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Review process of Clergy Discipline Measure criticised by Sheldon Hub

12 February 2021

Floating detailed proposals before ‘purpose and scope’ paper is ‘dangerously poor practice

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PROPOSED ground rules for a replacement for the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) have been posted on the Sheldon Hub, the support service for those caught up in the process, led by the Revd Dr Sarah Horsman.

Sheldon says that it is “profoundly disappointing” that, more than a year into discussions about how to reform the Church of England’s disciplinary procedures, “baseline, detailed proposals are being floated in the absence of any published ‘purpose and scope’ paper.”

It goes on: “We consider this to be dangerously poor practice, replicating the hierarchical and opaque approaches that have contributed to, and delayed the recognition of, the harms of CDM.”

Both the Lambeth Working Group, chaired by the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, and an unofficial working party, put together by the Ecclesiastical Law Society, have been debating a replacement system (News, 5 February).

In consequence, Sheldon has “reluctantly” drawn up its own purpose and scope paper. “We do not consider it the last word on the subject, but hope it will be used as an essential first word to begin to develop consensus. Future proposals can then be assessed against these purposes. Without this we believe there is a real risk that the CDM will be replaced with something even worse.”

The paper suggests seven purposes: (1) to facilitate constructive relationships at all levels of church life, fostering a culture of mutual respect and appropriate accountability; (2) to prohibit from ministry those whose conduct falls below a minimum safe standard of fitness to practise; (3) to provide robust protection for people in ministry from the effects of complaints that are trivial, unfounded, unfair, vexatious, or malicious; (4) to provide routine pathways for restoration to healthy ministry for all those who have temporarily fallen short of reasonably expected standards; (5) to support people raising legitimate complaints about unsafe or unreasonable conduct of clergy; (6) to engage in restorative justice for those harmed by the shortcomings of the present Measure; (7) to provide public witness through congruence with the faith that the Church professes, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8).

The replacement should avoid loopholes; examine issues of capacity in those accused; incorporate (or replace) the current safeguarding protocols; include the management of Permission to Officiate; incorporate ministerial review and training; provide clear protocols for suspension, including a right of appeal; include a set of consequences for those who make malicious, vexatious, or trivial complaints; be compatible with the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act, and employment law; and provide clarity on any relationship it might have with commitments such as the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing, Issues in Human Sexuality, etc.

The paper also lists what Sheldon sees as essential elements in any new system. These include speed; a recognition of the complexity of ministry, and of the relationship between the clergy and laity and their bishop; the creation of independent pathways for lesser and more serious complaints; fully funded legal aid for the latter; proper confidentiality; and a recognition of the needs of a correspondent’s household.

Sheldon argues that the process by which a replacement to the CDM is developed is important. There is a need, it says, “to rebuild lost confidence in competency, professionalism and conduct of those running the systems”.

It also calls for full transparency, the routine publication of meeting minutes, and formal consultation with all clergy through diocesan channels.

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