THE Church in Wales has sought to contain continued speculation about the prolonged absence of the Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, from his diocese.
The Bishop, who is spoken well of by his flock, has been having “some rest time away from his duties”, the out-of-office message has said since July.
The most widely believed explanation is that senior staff brought a formal complaint against him, using the clergy disciplinary procedures of the Church in Wales. Bishop Pain is believed to have been cleared, but an official acknowledgement of “an ongoing mediation process” suggests that the ruling was unable to clear the air.
The Bishop’s unexplained absence has led to what one observer described as “commentators forced to make bricks out of straw”, a situation further fuelled when the Western Mail published a piece, “Unholy row in diocese of Monmouth”, at the end of last month.
The newspaper report included the following statement from the Church in Wales, reiterated to the Church Times last week by its spokeswoman: “In recent weeks, there has been speculation regarding the Bishop of Monmouth and about relationships within his senior team.
“The Archbishop of Wales is aware of these issues, and remains actively engaged, with all parties, in a formal process of mediation which seeks to resolve them.
“For reasons of confidentiality, and out of respect for those concerned in the ongoing mediation process, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.
“We understand that many people are concerned and frustrated with the situation, but we continue to ask for their patience until the matter is resolved. The work of the diocese continues, and the staff in the diocesan office and the senior clergy of the diocese will continue to provide guidance and support for those who need it.
“The Archbishop has written to the diocese asking people to continue to hold Bishop Richard, his family, and the diocese as a whole in their prayers.”
Immediately after the Western Mail story appeared, the Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Lister Tonge, sent out a widely circulated email to friends and colleagues, to declare that “some clergy” in the diocese had, “with the best of intentions, unwittingly been spreading erroneous reports about me and the archdeacons within the diocese. . .
”These accounts appear to have their origins in malicious representation, and I want you to be assured about that.”
Recipients were asked to pass on the information to “whomever you wish”, and were told that the Archbishop, the Most Revd John Davies, would corroborate what the Dean had written.
Despite the bafflement of many in the diocese, Archbishop Davies’s response is simply to state that the matter is confidential. His spokeswoman emphasised on Friday that Bishop Pain had not been suspended. Although news had circulated that parishioners in Abergavenny were going to ask their PCC to withhold the parish share until the Bishop had been reinstated, she said that no parish or ministry area had contacted the diocese about withholding its share.
Monmouth, which includes several valley communities, is the poorest of the six Welsh dioceses, and has lost parish and diocesan posts in recent years. Bishop Pain, a former civil servant, has served his entire 35-year ministry in the diocese, as priest and archdeacon, and, from 2013, as Bishop.
He is respected for the way in which he and his family coped with the loss of a daughter in 2008; and is variously described as articulate, energetic, humble, sociable, and rooted in parish ministry — “a man who wears his heart on his sleeve”, one person said.
As none of the main players is prepared to talk, “anyone’s theory holds as much weight as anyone’s else’s,” another observer has said. But the Church Times has it on good authority that the Bishop is likely to return to work in February.