Clerics under investigation for abuse may be barred from ministering under new safeguarding rules

20 July 2018

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PERMISSION to officiate (PTO) will be refused or withdrawn from clerics who are under police investigation over allegations of past child or vulnerable adult abuse, new guidance from the National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England states.

It also states that PTO may be withdrawn or refused by the bishop, even if the investigation of the cleric has concluded, and no conviction made.

“Where a cleric has been the subject of a criminal investigation for offences relating to children and vulnerable adults that did not result in a conviction, again the bishop must consult the diocesan safeguarding advisor and the diocesan registrar before deciding whether to grant PTO.”

Appropriate reasons for withdrawing PTO listed in the document include “following an allegation of abuse in a cleric’s past ministry pending the police investigation”.

In addition, PTO must be refused when a cleric has accepted a police caution; an allegation of abuse has been proved in court; or the cleric has been barred from working with children or vulnerable adults.

A spokeswoman for the National Safeguarding Team told journalists at a press briefing on Friday morning that the new policy, which has been agreed by the House of Bishops, had been “significantly strengthened” compared to that issued in 2014.

Clerics who are “too frail” to administer the eucharist, or considered by the bishop or designated officer to be incapable of continuing their ministry, must also be refused PTO. “It is unlawful for a member of the clergy to officiate (which includes preaching) without the requisite authority,” it states.

The 47-page document has been produced in response to recommendations listed in an independent review by Dame Moira Gibb into the case of Peter Ball, who received a three-year sentence in 2015, having admitted to a series of indecent assaults and the abuse of 18 young men aged 17-25 (News, 7 October 2015).

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Ball, who is 86, was released after serving 16 months of his sentence. He was initially investigated by the police in 1993, and accepted a caution, by which he admitted his guilt. He was, however, later granted PTO by Lord Carey, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time.

The Gibb report stated that Lord Carey had failed to respond to repeated expressions of concern and allegations against Ball — most notably those of the late Neil Todd, who was repeatedly abused by the Bishop during the 1980s and ’90s, and who later took his own life (News, 30 June 2017).

A week-long hearing conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) on the Ball case started in London on Monday.

Lord Carey, who gave evidence on Tuesday, resigned from his position as an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Oxford last June, after the Gibb report. In resigning, he also resigned his permission to officiate, an automatic adjunct to his honorary bishop status.

The diocese of Oxford confirmed last week, however, that the Bishop, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, had granted Lord Carey PTO in February, which, as an assistant bishop, he had not previously required. Lord Carey gave evidence on the Ball case to the Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse, on Tuesday.

The statement from the diocese says: “Lord Carey accepted the criticisms made of him at the time and has apologised to the victims of Peter Ball. In February 2018 Lord Carey contacted the diocese of Oxford to request PTO. This was granted by the Bishop of Oxford later the same month.

“The granting of PTO enabled Lord Carey to preach and preside in the church where he worships, a church where his ministry is much valued. The granting of a PTO does not indicate a planned return to the role of assistant bishop.”

The policy announced on Friday states that PTO must be withdrawn if the cleric fails to comply with the House of Bishops’ latest policy on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.

A spokesman for the National Safeguarding Team confirmed that it had not been contacted by the diocese of Oxford to discuss the granting of Lord Carey’s PTO. “I would have welcomed a consultation,” he said.

A spokesman for the diocese of Oxford later said, however, that it would have been “odd” for the team to have been consulted. “The Bishop of Oxford sought, and received, senior legal opinion prior to granting PTO. The National Safeguarding Team were subsequently made aware in February that PTO for Lord Carey had been granted, but there was no reason for the bishop, or others involved, to formally consult the NST prior to that decision being made.

“In fact it would have been odd to do so: the Gibb report questioned Lord Carey’s decisions and decision making at the time, there were no questions about his ability to function as a priest or deacon in a parochial setting. Therefore there were no legal grounds to deny Lord Carey’s request for PTO.”

A previous IICSA hearing, in March, which used the diocese of Chichester as a case-study to investigate the Anglican Church, heard evidence of failures to suspend or revoke the PTO of known or suspected perpetrators of abuse in the Church, including Roy Cotton, who died in 2006. He had been granted PTO by the diocese of Chichester in 1999, despite it being known that he had a previous conviction involving sexual abuse (News, 12 March 2018).

In some cases, such as that of Ball, PTO had been granted or renewed to clergy who had been investigated by the police in relation to child-abuse allegations.

The inquiry also found that records of clerics with current or expired PTO, as well as criminal records, and other concerns kept on file by dioceses, tended to be incomplete, lost, ignored, or blighted by poor record-keeping.

The new guidance states that clerics must now fill out a form to apply for PTO, be subject to safeguarding checks, an entry interview, and an exit interview when transferring PTO to a new diocese. PTO must be reviewed at least once every five years before renewal.

“PTO is not a right,” a spokeswoman for the National Safeguarding Team said. Checks must include DBS, completion of safeguarding training, and issues listed in the “blue files” — under scrutiny by IICSA — which contain sensitive clergy information, including safeguarding concerns. “PTO must never be restricted by attempting to exclude [the applicant from working with] children or vulnerable adults, as all clergy with PTO need to be able to work with children and vulnerable adults.”

Proposals produced by the National Safeguarding Steering Group of the C of E last month requiring all clergy to submit their name and ministerial authority to a national register were approved by the General Synod in York earlier this month (News, 29 June). The object is to compile a full list of clerics with PTO, including those whose PTO has been withdrawn, for whatever reason, a spokeswoman said.

A cleric is given leave to minister either through a licence to a specific post or permission to officiate within a specific diocese. The latter is usually granted to retiring clerics to enable them to carry out occasional duties or offices, including during a vacancy. Without PTO, a cleric, as well as not being permitted from officiating, cannot lawfully give mentoring or spiritual direction, conduct retreats, act as an outside consultant, or represent C of E bodies, the guidance states.

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It recommends that, if the cleric with PTO is asked to minister more regularly, “agreed statements of expectations” should be drawn up with a granting officer about the “extent and nature” of their assistance.

The timetable for the latest IICSA hearing was released on Thursday. A witness statement from Prince Charles, who was in correspondence with Ball while he was Bishop of Gloucester, will be read out next Friday (News, 7 June). He will not be questioned.

In a draft of the statement, seen by The Times on Friday, Prince Charles says that he was aware around the time of the police caution that Ball had been involved in an “indiscretion”, and was told by Ball himself that an individual with a grudge had been “persecuting” the bishop.

“I was certainly not aware at the time of the significance or impact of the caution,” the Prince’s statement says. “Whilst I note that Peter Ball mentioned the word in a letter to me in October 2009, I was not aware until recently that a caution in fact carries an acceptance of guilt.”

The timetable also states that Dame Gibb is due to give evidence next Friday. A spokesman for the National Safeguarding Team said that it had written to survivors of Peter Ball, in the UK and abroad, to make them aware of the hearing next week and to offer support. The team would be in “listening mode”, he said.

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