A VICAR in Oxfordshire has been convicted by a church tribunal of spiritually abusing a teenage boy, in what is thought to be the first judgment of its kind. The victim was judged to have been put under “unacceptable pressure” during one-to-one Bible-study sessions in his bedroom over a period of 18 months.
The priest, the Revd Timothy Davis, of Christ Church, Abingdon, was found guilty under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) 2003 of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in holy orders through the abuse of spiritual power and authority” by a five-strong Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Oxford diocese, chaired by His Honour the Revd Mark Bishop. Its judgment is dated 28 December and was published by the diocese on Monday.
It is thought to be the first CDM tribunal that has found a case to answer over allegations of the abuse of spiritual power and authority. A penalty has not yet been set.
The complaint was brought by the Archdeacon of Dorchester, the Ven. Judy French, in 2013, and referred to a period of 18 months from January 2012, during which Mr Davis held private mentoring sessions with a 16-year-old schoolboy, whose family were part of his congregation, as part of a youth scheme set up by the youth pastor of Christ Church, Matt Luscombe.
The case was heard by a panel, chaired by Judge Bishop, and including the Revd Edward Bowes-Smith; Canon Ann Philp; Prebendary Sue Lloyd; and Dr Stephen Longden, last November.
Christ Church, AbingdonThe Revd Tim Davis, suspended as Vicar of Christ Church, Abingdon, in the diocese of Oxford, since 2016The panel received evidence from the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher; the victim (who cannot be named for legal reasons) and the victim’s mother; and the former Assistant Curate at Christ Church, the Revd Jitesh Patel.
The 20-page judgment found that Mr Davis had engaged in “mentoring so intense” that the victim had been “deprived of his freedom of choice as to whether to continue” this mentoring.
During this period, Mr Davis moved in with the family, who were reported to have wanted to help him during a period of loneliness and illness. He later holidayed with them in Crete, sparking concerns from the congregation about the “intensity of the contact” between mentor and mentee, which led to the involvement of the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Andrew Proud.
Mr Davis took a sabbatical in January 2015, after which the Bishop was alerted by Mr Patel, who had been told by Mr Davis of the nightly, hour-long private meetings he had conducted with the victim. Mr Patel gave evidence of Mr Davis’s “anger and the fear that his curate felt as a result”.
Mr Davis later moved out of the family home, after being asked to do so by Bishop Fletcher, who held a meeting with Mr Davis about safeguarding concerns, before asking Archdeacon French to investigate, and decide whether a formal complaint should be taken forward.
Judge Bishop determined that Mr Davis was “in breach of the safeguarding requirements” by being alone with the boy in his house, in the vicarage, or other places, “and on occasions deliberately touching him albeit not in a sexual manner”.
Mr Davis was also judged to have, “under the guise of his authority, sought to control by the use of admonition, scripture, prayer and revealed prophecy, the life” of the victim and his relationship with his girlfriend, and “throughout the said period failed to have any regard to the propriety of the said conduct” and its effect on others, in particular the victim.
The victim, who gave evidence, was reported to have found these meetings “too intense”, but “found it impossible” to tell Mr Davis that he wanted less contact. He also gave evidence that Mr Davis “became angry” if he did not ring him or respond to his texts, and “he would say that this is not what friends did.”
The mother also reported that Mr Davis had become angry regarding contact with her son on numerous occasions. “He would be angry if [her son] did not come to an evening service because of being with his girlfriend,” the judgment reads. “She told us that [Mr Davis] would say that he was God’s anointed, and a person had died because he did not do something that [Mr Davis] wanted.”
She gave further evidence, the report states, of how Mr Davis had “invested the will of God in the relationship he had with the family in broad terms, and her fear of what would happen if she crossed [him] and thereby, in her understanding at the time, crossed the will of God”.
The parish-mentoring-scheme documentation included stipulations that the mentors abide by church safeguarding policy; that “an adult should not be left alone with a child/young person where there is little or no opportunity of the activity being observed by others”; and that counselling via text, email, instant messaging, or phone should be avoided.
Mr Davis was formerly suspended by the diocese of Oxford on 25 July 2016, a spokesman confirmed on Monday.
A psychiatrist is quoted in the report, saying that Mr Davis had been diagnosed with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] in September 2016. Two medical certificates were also presented from his GP, signing him off work in November last year, and again from 1 January, for “intensive counselling for PTSD-type symptoms”. No further medical evidence was submitted to the tribunal.
The panel considered Mr Davis’s mental health in mitigation, but concluded: “Rather than getting diagnosed and treated he proceeded with this risky mentoring programme where we believe he was placing his own emotional needs first.”
In his statement to the tribunal, Mr Davis disputed many elements in the account given by the boy and his mother. But the panel found the boy and his mother “credible and reliable witnesses”, and was satisfied with their account.
A spokesman for the diocese of Oxford said in a statement: “Abuse of spiritual authority and power falls far short of the obligations and duties of those in holy orders. Clergy are in a privileged position of trust in their congregations and communities. The professional guidelines to which they are bound make clear that this is a trust that they must not abuse.
“The findings of the tribunal show that, sadly, Tim Davis betrayed the trust of everyone involved in a youth-mentoring programme at Christ Church, Abingdon — none more so than the young man and his family, who offered their home and hospitality to him.
“The behaviour and actions of Tim Davis during this period are in no way reflective of acceptable church practice. We fully support the findings of the tribunal and now await their decision as to the penalty to be imposed.”
A penalty will be fixed at a hearing, the date of which has yet to be set.
‘Spiritual abuse’ - Leader comment
‘Rock of ages, cleft for the Church of England’ - Andrew Brown’s press column