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Scottish Episcopal Synod tackles data protection and the election of Bishops

15 June 2018

Scottish Episcopal Church

The seven bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church celebrate holy communion on Thursday morning

The seven bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church celebrate holy communion on Thursday morning

Faith and order board: committee on canons

CONCERNS about the privacy of Scottish Episcopalian clerics and their congregations were expressed during a discussion on the effect of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the Communicants’ Roll, at the General Synod on the afternoon of Thursday of last week.

The Primus, the Most Revd Mark Strange, who is the Convener for the Faith and Order board, introduced its motion on Canon 41 on the Communicants’ Roll, which, he said, had been proposed to fulfil the “canonical and legal requirements” for recent changes to GDPR.

The original canon states that clerics are obligated to “exhibit” the Roll for the two Sundays before the church AGM. The amendment proposed that it be the responsibility of the cleric to “keep privately” the Communicants’ Roll, and that the information it contains could be published only if the cleric was satisfied that this action would not breach data protection.

A member of the Committee on Canons, the Revd Paul Romano (Glasgow & Galloway), said: “This way gives us maximum flexibility.”

Kennedy Fraser (Glasgow & Galloway), said that the advice that had been given about the change still left “huge questions” about the responsibilities of the clerics to protect the privacy of their congregations.

The Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, said that he would not be voting for the motion because it was “entirely the wrong way round”, since it was about protecting data, not clerics.

The Revd Alastair MacDonald (Aberdeen & Orkney), asked whether it would be better simply to ask for the consent of the individual. Helen Hood (Edinburgh) agreed with Provost Holdsworth, but said that, if the Synod voted for the motion now, the Church would comply with GDPR more quickly.

The Revd Amanda Fairclough (Argyll & The Isles) pointed out, however, that the canon was being amended so that clerics would not have to publish this data. While “the whole canon needs reviewing,” she said, the motion was being over-complicated by the Synod, and was a short-term solution.

Bishop Strange agreed that to amend the canon would be a lengthy process, and that the intention was to make a small change now so that the Church was immediately compliant with changes in the law, and that clerics did not have to publish the Roll.
 

Motion two, to amend Canon 41, was carried.

Motion three, that Canon 4 “Of the election of bishops to the Vacant Sees” to be revised and amended as necessary, was also carried after a short debate.

The Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Revd Anne Dyer, who was elected the Church’s first woman bishop after a 15-month vacancy in the diocese, in November, seconded the motion (News, 11 November).

The current canon should be reviewed in “every part”, she said. She hoped that the revision might carry an understanding that the election of bishops was a “very public” and often “bruising” process for candidates and their families, and could therefore be off-putting for others.

Professor Alan Werritty (St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane), said that no other organisation would have gone 15 months without a chief executive. He urged the board to review the timetable of the selection process, and suggested that the preliminary meeting should take place while the vacating bishop was still in post.

Part of the delay, he said, had been because fewer than three of the candidates for the see were deemed suitable. “You only need one good, ideally outstanding, candidate,” Professor Werritty said; therefore, the minimum shortlist of candidates should be reduced from “three to five” to two. More “forensic questioning” of candidates was also needed, he said.

The Revd Alastair MacDonald (Aberdeen & Orkney) said that the present canon was “too tightly defined”, and that the College of Bishops should not have the power to veto candidates.

Canon Steven Kirk, an ecumenical guest from the Church in Wales, said that his Church had experienced a “controversial failure” to elect a bishop to the college, and encouraged the Synod to carry the motion. The Church in Wales would be following the process carefully, he said.

The Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway, Dr Gregor Duncan, said that no canon would work if there were not enough good candidates. The important job was to identify and nurture candidates early.

The Primus, Bishop Mark Strange, emphasised that there would be a process of review and revision. “It will happen, and people need to hear that.”

Motion four was carried.


Read further coverage of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church here.

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