Letters to the Editor

by
02 November 2018

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Clergy Discipline Measure: further experiences and proposals for reform

Sir, — Clergy are not above the law or beyond scrutiny when they have acted improperly or unprofessionally, but the present Clergy Discipline Measure is not the answer (Features, 19 October). I disagree with Archdeacon Cherry Vann: if a cleric has broken the law or is suspected of having committed a crime, be it fraud or theft or worse, then the police should be notified without hesitation. But diocesan support should be paramount, in case the charges are not upheld. Every step should be taken, however, to conceal their identity so as to protect the cleric’s family.

In respect of the CDM, the case should not be examined by the cleric’s home diocese, but by another, to allow for a fair examination of the accusations and papers relating to the complaints and defending submissions. Furthermore, if the accusations prove false, then what recourse has the cleric to prevent such attacks’ happening again? It is usually an accuser who makes these things public and crows about it. This is not about seeking revenge, but enabling a cleric to rebuild his or her career and well-being, while apportioning responsibility for the situation.

A few years ago, I was subjected to an orchestrated series of CDMs by a group of parishioners who conspired with one another as each one failed. When each of the letters arrived advising me of these complaints, I was given no warning or hint. Yet it was blatantly obvious that the whole situation had been planned, as the last complainant referred to the whole scenario.

Not one of the complainants supplied supporting evidence, and yet I had to defend myself, with written evidence, against a raft of accusations, which ranged from false expenses claims to having something in my eye at a meeting which caused it to twitch. Apart from having something in my eye, mea culpa, all the accusations were proved false by supporting documentation — from PCC minutes to third-party statements. And yet I was put through hell, and two of the complainants seem never to have let up in a whispering campaign against me.

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One lay officer told me that it was easier for her to believe and support the gossip than endorse me as being innocent. I can identify with so much of “Matthew’s” story. The sense of isolation never goes away. My confidence and trust in others has been all but destroyed.

In all this time, not one senior diocesan member of staff has ever talked to me in support, or afterwards expressed concern for my well-being. It would seem that senior staff are afraid of the power of the laity.

The CDM is being openly abused. It should be drastically revised, or replaced with a more efficient and fairer system. Consideration should be given to allowing clergy to challenge vindictive laity and defend themselves.

NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

Sir, — In July 2014, I accompanied a colleague who was to appear before his diocesan bishop, having been accused of an ecclesiastical offence that he admitted. The offence had been committed in a previous parish. The priest concerned was widely popular in his new parish for his assiduous ministry in the church and the town as well as his stewardship of the church building and its finances.

The Bishop told him that his penalty was to be barred from ministry for two years. This he accepted. I am not privy to the processes by which it was determined that the period should become indefinite; I do know that he obtained a lay post in a church institution whose financial condition he improved, while continuing and advancing its objectives.

To me, that acceptance of a limited barring by him should have bound the Church, and the failure of the Bishop, in particular, and the Church at large to uphold that agreement is yet another reason for feeling that the process does the Church’s witness to the gospel of forgiveness no credit.

He was a fine priest and a huge loss to the Church. The lack of care shown to him and his young family subsequently beggars belief.

NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

From Canon Ian Robinson

Sir, — The pros and cons of the Clergy Discipline Measure have been a matter of discussion since its inception 12 years ago. Your feature highlights these issues well.

It has to be right that there are processes for dealing with matters of clergy failure, and the protection of laity is — and should be — paramount. What seems to me, a former rural dean, to be lacking is the support for clergy who have experienced bullying by members of the laity — such as churchwardens, PCC treasurers, and other parish officers. There is no system in place, to my knowledge, for disciplining those who carry out this oppression.

The problem is, of course, that such people are volunteers, and it is difficult to see how they could be disciplined.

Support from the church leaders who are our line managers must, therefore, be forthcoming, and without delay, when such practices are identified, for the sake of the clergy’s well-being.

IAN ROBINSON
Caistor Vicarage, Caistor
Lincolnshire LN7 6RB
 

From the Revd Adrian Judd

Sir, — The Clergy Discipline Measure has become an “actor” with agency rather than an “actant” (Latour’s Actor Network Theory, 1990). It has a life of its own. Instead of being a vehicle for justice and reconciliation, it has become a vehicle for retribution, bullying, and creating a power imbalance between the clergy, the laity, and the bishops.

Instead of communicating the will of the bishops and archdeacons, it has become a straitjacket that funnels their thinking into certain channels — sometimes because of the misperception of the reality of the Measure rather than the reality itself.

Vexatious complaints, for example, were supposed to be filtered out at the initial stages, but registrars can say only whether there is a case to answer, and whether it is in time, even if they know a complaint to be vexatious.

The CDM has been put on a pedestal and needs to be knocked off it, to allow God’s reconciling love for the world to be experienced through the discipline of the Church.

ADRIAN JUDD
The Vicarage, Marlpit Lane
Darrington
Pontefract WF8 3AB
 

From Mr Steve Vince

Sir, — May I suggest that each diocese consider setting up a small network of clergy of different traditions, with a brief to provide pastoral support for any clergy in the diocese who are accused, or in any other difficulty, so that these do not have to cope on their own?

In an ideal world, one might hope for the bishops to provide this; but not all bishops are particularly pastoral (and I believe that the Church has never been more in need of visionary and missionary bishops than it is now); and even the best pastoral bishops will have clergy in their dioceses with whom they struggle to get on.

If my suggestion is followed, any priests who are in need of this kind of support should be able to find someone who is not allergic to their theology and who can, in total confidence, be there for them, especially through any disciplinary process and its aftermath (whether the accused priest is found guilty or not), and, above all, keep telling them that, whatever they have or have not done, God still loves them.

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STEVE VINCE
13 Selwyn Close
Wolverhampton WV2 4NQ
 

Roots of this radical? 

From Mr N. J. Inkley

Sir, — Your report concerning the Church’s ideas about traditional teaching on marriage (News, 19 October) ends with words from the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes: “they will not and should not replace or pre-empt the process by which the Church of England as a whole expresses the radical new Christian inclusion to which we’re called.”

I have no wish to confront the Bishop, only, dwelling upon his words — so typical of many we see and hear these days — to ask: Called by what, where, and whom?

For biblical and patristic teaching, I know where to look; for the “new and radical”, I do not. I take little comfort from observing that, at times, those to whom the governance of the Church is committed seem to adopt the dictum that novelty is the only thing that counts.

NEIL INKLEY
6 Knott Lane
Walton-le-Dale
Preston PR5 4BQ

Replacement roofing after lead-theft 

From Messrs John O’Raw and Pete Manning

Sir, — With regard to the recent letter from Sir Tony Baldry (24 August) regarding the discussion on national church policy after the Pickwell judgment (News, 3 August) and the whole subject of lead roofs on churches, we would like to comment.

At the outset, we emphasise that Sika Limited is sympathetic to the current position that the churches are in with regard to lead-thefts. Like many others, we believe that the most suitable material for church roofs is the material that has been used for generations: lead.

Unfortunately, however, the epidemic of lead-roof thefts has left churches vulnerable, and there have even been instances when thieves have returned and stolen new lead roofs when the stolen ones have been replaced.

Sika’s solution to this issue was agreed with the architect John Eaton more than 12 years ago when All Saints’, Loughborough, suffered a roof theft. We worked to provide a solution that allowed the church to be made waterproof and yet was still in keeping visually with the building’s heritage. Our solution also means that if there is a requirement to revert to a lead roof, this can be achieved without detriment to the church fabric.

The Sika Sarnafil membrane has a proved durability for a life in excess of 40 years: yes, approximately half that of lead, but not the 20 years stated in Sir Tony Baldry’s letter. The membrane is also sympathetic to a church’s visual appearance.

Bituminous felt, which has been used in some instances as a temporary waterproofing solution, has much less durability, and brings the risks associated with fire during its application.

Nevertheless, if the roof is replaced with Sarnafil membrane, the church is safe in the knowledge that the roofing will not be subject to theft, as there is no value to potential thieves in Sarnafil coverings.

Sika would welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue or meeting with Sir Tony and others within the Church Buildings Council, so that an informed decision can be made with regard to the safeguarding of our historic churches, and remove the trauma, heartache, and expense associated with lead-thefts.

JOHN O’RAW, Head of Sales: Single Ply Membranes; PETE MANNING, Marketing Manager, Sika Roofing
Sika Limited, Watchmead
Welwyn Garden City
Hertfordshire AL7 1BQ
 

‘Blunderbuss’ against Christology 

From Canon Peter Shepherd

Sir, — While I am grateful that you chose to publish a review of my book Questioning the Incarnation (Books, 26 October), I wish that your reviewer, the Revd Dr Mark Smith, had exercised more care. I know that reviews need to be succinct, but they should provide an accurate description of a book’s contents, accompanied by a considered critique.

None of this is evident. The thrust of my argument is not outlined, and no serious engagement with it is attempted. Dr Smith doesn’t even mention my primary model for seeking to understand the great mystery of the incarnation.

He is also inaccurate. For example, I am said to claim that Zechariah was Jesus’s biological father, whereas (page 293) I specifically reject that hypothesis (popular in the 1960s) as pure speculation. I argue that the doctrine of the virginal conception represents a theological rather than a biological truth, and that Jesus’s paternity cannot be historically established.

Dr Smith alleges that my God is a Monad, when I spend much of Chapter 7 arguing that my views are entirely Trinitarian. Perhaps he might have mentioned that?

For him, the book is akin to the old “death of God” theologies, whereas I make it clear that mine is an objective realist God (page 155); indeed, I had thought I might be criticised for holding that line. He claims further that it is a rehash of The Myth of God Incarnate, despite my making it abundantly clear that I reject the category of “myth” as applied to the incarnation (page 157).

Nowhere do I claim that what I have written is particularly new. On the contrary, I specifically acknowledge that I have been richly informed by the writings of others (page 12), as attested by the footnotes.

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Finally, the penultimate paragraph includes a series of non-sequiturs. Dr Smith may think that my views diminish other doctrines, but that is mere opinion offered, if I may say so, without thought. He appears to believe that, to establish theological truth, you need only to assert it. You can then take a blunderbuss approach to anyone who disagrees.

Having taught ordinands and Reader candidates over ten years, I aimed in this book both to express and to represent the hope that there may be found at least a modicum of theological literacy within a Church that is so often dependent on theologies that no longer make any sense, intellectual or moral. This review suggests that there is a greater problem than I previously envisaged.

Dr Smith doesn’t agree with, and clearly doesn’t like, my Christology, and that is fine. But is it too much to expect serious explorations to be treated with a little respect? Simply to label them heretical is lazy theology, and to review a book without either outlining the argument or engaging with it is unscholarly.

PETER SHEPHERD
Homestead, Eastham Street
Clitheroe BB7 2HY

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