THE practice of transferring personal files on the clergy — which may include safeguarding concerns — from the Church of England to the Church in Wales is “unsatisfactory and inconsistent”, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, has said.
He was giving evidence on Friday to the final hearing of the Anglican investigation being conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
Asked by the lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, whether the Church in Wales would receive a clergy personal file — known as a “blue file” in the C of E — of a cleric moving from England to Wales, Archbishop Davies said: “Sometimes yes and sometimes no.
“The protocols are not clear; some dioceses will send the original file, some dioceses will send a copy of the original file; sometimes the file has been ‘weeded’. The practice is unsatisfactory and inconsistent.”
For clerics moving between incumbencies within Wales, the personal files were moved from diocese to diocese. The Archbishop agreed, however, both that the original files should be held centrally, to give better access with regard to safeguarding concerns, and that the provincial safeguarding adviser should have access to those files without needing bishops’ permission.
The transfer of clerics from England to Wales was “regular but infrequent”, the Archbishop explained, and there were also a significant number of C of E clerics who retired in Wales. “It is a very mixed picture.”
The Church relied heavily on clerics with permission to officiate (PTO), particularly in remote rural areas, he said. The renewal of PTO every five years — though this was only formalised in guidance that was released two years ago — had been required as long as he had been a bishop, which was 13 years.
Clerics had to make a formal request for PTO, supported formally by another cleric, and undergo DBS checks and safeguarding training specific to Wales. This included C of E cleric who had already gone through these processes in England.
The Archbishop gave his testimony simultaneously with the Provincial Secretary for the Church in Wales, Simon Lloyd, so that, Ms Scolding explained, the Inquiry could have a full picture “the structures, policies, and procedures” of the Church.
Mr Lloyd runs the Representative Body of the Church in Wales, the trustees for its assets. He is also the senior lay officer of the Governing Body and Registrar for the Archbishop, in which position he is able to make safeguarding referrals to the disciplinary tribunal. The Governing Body’s standing committee appoints the chair and members of a safeguarding panel, which meets every six weeks.
A total of 219 files were referred to the panel during an independent historic-cases review in 2010, of which five were referred to the authorities. A second independent review of deceased clergy files was carried out in 2016 in which record-keeping was found to be poor and inconsistent.
Questioned on this, Mr Lloyd said: “It is not good enough — not yet. Without wanting to make excuses, not having a Head of Safeguarding in post for a considerable time because of sickness has set us back on this.”
There were, however, “well-advanced” plans in place to address the issues, including implementing an electronic case-management system for both HR safeguarding files and confidential personal clergy files, he said.
Archbishop Davies is the lead bishop for safeguarding in the Church in Wales, which had six dioceses, 1295 churches, and 594 parishes, of which 349 were benefices, he said. Each parish had a safeguarding officer who reported to the PCC. There were more than 400 stipendiary clerics and more than 100 non-stipendiary clerics.
Every cleric must undergo the relevant child-protection training or face suspension, he said. The same was true of lay church officers. In the case of a clergy-discipline tribunal, in contrast with England, it was still possible for clerics to be deposed from Holy Orders. The previous lacuna in the canon which made it impossible to take this action once a cleric had resigned had been amended.
If safeguarding appeared to have gone “catastrophically wrong” in a diocese, he had, as Archbishop, the authority to ask for a visitation. “There is nothing in our disciplinary procedures as they stand to allow me to suspend a bishop,” he said. “This is currently being addressed.”
Mr Lloyd estimated that, unlike in C of E, it would take sixth months for canon law to be changed in Wales. “We do things very quickly.”
Ms Scolding also questioned the witnesses on a review of the structure of the Church in Wales carried out in 2012. The implementation of the recommendations to enlarge the parishes into “ministry areas” to prevent insularity and to promote evangelism and increase the number of ordinands was ongoing, the Inquiry heard.
Archbishop Davies said: “What Christ is asking us of is at this time is whether we have taken our eye off the ball and become an institution rather than a body of people who reach out into communities. It was a challenge not to be too self-preserving.”
Questioned on the degree of clericalism in Wales, he said: “It depends very much on the cleric. ‘Father knows best and what Father says goes’ should be discouraged.” It disempowered the laity and failed to recognise that they had a share in the whole ministry of the Church.
The Church was working to ensure that the laity also “take ownership” of safeguarding, he said. “In terms of the life of the Church, safeguarding awareness is comparatively new. . . [In] a typical case where a cleric has been accused . . . there would be almost inevitably a body of lay people whose immediate reaction would be: ‘He or she would not have done that.’”
In Wales, cathedrals were subject to the same safeguarding procedures as the rest of the Church. Increasing awareness had begun with the dissemination of information about safeguarding through websites, papers, and guidance though PCCs, cathedral Chapters, and the dioceses. “Every means is being used to ensure that the safeguarding word is received and understood across the Province.”
In her opening statement to the Inquiry, on Monday, Ms Scolding noted that the Church in Wales had had a disciplinary tribunal separate from church structures since 2000. Six individuals had been subject to disciplinary proceedings since that date. The Ecclesiastical Insurance Office had been notified of 14 claims concerning the Church in Wales, 12 of which involved clerics, all were male, one of whom was deceased; 13 concerned allegations more than 20 years after the alleged abuse.
On Friday, she questioned Archbishop Davies about the case of an incumbent in Wales who had refused to follow a provincial recommendation to suspend the choirmaster, who had had consensual oral sex with a 17-year-old male chorister. The police did not make a criminal case, and the bishop had not taken any disciplinary action against the incumbent.
Archbishop Davies agreed with the conclusions of an independent review of the case, which said that the diocesan bishop should have suspended the incumbent. “Wrong is wrong regardless. If you cannot administer the discipline, you don’t do the job,” he said.
He also agreed that the Provincial Safeguarding Officer should have been able to make the referral to the disciplinary tribunal and that the Church should have carried out an internal investigation.
“The allegations were very serious. The police would have been looking at a completely different burden of proof than the disciplinary tribunal. It would have been an entirely appropriate step to have investigated.”
Archbishop Davies also spoke about the seal of confession: here.