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Synod legislates for safer churches

17 July 2015

Sam Atkins

THE final legislative stages of the Draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure and Draft Amending Canon No. 34, which are designed to strengthen the C of E’s safeguarding procedures, began with taking note of a report by the steering committee.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, explained that some “drafting amendments” had been introduced to “clarify any uncertainties and improve the drafting”.

The next stage was the final-approval debate.

“We have a long journey ahead of us in developing even safer churches,” the Bishop said. “Individuals determined to abuse will groom leaders, and whole congregations, in order to work their way into an abusive situation. Our emphasis has to be on prevention.”

Among the new procedures contained in the Measure, a priest under investigation by police or a local authority for criminal offences against children or vulnerable adults could be suspended. At present, Bishop Butler said, the bishop’s power to suspend arose only once a priest had been arrested.

The existing Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) required the consent of the President of Tribunals before complaints dating back longer than a year could be considered. Under the new Measure, this statute of limitations was removed for alleged misconduct of a sexual nature towards a child or vulnerable adult.

The new Measure would also disqualify people who were on a barred list under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 from holding office as a churchwarden, serving on a PCC, or being appointed PCC secretary or treasurer.

It also extended the disqualification that currently applied to churchwardens — prohibiting anybody serving who had been convicted of an offence listed in Schedule 1 to the Children and Young Persons Act 1993 from holding the position — to PCC members, secretaries, and treasurers.

The bishop would also have the power to suspend churchwardens, PCC members, secretaries, and treasurers if they were arrested on suspicion of committing a relevant offence, or on receiving information from the police or a local authority that they presented a “significant risk of harm towards a child or vulnerable adult”.

The Measure also created an explicit offence of misconduct for clerks in holy orders who disregarded the House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance. The new Measure would “require those to whom the duty applies to acquaint themselves with the guidance, to take it into account in decision-making where it is relevant, and to depart from it only where they have cogent reasons for doing so”, Bishop Butler said.

The Revd Brian Llewellyn (Europe) said that those who might find the Measure “onerous or difficult” should look to Europe, where not having such measures in place had led to a risk for children and vulnerable adults, but also to the reputation of the whole Church. “It has been a shock living in Belgium to see the reputation of the Catholic Church torn to shreds over this issue.”

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) said that it could take many years for people to come forward with complaints and allegations. He sought reassurance that this would not be ruled out of time. “People are now being very brave, and we have to encourage that braveness and support them through very difficult times.”

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) expressed a concern that “in the fullness of time we are going to have to have a completely independent organisation to do this, because we are placing various key people in a difficult position in being both responsible for pastoral care and being prosecutors of those who have done wrong.”

The Synod unanimously voted that the Measure be finally approved: Bishops 28; Clergy 145; Laity 149.

Bishop Butler then moved the final approval of Amending Canon No. 34. This introduces a new Canon, C30, relating solely to matters of safeguarding.

“All dioceses presently have access to safeguarding advisers, but there is some divergence in the roles they take on and about who actually provides safeguarding advice,” he said. “The new Canon C30 will therefore require every diocesan bishop to appoint a safeguarding adviser to advise the bishop on matters relating to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.

“The House of Bishops will be empowered to make provision to regulate who is eligible for appointment and what the safeguarding adviser’s functions are to be. This will facilitate consistency across the dioceses and ensure certain national standards are achieved.”

The new canon would also enable diocesan bishops to direct a priest or deacon with authority to officiate in the diocese to undergo a risk assessment “where the bishop is satisfied that the direction is justified in all the circumstances of the case. . . A failure to comply with the direction . . . without reasonable excuse will be regarded as misconduct.”

The canon applied “similar disqualification provisions” to those that applied to churchwardens and PCC members to licensed Readers and lay workers, preventing people on a barred list or with a relevant conviction from holding office, and giving the bishop power to suspend a person who had been arrested for a relevant offence, or where information had been provided by the police or local authority.

It also contained restrictions on who could be invited to minister or vest during Divine Service.

“If clergy wish to officiate in our Church in whatever capacity, or vest, then they will have to get permission from a diocesan bishop,” Bishop Butler said. “That will not impose an unduly harsh requirement, but it will be an important part of our safeguarding procedures.

“Furthermore, to give these new provisions teeth, a minister with the cure of souls who knowingly permits a person to officiate or vest when that person has no authority to do so will commit misconduct under the CDM.”

Invitations to ministers or lay people from other churches to perform duties at services should be given only “if the incumbent is satisfied, having made appropriate enquiries, that the person is of good standing”, Bishop Butler said.

“As a Synod, we must work together, listen to those who have suffered, and help to provide protection for those who cannot protect themselves.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, raised the issue of priests who had been barred from ministry, had retired, moved dioceses, and then wanted permission to officiate once their period of suspension had elapsed. Currently, the Archbishops could not force them to undergo a risk assessment, a situation that, Dr Sentamu said, was wrong. He said there had been at least two such occasions that he knew of, and when the priest’s files eventually were procured after costly legal action, it became obvious why they should never return to ministry. “I think the Archbishops should have the power to do this [in the Canons],” he said. “If this is not done, we may be back in the same difficulty we are trying to remedy now.” At the end of the debate, he said that a “miscellaneous” provision might be needed.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott (Canterbury), said that safeguarding officers needed to have external support to help them with the emotional toll placed on them. He also warned dioceses that they should not underestimate the costs of getting risk assessments of the right quality. More guidance on when a risk assessment was required would be welcome.

Canon Christopher Sugden (Oxford) told the Synod that this was a spiritual, not just an institutional, issue. When abuse took place in churches or other buildings devoted to Christian service, there should be liturgies with prayers for repentance, restoration, and cleansing.

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) noted that the Archbishops’ Council had increased its budget for national safeguarding twelve-fold in two years, and diocesan boards of finance would have to dig into their pockets as well.

Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) said that adults were vulnerable at times of bereavement. He raised a concern about independent funeral celebrants, who were “on the increase”. Two of the celebrants he knew of were “defrocked former priests”.

He asked whether this was an area where “we have an opportunity to push back and ask the Houses of Parliament to decide whether those who are wholly independent ministers should, too, be brought under supervision and accountability.”

Martin Sewell (Rochester) said that risk assessments were “complex and costly”. He suggested the use of pro-forma letters so that people knew what documents to assemble and what questions to ask.

John Spence (Archbishops’ Council) said that the Synod “should not assume that a twelve-fold increase in the budget will be sufficient to fund the increased safeguarding work being undertaken.” The new national safeguarding officer had been asked to undertake an “urgent review of the resources that will be required, going forward”.

Paul Hutchinson (York) said that there was no proper definition of “vesting” in the canon. He wanted to know whether a person prohibited from vesting could turn up in a collar and cassock; and asked about the position of organists who wore a surplice.

The Ven. Dr John Applegate (Manchester), Director of the Southern North West Training Partnership, said that the training institutions “stand ready” to assist with the provision of training, and “are eagerly waiting for the Church’s guidance”.

Mr Kemp expressed concern about care for the bereaved: what was pastoral care and what was safeguarding? “It is difficult for the Church to be seen to be saying ‘No, this is not safeguarding: it is something else.’” He was “anxious about the tentacles of safeguarding spreading to places they ought not to be, and diluting our resources to do safeguarding properly”.

The Synod gave final approval to the Amending Canon in a vote by Houses: Bishops 28 nem. con.; Clergy 152 nem. con. with 1 recorded abstention; Laity 155 nem. con.

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