THE Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, has described as “deeply regrettable” the speculation that has surrounded the prolonged absence of the Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, from July 2018.
The Bishop, reported to be widely liked and respected by his flock, took early retirement at the end of April this year on the grounds of ill-health. No official explanation other than “rest time away from his duties” was given for his absence, and, amid continuing talk of difficult relationships with senior staff, the Church in Wales put out a statement in December 2018 which sought to clarify the situation (News, 11 January).
The statement said: “In recent weeks, there has been speculation about the Bishop of Monmouth and relationships with his senior team. The Archbishop of Wales is aware of these issues, and remains actively involved with all parties, in a formal process of mediation which seeks to resolve them.”
At a meeting with diocesan clergy on 5 June, the Archbishop described that statement as having been “factually correct” and intended to be helpful. “It turned out not to be,” he told them. “I regret that the statement gave some the impression that Bishop Richard was away from work because his senior colleagues refused to work with him. That was simply not the case.
“Bishop Richard’s absence was prolonged, and this led to growing speculation about any number of circumstances. These, in turn, have caused unjustified and damaging hurt to a number of reputations and relationships. That is deeply regrettable.”
The Archbishop confirmed that the Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Lister Tonge; the Archdeacon of Monmouth, the Ven. Ambrose Mason; and the Archdeacon of Newport, the Ven. Jonathan Williams, had raised concerns about Bishop Pain’s well-being in July 2018. He went on to describe the responsibility of the clergy to keep confidences as a “two-edged sword” that could allow misinformation to develop and circulate.
The matter was now ended, the Archbishop concluded. He expressed the “great sorrow” that he and many others felt at Bishop Pain’s retirement, and wished him and his wife, Julie, well.
His statement of 5 June to the clergy has since been published, after an open letter from the PCC of St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, where members of the congregation had tried to access the meeting and had, in their words, been “excluded” at the Archbishop’s instruction. The letter calls for public retraction of the allegations surrounding senior staff.
It says: “It has recently been announced that Bishop Richard has retired on the grounds of ill-health. Therefore, now is the time that statements made in December 2018 about poor relationships between the Bishop and his senior team should be publicly retracted to save any further reputational damage to those who are left to carry on the work of the diocese.”
The PCC considers the Archbishop’s statement to be an inadequate response, and it does not wish to retract its letter. A spokesman said on Monday: “The Archbishop had the chance to resolve this matter before we sent the letter. The statement was simply the notes that he used to speak to the clergy on 5 June.
“Several of us from the cathedral and at least one other parish turned up at the meeting, hoping for some kind of explanation, and were asked to leave, with great embarrassment.
“Following that meeting, one might have expected some explanation to be given to the laity, but, no, the laity has been completely overlooked. The PCC does not recognise the unhappiness at the cathedral that has been reported in the press and online, but this is all impacting on the health of our clergy and we are concerned for them. We feel they have been unjustifiably maligned and their reputations compromised.”
A spokeswoman for the Church in Wales said last week that the invitation to the Archbishop to address the clergy had come from the senior staff of the diocese, and that the Archbishop had readily responded. Notice of the meeting had been given in the weekly mailing under the title “Meeting with Diocesan Clergy”.
“Lay people were not invited on this occasion, and we regret any misunderstandings to the contrary,” she said. Since the meeting, the Archbishop had been on compassionate leave, after the death of his father.
She concluded: “However, the PCC’s letter, addressed to the Archbishop, was only sent to him after it had been sent to Church Times last week and at no time before that had anyone from the Cathedral contacted him directly with their concerns.”