NEW regulations for the National Register of Clergy contain a loophole, whereby clergy who were suspended, or who had “stepped back from ministry” before the Regulations came into effect in May, could be included in the list of authorised clergy, the director of a safeguarding charity has suggested.
The National Clergy Register — a publicly available list of all active authorised ordained ministers — was first recommended in the 2017 Gibb review, which investigated the Church’s handling of allegations against the disgraced former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball (News, 30 June 2017). It was later discussed at length at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), and went live in May (News, 15 January 2021).
Part of its job is to enable clergy to check that it is safe to invite priests to preach and/or assist or take services. The National Ministry Register (Clergy) Regulations 2020 state that if the authority of an ordained minister to exercise ministry is terminated, or ceases for a limited period, their registration officer (diocesan bishops, usually) must notify the Archbishops’ Council within 24 hours so that they can be removed from the register.
The director of the Jill Saward Organisation, Gavin Drake, has received confirmation from the Archbishop of York, drawing on the advice of the Provincial Registrar, that there are no transitional provisions in the legislation setting out how this rule applies to a clerk who withdrew from ministry before the coming into force of the Regulations on 1 May.
“This loophole is dangerous, and the Church of England needs to make fresh regulations as a matter of urgency to close it,” Mr Drake said last month.
“Safeguarding in the Church is not developed, but is hindered, by having a register which includes people who have been suspended, or who have stood back from ministry. It is clear that the intent behind this register — which was recommended by a review looking into safeguarding failings — that such clergy should not be included in the list.”
The project team that manages the register maintains that any member of the clergy who had already been suspended before 1 May should not have been included in the register in the first place.
A spokesperson for the Church said: “The Church takes all safeguarding issues very seriously, and would ask that any anomalies are immediately reported. This is not the only process for checking on clergy ‘good standing’ when making appointments, it just strengthens existing processes.”
The project team regularly asks dioceses to check their lists, and dioceses have been updating the data daily as appointments, resignations, moves, and suspensions occur. It is their legal obligation to ensure that the data are kept up to date.