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Letters to the Editor

12 July 2019

Independence needed in clergy discipline cases, poor pastoral practice at Wakefield Cathedral, and using curacy data


Independence needed in clergy discipline cases

From Mrs Margery Roberts

Sir, — The Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, is surely right (News, 5 July) to call for an independent safeguarding body to be set up. Light has been shed, understandably and rightly, on sexual misdemeanours and the Church’s poor handling of complaints about them. But many complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) do not involve issues of a sexual nature. It would be reasonable to ask whether the handling of these other complaints is very much better than of those studied by IICSA.

I recently had occasion to make such a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure myself. To maintain anonymity, I will say that it was a complaint about X to Y. Complaints under the CDM are not made frivolously, and my complaint was made after some weeks of research, thought, and prayer. Actually making the complaint was also nerve-racking and time-consuming.

The handling of the complaint by Y left much to be desired. A fairly casual email from a staff member acknowledging receipt should have sounded a warning bell, but it was only when, later, I was not kept fully in touch with procedural progress, that I studied the Code of Practice in greater detail. I then discovered that Y was not paying much, if any, attention to the provisions of the Code. For me, one of the most serious departures was Y’s failure to ensure, under Paragraph 101 of the Code, that I, as the complainant, was receiving pastoral support.

As I had explained in my complaint that, for reasons of principle and integrity, I had detached myself from various networks of potential support, this was very disappointing. X may have fared no better, although I had no way of knowing. The decision made by Y was also casual as to the requirements of the Code, as it did not set out the facts or, in accordance with Paragraph 119, the reasons with any rigour, and relied heavily upon X’s response.

Matters did not improve when I personally delivered a request for a review to the office of the President of Tribunals. It was nearly three months before I received an acknowledgement. Considering that the Measure stipulates that the complainant has only two weeks to prepare and submit a request for a review, following receipt of a decision, a delay of this length was derogatory.

No explanation has been supplied, nor an apology made. The response itself, sent three days after the acknowledgement, unsurprisingly showed signs of haste, containing no fewer than six typing errors and some missing words.

It may be that Hanlon’s razor, which attributes failings to incompetence rather than to conspiracy or malice, applies to cases such as this, as to much better-known administrative bungles. If so, it would not be very comforting to know that incompetence, apathy, or perhaps negligence, rather than malice, was endemic in the central and diocesan structures of the Church of England. But how much incompetence can be tolerated?

The corollary of Hanlon’s razor, Grey’s Law, states that, “any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” When, some years ago, I was among those who were invited to comment on an early version of the Clergy Discipline Measure, it did not occur to me to question the part played by the bishop or archbishop.

Experience has changed my mind. The twin issues of truth and justice, common to nearly all complaints, whether about safeguarding or otherwise, would be better served by an ombudsman-type independent body, set up by the Church, than by the present system, which relies too heavily on overworked bishops’ judging their own clergy, many of whom they have themselves appointed.

7 Nunnery Stables
St Albans
Hertfordshire AL1 2AS

Poor pastoral practice at Wakefield Cathedral

From Canon Margaret Bradnum

Sir, — I was very sad to read that problems continue at Wakefield Cathedral (News, 28 June).

I have an interest. I am an Emeritus Canon of the Cathedral, I was one of the first cohort of women priests to be ordained there, and yet I found myself unable to accept an invitation to a recent service to commemorate 25 years of women’s priesthood, because I was not prepared to attend in a place that was perceived as being unwelcoming to traditionalists.

That was the deal as I understood it: an honoured place for both persuasions.

I worked for the Board of Ministry of the Wakefield diocese from about 1980 until my retirement; so I was there throughout the process. I remember Bishop David Hope meeting with the women and sharing his predicament with us while at the same time putting female deacons in charge of parishes and encouraging them to give blessings whenever possible.

After the vote, Bishop Nigel McCulloch prioritised holding everything together in a diocese where, for historical reasons, the potential cleavage was not just theological, but geographical as well.

In this, he enlisted the aid of Tony Robinson as Archdeacon and later Bishop of Pontefract. Tony was affirming of the ministry of women priests, as I can personally testify, but he did not ordain them, so that his way was open to take a key role in maintaining unity. I was aware at the time that we were managing this well, better than some other dioceses.

In all of this, the Cathedral played a key part. It was our cathedral — a special church, there for people of all churchmanships and all persuasions. It would appear that this has now been forgotten.

If people don’t believe that a woman can be a priest, they don’t believe that a woman can be a priest. They can’t just change. If people don’t believe that Anglicans should act on their own, then that is what they believe. I was under the impression that such views were acceptable as part of the total picture. It also seems wrong to want these people to come along to observe a woman priest in action (unless they want to). That is not what the eucharist is for!

What needs to be so secret about who is taking a service, anyway? Lots of churches display a list for all to see.

People are not children: they are adults, adults on whose financial support the Church depends. Surely, as adults they have a right to know what is happening, who is celebrating, who is preaching, and to plan their attendance accordingly.

4 Southlands Drive
Huddersfield HD2 2LT

From the Revd Geoffrey Squire

Sir, — In journeying to or through various areas of the country, the leaders of Youthlink groups from traditionalist parishes need to ascertain whether the celebrant of the cathedral eucharist is a male or female priest. While, however, most cathedrals are willing to provide that information in the spirit of the agreement that traditionalists should not only be tolerated, but helped to grow and flourish, a very few refuse to do so, or will make it extremely difficult to obtain.

The Dean of Wakefield, the Very Revd Simon Cowling, seems grudgingly to permit that information to be disclosed, but with three strict conditions: that the person requiring it is a regular worshipper at the cathedral; that the person concerned has applied to be interviewed by the Dean; and that the person concerned has been able to convince the Dean of having a genuine reason of conscience to avoid eucharists at which a woman presides.

Is that really how a cathedral that is the mother church of the diocese wishes to treat its dear children? So much for mutual flourishing when children, most of them young communicants, are rejected in this way.

Two years ago, a small group of young people entering that cathedral with their leaders were intercepted, and a young boy was asked to “cover up his gay bag as it was promoting homosexuality”. All the kids had small bags with their things in, but it just happened that this boy’s bag had rainbow stripes on it.

The Youthlink database now lists Wakefield Cathedral as a place to avoid, even for those children for whom it is their mother church. How very sad.

Administrator, Youthlink (England and Wales)
Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR

There must be data on curacies: let’s explore it  

From Dr Ruth Knight

Sir, — As the wife of a newly ordained deacon, and as a statistician, I was very interested to read “Curacies — the dreams and the nightmares” (Petertide Ordinations, last week). I was encouraged to read that almost all the respondents spoke of how good their curacies had been, but saddened to hear that many knew of curacies that had ended early.

While this qualitative data on curates’ experience is invaluable, it seems to me that there is a big unanswered, but answerable, question regarding how many curacies actually “fail”. Although 26 of those asked knew of curacies that had ended early, it is very possible that many of these were the same instance.

It has been identified that the Ministry Division does not know this figure. It is clear, however, that the author of the recent study attempted to contact all of those ordained in a particular cohort (2016), and thus a list of these individuals must exist.

Surely, at the diocesan level, the outcome of curacies must be known, as well as descriptive data on the curate, the training incumbent, and the parish. Should this data not be collated and explored?

12 Green Crescent
Flackwell Heath HP10 9JQ

Conversion of England 

From the Revd Denise Herbert

Sir, — While I am delighted that Prebendary Hudson-Wilkin is enthusiastic about her forthcoming appointment as Bishop of Dover (News, 5 July), I trust that she won’t be disappointed to learn that, far from it, Canterbury was not “where Christianity first entered Britain”, as she stated, but perhaps England, unless Cornish Celts come up with some earlier saints. We have several in Scotland — not least Columba of Iona, a good 34 years before Augustine reached the English shores. I could name several more.

43 Bridieswell Gardens
Gauldry, Newport-on-Tay
Fife DD6 8RY

Suits you, madam? 

From Mr Stephen Davies

Sir, — A friend was delighted to be invited to a Lambeth Palace Garden Party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ordination of women to the priesthood, but had difficulty in meeting the dress code: “Lounge suits”!

31 Egerton Road
Preston PR2 1AJ

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