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CDM stories: ‘Foolishly, I thought I didn’t need legal advice’

by
24 July 2020

Prompted by the Sheldon survey, a priest writes about her Clergy Discipline Measure

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SOME years ago, a funeral director phoned about a service. Several family members wanted me to officiate, others did not, and I was apprehensive. The night before, I had an allergic reaction and an asthma attack, which lingered into the following day.

When I woke the next morning, I checked my diary for appointments that day. Somehow I missed the entry “Funeral” in a bold, coloured ink. No excuses: I missed it, and was devastated.

I tried to apologise, but to no avail. I notified the archdeacon immediately, and, sure enough, a complaint came through, but nothing that the archdeacon suggested to the family was acceptable.

Several months later, I was told that they had registered a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure. I was told about it by a secretary, then by letter. I do not recall any senior clergy talking face-to-face with me about it formally at any stage. Thankfully, one supported me with unofficial, private phone calls.

The official letter from the bishop included a link to follow if I wanted legal advice. But, having confessed the error of my ways with sincerity, I foolishly did not think I needed this. Some documentation relating to the complaint had not arrived through my postbox. I did not have enough knowledge or funds for legal help, and I did not know that the diocese could have assisted.

The whole process took the better part of a year. During that time, bizarrely, I was invited to join a CDM panel in another diocese, having been nominated by a previous bishop years earlier to join a pool of clergy and laity who could be drawn on for this purpose. I felt that I had to refuse this time, and, even then, I was asked to rethink.

In the end, the bishop wrote to the complainant, bringing the CDM to a close. In his ruling, he included the word “negligent”, and stated: “This is a dereliction of duty and there is no excuse for it.”

I was not negligent. I did not wilfully refuse to take the funeral. I was not well. And yet both these phrases found their way into my personal file, overshadowing comments about my reliability and experience hitherto.

Years later, I assume that the bishop was facilitating closure — but it was a brutal and woefully inept way of dealing with a shocked and wounded priest. The bishop’s verdict hurt more than the complaint.

Read our full report on the Sheldon survey here

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