Bishops’ discretion and lay officers’ discipline discussed

Safeguarding

STEFANO CAGNONI

THE draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure, with draft Amending Canon No. 34, is designed to improve the C of E's ability to prevent and respond to allegations of the abuse of children and vulnerable adults.

The chairman of the steering committee, Geoffrey Tattersall QC (Manchester), began the debate on report and revision by explaining that the committee had considered a number of amendments proposed by the group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS).

He summarised a number of their proposals together with the committee's response. MACSAS wanted to remove the discretion available to bishops in the way that they responded to allegations, and had called for the legislation to prescribe what should happen in such cases.

"The revision committee believed that the most appropriate way of achieving consistency in the exercise by bishops of discretionary powers was for detailed guidance to be provided by the House of Bishops, and for bishops and others to be required on the face of the draft Measure to have regard to such guidance," Mr Tattersall said.

He said that case law provided that a person required by statute to have regard to such guidance was only allowed to depart from it "where there was a cogent reason for doing so - a condition which was not easily satisfied".

The committee had also agreed with MACSAS's concern about the conditions to be met before a bishop could direct that a priest underwent a risk assessment. The original draft required evidence that a priest would harm a child or vulnerable adult. This had been amended from "will harm a child" to "may harm a child".

But the committee disagreed with MACSAS's objection to a priest's right to request that the President of Tribunals conduct a review of the requirement that he should undergo a risk assessment. "We were advised by the legal office that such a direction engaged a cleric's right to respect for private and family life, and that interference with such a right was permissible only if necessary."

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He said that providing a right to review would "uphold the balance" between the parties and "remove the risk of challenge by judicial review to a bishop's direction that there should be a risk assessment".

Changes had also been introduced to the draft Measure extending the power of bishops to suspend PCC members to include secretaries and treasurers who were not members of the PCC.

Currently, the Clergy Discipline Measure had a limitation period of one year - and any complaints of behaviour that took place more than a year ago could proceed only if the President of Tribunals gave his consent. The committee had rejected a suggestion that the limitation period should be removed in all cases of sexual misconduct; but had agreed that it should not apply in sexual misconduct cases involving children and vulnerable adults.

After summarising the work of the committee, Mr Tattersall moved the report of the steering committee for debate.

Dr James Harrison (Durham) said that safeguarding was "everyone's business". Chairing a PCC, he made sure that safeguarding was on every agenda as a standing item. The legislation was timely and necessary, and MACSAS had "brought to us a reality check. That was moving and difficult, but welcomed. They reminded us that laity matter in this, not just clergy."

Clive Scowen (London) expressed concern about the drafting of several identical provisions concerning the suspension of churchwardens, PCC members, and lay workers. Suspension could be made for up to three months, and could be renewed at least once. This made "very good sense". But he was concerned about whether the language achieved the desired outcome.

The Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford) was concerned that "the Church should be a safe place where one is safe from sexual harassment, from bullying, from spiritual abuse. And that anybody in a dog collar should be a safe person to talk to; and, sadly, we know that has not been the case, and, when people have pointed that out, it has got worse, not better."

The legislation was an improvement; but he was concerned that, in future, guidance should be published alongside the draft legislation, for the Synod to study. He also expressed concern that the fact that after criminal proceedings there could still be an investigation under the Clergy Discipline Measure meant that justice would be delayed.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) is a retired child-protection lawyer. He wanted to tell the Synod that, while the legislation addressed the complex matter of dealing with something that had gone wrong, child protection itself was "very simple.

"Nobody is above suspicion. If there is a charismatic person you can't do without, keep an eye on them. If someone notes a problem, record what is said accurately. Make no promises of confidentiality with the very young. You have to be able to respond by listening and taking what is said seriously, however outrageous it may sound. . . Do these simple things right, and that will deal with so much of the risk."

The Synod took note of the revision committee's report, and voted that Clauses 1-6 stand part of the Measure.

The Revd Mark Steadman (Southwark) said that his amendment was designed to remove an "extra hoop" that a complainant had to jump through, and speed up the process of the subject of complaints. Currently, if the President of Tribunals ruled that a complaint could be made out of time, the complainant would have to make a fresh complaint. He sought to remove this requirement, so that the existing complaint could continue.

Bishop Butlerwelcomed the amendment, and it was carried without debate. It was agreed that Clauses 8-12 and the Long Title stand part of the Measure.

The Synod then moved on to the Draft Amending Canon No 34.

Paragraphs 1-3 were approved en bloc without a debate.

For Paragraphs 4 and 5, Adrian Vincent (Guildford) moved amendments requiring the bishop to consult the diocesan registrar before using a power to revoke the licences of Readers or lay ministers. He said that this was a narrower version of amendments that he had failed to introduce earlier through the revision committee, where he had sought to require a bishop to consult the registrar before suspending a licence.

The amendment would, he said, provide a "minimum level of reassurance without introducing bureaucratic procedures". He said that, although Readers and lay ministers could appeal against the decision to revoke their licence, "by then the damage has been done."

On behalf of the steering committee, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that "on further reflection on this simpler proposal . . . we have considered that this is a wise protection not only for Readers and lay ministers, but also for bishops, so that they would not be subject to judicial review." The committee, he said, welcomed both amendments.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that previous problems had occurred not because bishops had not consulted their registrars, but because they had not consulted their safeguarding officers.

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The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, said that there were occasions when the registrar was conflicted; and he asked for assurances that he would, in those circumstances, be allowed to take advice from a registrar from a different diocese.

Paul Hancock (Liverpool) supported the amendments. "Our Readers and lay ministers are vulnerable" on the issue. "I don't want the suspension taken away: I want people suspended if there are any problems in this area. But I don't want licences to be revoked unless a case is proven."

The Ven. Christine Hardman (Southwark) said there was no clarity for Readers, as they did not have a proper code of conduct.

The Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, assured the Synod that work was being done by the Central Readers' Council to "nuance Reader discipline".

Mr Vincent's amendments were clearly carried, and, as amended, it was agreed that the remaining paragraphs stand part of the Measure.

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