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Letters to the Editor

29 May 2020

Church Times letters: letters@churchtimes.co.uk We regret that we cannot guarantee consideration of letters submitted by post under present working conditions


Clergy discipline to be revisited

From the Revd Raymond Baudon

Sir, — As the momentum behind reforming and replacing the current Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) regime grows (News, 22 May), it is, I believe, important to strike a note of caution. From my research as part of the Cardiff University Canon Law course, it is clear that the current regime is not only unfair to clergy as respondents on a pastoral level, but that it is arguably legally unfair.

Diocesan bishops are placed in the invidious position of being judge, jury, and chief pastor. In spite of their undoubted good faith, this makes it impossible for them to avoid not just the appearance of bias in legal terms, but occasionally actual legal bias. It is only the rarely used right of recourse to an independent tribunal which saves the whole regime from breaching a respondent’s right to a fair trial in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The current CDM regime urgently needs to be replaced. The two-tiered approach being proposed by Sheldon’s Project CDM and being considered by the House of Bishops seeks to redress the balance and create a more pastorally sensitive process. Caution must be exercised, however, to ensure that the already limited legal protections in the current regime are not sacrificed by the desire to provide greater pastoral protection. Any new Measure must guarantee both appropriate pastoral care and a legally fair process at all stages.

11 Hinckley Road
London SE15 4HZ


From Mr S. P. McKie

Sir, — The debate on reform of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 has been conducted mostly by clerics and by laymen heavily embedded in diocesan structures. It is not surprising, therefore, that most contributors have been concerned primarily to free the Bishops from the burden and responsibility of conducting disciplinary procedures and to protect clergy generally from what are claimed to be vexatious complaints.

The proposals that the Bishops are to discuss next month, under which “less serious complaints” will be subject to an intermediate process of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) reflect that.

What has been lost in the debate is an appreciation of the protection provided to the laity by the CDM not only against sexual misconduct, but also against idleness, dishonesty, abuse of position, and the flouting of ecclesiastical law, on the part of the clergy and, in particular, of the higher diocesan clergy and bishops.

The heads of misconduct listed in Section 8(1) all involve serious derelictions of duty and deserve penalising, and are conduct from which the laity should be protected. The clergy are already protected against “complaints which may be unfounded” under Section 11. Provision is already made for conciliation under Section 15. Interposing an ADR procedure is likely to lengthen the disciplinary process and restrict access to justice and so to deter complainants, many of whom are already deterred from making complaints by the length and complexity of the process.

The CDM certainly needs reform, but reform to make the complaints process easier to initiate, less burdensome for the complainant, and more open and transparent. The reformed process should be designed not by persons who have an interest in its ineffectiveness, but by those who are independent of the church hierarchy and who understand that all professions need to ensure high standards of behaviour by those who exercise them.

Rudge Hill House, Rudge
Somerset BA11 2QG


Church in Wales and Bishop Wilbourne’s article

From Mr David Richards

Sir, — The analysis of the Church in Wales offered by the Rt Revd David Wilbourne (Features, 15 May) and the responses to it (Letters, 22 May) highlight how colossal the elephant in the room is. I refer to the total absence of any acknowledgement of how Anglicised the Church in Wales has become over the past decade.

Bishop Wilbourne is one of several bishops to have come to the Church in Wales in recent years without any prior experience of the historical, cultural, and political landscape of Wales, let alone discernible willingness to learn and use the Welsh language in their ministry. In fact, we no longer have a single bishop in Wales who could even remotely be described as a competent Welsh-speaker, let alone one who is able to engage convincingly with the national media in the native language of nearly 20 per cent of the population.

This situation is made worse by the fact that we have experienced a significant brain drain over the same period, as gifted and able clergy, all of whom are either native Welsh-speakers or who have learnt it to a high standard, have crossed the border into England — and beyond — to take up senior appointments. The gaps that they have left in terms of grounded experience and intellectual capability, as well as long-term strategic vision, are considerable. Judging by the outcome of the past three episcopal electoral colleges, it would seem that we no longer have a critical mass of clergy of sufficient quality currently serving in the Province to exercise episcopal ministry.

In recent weeks, questions have been raised about the extent to which the Church of England has withdrawn from the public sphere. On this one, the Church in Wales is well ahead of its big sister next door. Once a Church struggles to engage meaningfully with its surrounding cultural ethos, loses its innate sense of rooting in the human geography of the nation and communities that it serves, and no longer believes that the ability to speak the native language is fundamental to spreading the gospel, it has lost its place and meaning in society. For this reason alone, the current steep level of decline is as inevitable as it is preventable.

Ffordd Bryngwyn
Gwynedd LL53 3AY


From the Dean of Llandaff

Sir, — Bishop David Wilbourne told your readers about some of his experiences during his time as an assistant bishop in Llandaff. He refers to a story that I once told of my two uncles who left Anglesey in 1939 to fight in the Second World War.

The point of the story, was that the two brothers, aged only 24 and 26 on their return in 1945, had been utterly traumatised, particularly on the beaches of Normandy, where they had witnessed the terrible death of so many young men, and no doubt, an experience of unimaginable fear; they came home deeply reserved and inwardly changed. Like many of their generation, their limited opportunities and choices after the war were affected by haunting shadows from the past.

The Bishop has appropriated the story indiscriminately, by using only what he wanted of it, to paint a picture of narrow and eccentric Welsh parochialism. For William and Edward Lewis, the restoration to mother, home, and hearth was an infinitely subtler story, and common to many of that era throughout the British Isles.

To cast the story in such a way as to give the impression of them as simple Welsh bumpkins, uninterested enough ever to cross the Menai Straits after 1945, is to take a liberty with the truth of someone else’s cherished history.

The Deanery
Cathedral Green
Cardiff CF5 2YF


From the Revd Bob Capper

Sir, — Bishop David Wilbourne was a kind and supportive Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, always replying to enquiries and even complaints promptly and courteously. I do, though, have to write in defence of myself and clerical colleagues that the practice of clergy receiving Easter or Whit Offerings (as opposed to funeral and wedding fees) was stopped quite early on in my 40-year ministry in the Church in Wales when the implications of National Insurance as well as tax liabilities were understood: the suggestion of these being “pocketed” is, therefore, not true (any parishes that did this would have done so against official guidance).

It would, have course, made a big difference, for example, to curates with one income and children especially, had it been true.

Cleddau View, Haven View
Pembrokeshire SA73 1LS


Episcopal interventions in the Cummings row

From Mr Rhys Burriss

Sir, — What a shame that all those silly bishops didn’t hold fast to our Blessed Lord’s admonition “Judge not that ye be not judged,” before piling in to criticise Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson. Would it be too much, too taxing, perhaps, to expect their Lordships to read the wording of the Regulations before asserting that Mr Cummings broke the law?

Mr Cummings acted well within the Regulations, specifically Reg. 6 (1) Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, when he and Mrs Cummings drove to Durham in late March.

It was perfectly reasonable for him (and his wife) to leave their place of residence to be able to go to another place where, should it transpire that they both became too ill to care for their four-year-old (which might have happened suddenly, as did the need for the hospitalisation of the PM), such care would have been available, and from close relatives rather than Islington Social Services.

It is not even marginally arguable that what they did was not reasonable.

The Regulations set out the “reasonable excuse” defence. Mr and Mrs Cummings possessed such a reasonable excuse. What Downing Street should have done was to put out a short statement saying so.

Anyone who contended otherwise should simply have brought a private prosecution in the London Magistrates’ Courts and have been prepared to have costs ordered against them when their allegation was dismissed.

I write as someone who has been both a Clerk to the Justices in County Durham and, more recently, a magistrate in the UK Overseas Territories of Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands; so I have plenty of experience of interpreting statutory instruments of this kind, and I know what I am talking about.

23 The Chains
Durham DH1 1QZ

From the Revd Professor David Jasper

Sir, — I heartily applaud the fact that at last some Church of England Bishops have spoken out clearly with respect to the Prime Minister’s attempt to defend Dominic Cummings. The current pandemic has revealed many fault lines in our social structures. What has been made abundantly clear in the past few days is the danger of abandoning truth and moral principles in the conduct of our public life.

When a government demonstrates a wholesale lack of such principles in the management of national affairs, it is imperative that the Church clearly and strongly speak out in defence of them. Any failure to do so can only be regarded as tacit agreement with a government that has proved itself ethically bereft.

Canon Theologian, St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow
32 Crompton Avenue
Glasgow G44 5TH


From Mr John Jones

Sir, — Episcopal comments on Dominic Cummings were unedifying. If bishops must use Twitter, they should confine themselves to quoting from the King James Bible.

29 Cecil Road
London SW19 1JR

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