‘Clergy Discipline Measure can cause suicidal thoughts’

31 May 2019

CDM must be repaired or replaced, the Ecclesiastical Law Society has been told

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THE Clergy Discipline Measure is not fit for its purpose and must be repaired or replaced, the Ecclesiastical Law Society was told on Tuesday of last week.

Dr Sarah Horsman, warden of the Sheldon Community, told the gathering that the Measure was a “deeply flawed Measure and not fit for purpose. It is maximally threatening to honest clergy, including those who err in minor ways, while being minimally effective with the very small minority of real wrongdoers. The worst of all worlds.”

Sheldon has been running a CDM project, researching its impact, for a year (Features, 19 October). Among Dr Horsman’s final remarks to the Society on Tuesday was a plea that members be “alert for suicidal thoughts”. Among those that Sheldon had heard from was the wife of a priest who had taken his own life with days of a CDM notice arriving and a priest who had twice attempted suicide.

“I hope that our combined expertise can be put at the service of those who so desperately need changes to the CDM,” she said. “We believe it is the particularities of clergy life and work, combined with the flaws of the CDM, that makes for a uniquely toxic cocktail.”

Among the 14 ingredients were a “very significant imbalance of power” in the process, with bishops not subject to “oversight safeguards”, “absent or inadequate” pastoral care, and the shame and humiliation brought about my media coverage. Placing bishops in control of clergy discipline was an “anachronism”.

Sheldon believed that discipline should be divided into “two completely separate processes”, with a new national body established to handle “all cases which carry the possibility of loss of home and livelihood”. This would free the bishops to be a supporter or advocate for the priest. “If a prohibition is made (other than lifelong), then it should be made with a clear purpose and come with a clear pathway for restoration to ministry.” All other cases would then be handled by the bishop within the diocese.

In addition to gathering stories from past and current respondents, including via an online forum, Sheldon has commissioned independent academic research into the “lived experience” of CDM, run by researchers at Aston University with Sheldon as the non-academic partner. Approval is expected shortly.

cdm@sheldonhub.org

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