; and it would remove the statutory limitation under the Clergy Discipline Measure, so that complaints alleging sexual misconduct against a child or vulnerable adult made more than one year after the alleged offence could be heard without the need to seek permission to proceed out of time from the President of Tribunals.

The Revd Mark Steadman (Southwark) said that survivors of abuse had not been placed at the centre of these new processes. He said that he regretted that powers of suspension for clergy and lay officers were not bolder.

More work needed to be done, he said, on legal-aid rules, to ensure that clergy could get good legal advice if disciplinary measures were being contemplated. "Let's take this opportunity to be even more rigorous," he said.

The Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford) said that what was needed as well as this legislation was a cultural change, so that people would be more aware of the dangers of abuse in churches. Physical and emotional abuse should also be covered by this legislation, as should non-vulnerable adults, he said.

Mary Nagel (Chichester) warned: "We must be careful to get the legislation right, and beware of an emotional victim-led agenda which could spoil our thinking, especially with the use of pressure groups." There were "numerous examples of churches that have supported survivors".

Justin Brett (Chichester) raised a concern whether the legislation achieved the desired intent. It referred to two lists of people who could be prevented from taking up positions of leadership: those who had been found guilty of an offence listed in Schedule 1 of the 1933 Act, and those on a barred list. Yet it was possible to be guilty of the former and not on the latter.

It was also possible to be on a barred list and not guilty of a 1933 Act offence. The legislation stated that a bishop could overrule the result of someone's being guilty of an offence under the Act, but not someone's being on a barred list. There was need for further "serious legal thinking".

John Freeman (Chester) offered apologies to the survivors present at the debate. He disclosed that he had been abused, and that the perpetrator had "spent time at His Majesty's Pleasure". He thanked Bishop Butler for taking on board his recommendation about the drafting of the Measure.

David Kemp (Canterbury) had previously berated the centre of the Church of England for "not getting it", but he was now more encouraged. He queried how the Church would deal with an "ordinary member of the congregation". You could not ask for everyone to have a DBS in a Church with "fuzzy edges. . . The question is: where are we going to draw the line?"

The Ven. Dr John Applegate (Manchester) sought clarify what he had said in February about those teaching in theological educational institutions. His argument was not "special pleading", but that these teachers needed to be included in the legislation. Because they were not licensed by bishops, these teachers were in a "very odd position". The loophole needed to be addressed.

The Revd Simon Cawdell (Hereford) commented that there needed to be a responsibility not just on incumbents to prevent unlicensed clergy wearing robes to services, but also the unlicensed clergy themselves. He also raised a concern that the principle of the absolute confidentiality of confession might be "unhelpful and dangerous" if it prevented clergy from exposing abuse.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) said that there should be a route of appeal for those given negative risk assessments, as mistakes could be made.

The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, had a question about how long suspension could last. If up to two years, this could be "devastating" - not just for the cleric, but for his or her family and community

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) argued that the proper resources must be supplied to enable implementation of the safeguarding Measure: "It's a lot of money, but it's going to have to be found."

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn (Southwark), was "completely supportive" of the Measure, but raised a concern about the requirements for vetting those robed. "All I would ask is that resources be put there to enable checks to take place."

The Revd Rowan Williams (York) raised a concern about training for the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. This had not been included in the diocesan training she had attended, she said.

The Synod voted that the draft legislation should be considered for revision in committee.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)