Channel Islands to leave the see of Winchester

09 October 2019

Commission sets out new arrangements for Episcopal oversight

PAUL CHAMBERS

A service to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women priests, at Town Church, St Peter Port, in Guernsey. The Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Ven. Jo Kelly-Moore, presided and preached at the service

A service to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women priests, at Town Church, St Peter Port, in Guernsey. The Archdeacon of Canterbu...

EPISCOPAL oversight of the Channel Islands is to be transferred to the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, a commission has concluded.

Jersey canon law should also be redrafted by a new working party to “eliminate inconsistencies, lack of clarity, and conflicts with the European Convention on Human Rights”, it says.

The recommendations will need to be ratified by the relevant diocesan and deanery synods.

The commission was established by the Archbishop of Canterbury in June 2018, after the centuries-old connection between the Channel Islands and the see of Winchester broke down over the handling of a safeguarding complaint, in 2008, by the then Dean of Jersey, the Very Revd Bob Key.

Dean Key was suspended by the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, in March 2013 after being “severely criticised” in an investigation into the issue conducted by the diocesan safeguarding panel.

The commission, which is chaired by Lord Chartres, a former Bishop of London, states: “The suspension of the Dean came as a seismic shock to the civic authorities and churchpeople in Jersey, and triggered a breakdown in trust between the Church and people in both Islands, and Winchester. Questions were immediately raised as to the propriety, and indeed legality, of the Bishop’s actions.”

Dean Key apologised, and was reinstated a month later. An independent inquiry (the Steel report), commissioned by Bishop Dakin into the issue, concluded that no disciplinary action should be taken against any member of the islands’ clergy (News, 29 November 2013). The report has never been published.

Bishop Dakin agreed, however, to hand over episcopal oversight to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2014 (News, 24 January 2014). This included the payment of parochial stipends and associated costs, safeguarding, and ministerial training. (Legal services have remained with the Winchester Diocesan Registry.)

It was delegated to the then Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott. He retired from the diocese of Canterbury earlier this year, but agreed to continue as Bishop to the Channel Islands, and as an assistant bishop in the diocese of Winchester, while the Chartres commission reached its conclusions.

In its report, published on Wednesday, the commission states that these “temporary” arrangements are no longer appropriate, and immediate efforts must be made to change legislation.

It concludes that Salisbury diocese is best placed to take over episcopal oversight of the Islands because it is accessible via Southampton Airport and ferry links from Poole, and because “concerns about episcopal capacity would not be as great as the diocese has two suffragans.”

Salisbury has a historical connection to the Channel Islands: in 1496, Pope Alexander VI endorsed a connection; and the first bishop to visit the Islands formally was a Bishop of Salisbury in 1818. The diocese also shares legal services with Winchester.

Bishop Holtham has agreed to the transfer of episcopal oversight. He said on Wednesday: “I look forward to getting to know the people of the Channel Islands, and, when we agree the next steps, will welcome them into our diocese.”

The commission, which has met seven times since it was established, considered submissions from the deanery synods of Guernsey and Jersey, and held consultations with Archbishop Welby, Bishop Dakin, and Bishop Willmott, and the Deans of Guernsey and Jersey, as well as church and civic representatives of the islands.

A pastoral visit to the islands was organised in December 2013, on behalf of the Archbishop. In a presentation to the visitors, the Standing Committee of the Deanery of Guernsey wrote: “While the handling of the Jersey safeguarding issue may have been the trigger for the current position, it is not the only matter which has so seriously strained the relationship.

“Bishop Timothy has consistently been resistant to the Islands’ special relationship to the diocese, and his apparent wish to treat Guernsey and Jersey as English deaneries is unacceptable to both the secular authorities and the church communities in the Islands.”

In 2016, the Archbishop apologised to Dean Key and his wife “for the hurt and the treatment that they had received”.

The Chartres commission states: “We acknowledge the strength of feeling, and do not wish to belittle that. It has not been our task to pass judgement on these events, though we note that the non-publication of Dame Heather Steel’s report further undermined trust following the difficulties that had arisen.”

The breakdown, it continues, “clearly exposed a lack of clarity about the respective roles of the Bishop and the Dean”. It sets out a draft Memorandum of Understanding about who is responsible for what, including safeguarding and clergy appointments.

“This relationship is clearly crucial to the success of any future link between the Islands and the wider Church of England. It will need to be a partnership but one where there is greater clarity than hitherto, but exercised with sufficient flexibility.”

The commission rejects one suggestion that has been made, that the Deans of Jersey and Guernsey be made suffragan bishops.

“While we understand the motivation for this, we do not believe that this would be the right way forward. The role of Dean in the Islands has been established over many centuries and they already carry inherent respect and authority, comparable in some respects to the distinctive role of Cathedral Deans.”

The Chartres commission supports the recommendation that a working party, including lawyers, be established to redraft the 2012 Jersey Canons to “address serious concerns about the disciplinary arrangements and clarify the role of the Dean (particularly in respect of clergy discipline), while at the same time making updated provision in respect of such areas as safeguarding and women bishops”.

The report continues: “In a more accountable age we have real concern that the continued absence of formal rules regulating the life of the Church in the form of Canons could at any time give rise to uncertainty and stress and should be addressed without delay.”

Lord Chartres writes in his foreword to the report that it does not “seek to pass judgement on the unhappy sequence of events” that led to the breakdown.

“We have proposed a way forward which, I believe, honours the polity of the Church of England and in particular the enhanced level of accountability of its bishops in the light of recent legislation but which also recognises and respects the traditions, both legal and ecclesiastical, which obtain in the Channel Islands.”

One diocese, however, cannot simply be substituted for another, he says. “Legal changes are necessary to reflect the enhanced culture of accountability in the Church and to ensure the conformity of ecclesiastical law and practice with human rights legislation. Just as important, it will also be desirable to have a memorandum of understanding which maps out more clearly the respective roles of Bishop and Dean in the day-to-day life and work of the Church in the Islands.”

Dean Key retired in 2017. His successor, the Very Revd Mike Keirle, welcomed the recommendations, and thanked the diocese of Winchester “for their care over the years, and, subject to approval from the respective synods in the Islands and Salisbury, we look forward to building new relationships with the wider Church of England and to the future flourishing of the Church in Jersey”.

The Dean of Guernsey, the Very Revd Tim Barker, said: “We look forward to exploring with the Bishop of Salisbury and his colleagues the development of our mission and ministry in Guernsey, once the Channel Islands deanery synods have accepted the commission’s recommendations, and the legal processes are under way. I am grateful to the commissioners for their report, and to Bishop Trevor Willmott and the diocese of Canterbury for their much-valued support in recent years.”

Bishop Dakin also welcomed the proposal for the Island deaneries to be “given a fresh start” with the diocese of Salisbury.

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