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Letters to the Editor

by
31 July 2020

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The Clergy Discipline Measure and its application

From Mr Robert Leach

Sir, — Your reporting last week on the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) indicated problems with the implementation of the Measure rather than with the Measure itself (News, 24 July). Recurring themes were lack of support, unsympathetic treatment, and dissatisfaction with bishops. Other themes were that it took too long and insufficient information was provided.

Neither of the two case studies was a complaint against the CDM itself. One was from a priest unable to accept a decision, and the other related to withdrawal of permission to officiate after being cleared under the CDM.

The Bishops plan to bring a replacement for the CDM to the General Synod in 2021. If they do, I hope that they will operate it rather better.

ROBERT LEACH
19 Chestnut Avenue, Ewell
Surrey KT19 0SY

 

From the Revd Paul Williamson

Sir, — The Sheldon report shows the dreadful and convoluted dealings of dioceses using the CDM against priests. In my case, I was not given any substantive pastoral care, and no professional assistance at all, by the diocese of London, whose officers I hold responsible and accountable.

There is little legal support or adequate financial assistance available. There is no redress. I was accused by a woman of asking a parishioner to leave me her £1 million. An archdeacon and a bishop interviewed the informant. It took a year, the Will, and the statement of four executors to prove my innocence, while I suffered grievously.

Then, an investigation and two more CDMs. which were set aside. No support whatsoever was provided by the diocese of London. My doctor and my consultant wrote of my suicidal state. The diocese of London dismissed these letters on legal headed paper. How many clergy have gone through this? How many have been forced to the point of suicide?

We need a Royal Commission to look into the treatment of priests by the Church of England.

PAUL WILLIAMSON
7 Blakewood Close,
Hanworth TW13 7NL

 

Sir, — The process itself under the Clergy Discipline Measure has the capacity to deal properly with complaints, dismissing or acting upon them at several stages. If followed correctly, however, it is long and critically labour-intensive, and it compromises the complementary roles of bishops, as “chief pastors”, and archdeacons, as “enquirer”, and potentially “complainant”, or even provider of “pastoral support”. The process requires more than the administrative capacities of most of our senior clergy, and so struggles to tackle wayward clergy, help those who are struggling, or confront vexatious complainants.

It is all too easy for hard-pressed bishops and archdeacons to be swept along by the vehement petitions of over-stretched lay people, made anxious by target-driven policies, and bitterly disappointed at the mere humanity of their parish priest — whose official support structure, meanwhile, has turned into judge, jury, and executioner.

Pastoral care and advice may then be delegated to various advisers, and these may see straight through the presenting issues; but still the juggernaut cannot be stopped. Consequently, extreme and widespread damage is caused to both clergy and parish ministry. Worse still: clergy spouses — children and dependants notwithstanding — have been dragged through the same misery, and brought to similar levels of suicidal desperation. And so, in a twisted irony, the real effects of the CDM constitute a failure in safeguarding.

We do not know how many clergy — or their spouses — have ended their own lives because of the destructive effects of the CDM; but, if Bishop Tim Thornton’s estimate (given on the Radio 4 Sunday programme, 26 July) is correct, and it takes two years before a new Measure can be established, then there will surely be more, unless very well-targeted pastoral support can be brought in very quickly.

My wife and I consider ourselves lucky to have survived our own recent experience of the CDM relatively intact; but we should never have had to trust to luck.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

Sir, — Further to the Bishops’ decision to replace the CDM, the problem was not only that one was considered guilty until proven innocent: even when no further action was deemed to be the correct judgment, the Bishop continued to think of the accused as responsible.

As such, my bishop wrote to me as follows: “I have decided to take no further action under the Measure. I judge the incidents (the complainer) cites are not matters for formal disciplinary proceedings under the Clergy Discipline Measure. I most certainly did not say that the complaint was unfounded and, indeed, I have never believed this to be the case. In fact my views are to the contrary. The complaint was dismissed on legal advice simply because the matters complained of were not sufficiently serious to merit any disciplinary sanction against you under the Measure.”

Having lost all faith in both my bishop and the process that I had been subjected to, I felt I had no option but to retire from a parish where, in my time as Incumbent, the church had increased its Parish Share fivefold.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

From the Revd Dr Margaret Wilkinson

Sir, — Thank you for your coverage of the very real problems that members of the clergy have experienced as a result of the CDM. We would like to highlight that the stress, trauma, and potential loss of home and livelihood also affect the other members of the family, including any children. These problems are compounded if there has also been a breakdown in the clergy marriage.

We trust that the review of the CDM will give due weight to the needs of clergy families.

MARGARET WILKINSON
Broken Rites
27 River Grove Park
Beckenham BR3 1HX

 

Human-rights abuses against Muslims in Xinjiang

From Canon Mark Oakley

Sir, — One of the great crimes against humanity is happening in our time, and, for mainly economic reasons, the world is silent. The Church imitates this silence, careful not to say anything that might injure its own. Meanwhile, between one and two million children, women, and men are being rounded up and placed in camps of the same cruelty and death as the earth saw in living memory across Europe.

We in the West may not know much about the Uighur people, nor of Xinjiang province in China. We may not share their Muslim faith, their language, or their culture. Neither do we, thank God, share their predicament at this moment: arbitrary detainment, “correction” of thought and belief, sterilisation, torture, separation of children from parents. Silence will only encourage an increase in state criminality — maybe, next, against Christians.

People of faith will now be watching many leaders in the world pursuing the abuse of minorities, the poorest and the vulnerable, as part of nationalistic ideology. In contrast, the Church proclaims the God who does not see our boundaries, but only our humanity. As the Roman Catholic Church teaches, “human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met.”

As Christians, it is time to educate ourselves, and find a language that is compelling and truthful about human dignity and the values that we unapologetically hold as sacred, so that the Church is known for its voice, not its compromise or its hiding. Teaching documents, church study groups, sermons, theological courses — all need to be deepening our belief and our courage, and shaping political and theological literacy, because it is clear that there are dark days ahead for the vulnerable of our world. Indeed, they are well under way already.

Martin Niemöller’s words must haunt us into a refreshed urgency: “then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

MARK OAKLEY
St John’s College
Cambridge CB2 1TP

 

Sheffield Cathedral Chapter’s actions over choir

From Seth and Amelie (and Stephen and Gillian) Hillier

Sir, — It has been reported that Sheffield Cathedral has closed its choir (News, 24 July). We are choristers (and their parents) from the closed choir and wanted to set the record straight about the current situation. The cathedral is quoted as being regretful about the current situation. This regret did not stretch to consulting existing choristers on whether they wanted to be involved in the future of the choir. Some of us have been involved for most of our lives, but we have been erased from the picture in these statements.

We were cast out without contact from the cathedral during the lockdown. Our new Master of Music, who was making great steps towards a bright future for the choir, was furloughed without notice, abandoned by his management chain, and allowed to resign without any question about his motives. We understand those motives and are outraged that it should have been allowed to happen. Only a few weeks before lockdown, his appointment was heralded as the start of a new era.

The cathedral says that the decision is not about Covid-19 or finances. This may well be true, but both have given the cathedral an out instead of making some difficult decisions about the way in which the choir has been managed. The cathedral also says that it wants to be more inclusive in the future, failing to mention that the majority of existing choristers come from state schools or are home educated, and not from local private schools, and have a mixture of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Any deficiency in choir inclusivity is due to the failure of the cathedral to recruit actively from schools in recent years, despite current parents’ encouraging them to do so.

We are hugely disappointed by this experience. As children, we can’t understand that adults, particularly those representing the Church of England, can behave like this. We have worked really hard for the cathedral, and they have failed to make any effort to save the choir. We have learned a lot this year in unusual times. Unfortunately, this has been the worst lesson of all for us.

SETH HILLIER, AMELIE HILLIER (aged 13) (and STEPHEN HILLIER, GILLIAN HILLIER, parents)
ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

Pastor to the pastors

From Canon Roger Hill

Sir, — The courageous and pertinent letter from the Revd Simon Grigg (24 July) calls to mind Bishop Hugh Montefiore, who, arriving in Birmingham, told his clergy that he would be available for them, but that sometimes “like Nicodemus they would have to come by night.”

ROGER HILL
4 Four Stalls End
Littleborough
Lancashire OL15 8SB

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