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Texting cleric banned for six months, but can return to parish

12 October 2021

istock

A RECTOR who admitted sending inappropriate texts to a vulnerable woman in his congregation has been prohibited from ministry for six months and ordered to undergo supervision and further training. Instead of seeking the advice of the diocesan safeguarding team after the woman disclosed romantic feelings towards him, the Revd Anthony Giles went on to exchange text messages with her that were “inappropriate in frequency and content”.

The tribunal decision, announced on Wednesday of last week, concerns a complaint against Mr Giles, Rector of the United Benefice of Epperstone, Gonalston, Oxton and Woodborough, and a former Area Dean of Gedling. The complaint was brought by the Archdeacon of Nottingham, the Ven. Philip Williams. The tribunal panel overruled a recommendation by the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, that Mr Giles be removed from office. The tribunal did not consider further allegations of a more serious nature, because the deputy president of tribunals had judged earlier that “there was no case to answer in relation to them.”

On Thursday of last week, the woman concerned, “AB”, issued a statement criticising the decision and the process that led to it, accusing the Church of trying to “suffocate” her.

There was no substantive tribunal hearing to determine issues of fact. The panel instead considered misconduct admitted by Mr Giles. This was that, in 2015, “at a time when he was aware of feelings of romantic affection towards him from Ms AB, a vulnerable women, he (a) failed to seek assistance or advice from the diocesan safeguarding team as to how to respond appropriately to her, and (b) in failing to seek assistance or advice placed the concerns of his own reputation above the pastoral needs of Ms AB”. He also admitted that, during 2017, he “(a) sent text messages to Ms AB which were inappropriate in frequency and content, and, (b) in doing so failed accordingly to observe or maintain appropriate professional boundaries.”

AB was a member of one of Mr Giles’ congregations at the time of allegation and employed by the PCC. The decision notes that they “developed a very close friendship during this period together with their families”. The tribunal decision notes that Mr Giles did not seek advice after AB’s confession of romantic feelings towards him (in 2015) because “he was aware that there could be implications for him and his position if the situation became more widely known”. It concludes that this demonstrated a “failure to prioritise Ms AB’s pastoral needs over his concern for the implications for him and his position”.

The more than 1000 text messages, which were exchanged over the course of seven months, 400 of them from Mr Giles, are described as “inappropriate in content and frequency” with “a manifest and worrying blurring of lines between pastoral and personal matters”, demonstrating “a concerning failure to maintain appropriate boundaries”. It notes “a clear power imbalance in the relationship”.

AB’s victim-impact statement showed that the misconduct had caused “particular emotional and spiritual harm, particularly in its failure to provide her with the possibility of external support and assistance in 2015”.

It also notes “mitigating factors”, including that Mr Giles had admitted this misconduct at the earliest opportunity and had expressed contrition and remorse about the harm done. It notes that, although he did not seek the advice of the safeguarding team in 2015, he did seek advice and guidance from a retired archdeacon and acted on that advice, attempting to put AB in contact with another clergyperson to offer her support. He had a “hitherto exemplary record as a priest, both in the parish and more widely”.

But the decision states: “We find that the Respondent’s admitted failings are indeed serious”, ruling that a prohibition “sends a strong and clear message to all that the Respondent’s failings were serious and are treated as such by the Church.”

Bishop Williams, had recommended a prohibition for 18 months and that Mr Giles should be removed from office, concluding that “the misconduct has fundamentally undermined his work in the parish”.

But the tribunal was “struck by the breadth of referees supporting the Respondent’s return to ministry in his Benefice”, which “suggests a much missed and valued parish priest”. Noting that Mr Giles had already stepped back from ministry for the past year, a further prohibition from ministry of six months was imposed.

The penalty constituted a rebuke for misconduct and a requirement to complete training during the six months in “the maintenance of appropriate pastoral boundaries in parish ministry; safeguarding; appropriate use of communications; and confidentiality”. It also requires that Mr Giles be supervised in his ministry for two years by a person appointed by the diocesan bishop.

On Thursday of last week, AB said: “Nobody in the Church of England has listened to me. For the past two years everybody from the Archdeacon of Nottingham to the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham and the Archbishop of York has sought to protect my abuser and the Church of England.

“For the hierarchy of the Church of England, I am a nobody. My experience has left me feeling suicidal. . .I no longer trust the Church. All along I was told to ‘trust the process’, but the Bishop and Diocese here have ignored that process and made up their own processes.”

She described how she was not allowed to participate in the tribunal, though she was allowed to watch it online — but without anyone else present in support. (She had to move the webcam around the room to prove that she was alone.) “The whole way I have been treated, from start to end, has been isolating and frightening,” she said. “The whole process has been traumatic. I have had to fight to be heard at every stage, and at no point, including yesterday at the tribunal, was there an independent person to represent me.

“I have felt that the Church has tried to suffocate and silence me.”

Mr Giles has been supported by the Church of England Clergy Advocates throughout the proceedings. Its chair, the Revd Peter Hobson, speaking on his behalf, said on Tuesday: “Mr Giles is deeply sorry for those actions which he admitted at the tribunal, and fully accepts the penalty imposed and the further training required.

“However, he is deeply disturbed by the subsequent putting into the public domain of material containing further serious allegations which he utterly refutes. Confidentiality in such matters operates to protect people from false accusation. These accusations have been subject to due investigation and it has been found that there is no case to answer.”

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