WHAT happened in the diocese of Monmouth over the long absence and subsequent retirement of its former Bishop, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, is described in a newly published review as a “tragedy”. Long ministries of service to the Church were curtailed, careers were damaged, and reputations were left in ruins, it says.
The review panel — the Rt Revd Graham James, a former Bishop of Norwich; Lucinda Herklots, a former diocesan secretary in Salisbury; and Patricia Russell, a former deputy registrar for Winchester and Salisbury — concluded: “We recognise that we are looking at events with the benefit of hindsight, but we do not believe there is a single malign figure on whom all that happened can be blamed.
“Rather, this is a story of people attempting to do the right thing but tying themselves in knots when they fail to revisit poor decisions and avoid risk to the extent that they create more of it. That is why this is genuinely a tragedy.”
The panel’s object was not to determine whether allegations related to the former Bishop were true. These are nowhere specified, though there are clues, and all identifying references to “Alex”, who made a disclosure about the Bishop’s behaviour, are redacted for his or her anonymity.
The in-depth report runs to more than 100 pages, and makes uncomfortable reading for the Church in Wales. The events in Monmouth are described as a “shock to the system” which has already triggered a reshaping of the culture of the diocese and the Bench of Bishops.
BISHOP PAIN, formerly Archdeacon of Monmouth, was elected Bishop in July 2013. Many of the 27 witnesses interviewed for the inquiry believed that it was a good appointment, and spoke of his engaging and informal style and friendliness. The Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Lister Tonge, was new in post at the time, as was the Archdeacon of Newport, the Ven. Jonathan Williams. The following year, Bishop Pain appointed the Ven. Ambrose Mason as Archdeacon of Monmouth. (In 2018, the Archdeaconry of Newport was divided to create the Archdeaconry of the Gwent Valleys. Its first Archdeacon, the Ven. Sue Pinnington, died last July.)
The panel heard that there was no monitoring of the mental and psychological well-being of episcopal candidates in the Church in Wales, nor mentoring of them in their early years: new bishops could feel that they were left to “sink or swim”.
In October 2017, “Alex” made a disclosure of inappropriate behaviour to the provincial secretary. The issue was taken up by the province’s human-relations team, but not raised with the Bishop of Monmouth himself. In January 2018, one of the bishops expressed anxiety to the Archbishop, the Most Revd John Davies, about Bishop Pain’s behaviour during a meeting of the Celtic bishops in Rome. The Dean and Archdeacons thought that he had become more erratic and strained.
HR did not inform safeguarding personnel of Alex’s disclosures or seek specialist legal advice, something that the inquiry identified as a serious mistake. Alex was reported to be content with the way in which HR had dealt with the case, and there was deference to his or her wish for anonymity; but “the consequent situation was one in which disturbing behaviour was reported and became known among all but one of the bishops but was not pursued in any way with the alleged perpetrator.”
Between July and September 2018, tensions were recorded as developing in Bishop Pain’s senior staff team about the way in which the programme of mission audits was being carried out in the diocese. The Archdeacons reported that, whenever challenged, the Bishop would become angry and insist on his own way.
They raised their concerns with the Archbishop when they became aware of the impact of the Bishop’s conduct also upon Alex. At a key meeting on 23 July — described by one participant as “angry and emotional” — it was agreed that the Bishop would be asked to step back voluntarily while the matter was investigated, as the Archbishop had no constitutional power to suspend him.
Bishop Pain was warned that if he did not step back, the matter would immediately be referred to a disciplinary tribunal that had the power to suspend him.
The Bishop never returned to active ministry thereafter as Bishop of Monmouth.
The inquiry reports Alex’s distress at the conduct of a meeting with the HR Business Partner, also attended by the Archdeacon of the Gwent Valleys, intended to be there as pastoral support for Alex. Alex was given two weeks’ leave.
TWO separate investigations ensued: one of Alex’s disclosures by an HR Business Partner (unnamed in the report), acting for the Representative Body, Alex’s employers; and the other of the concerns raised by the Dean and Archdeacons about the Bishop’s conduct. The latter was intended to provide evidence and recommendations to enable the Archbishop to decide whether Bishop Pain should be referred to a clergy disciplinary tribunal. It was undertaken by Gerard Elias QC. He was not charged to review the concerns raised by Alex at all.
The Archbishop asked the investigators to concentrate on three specific areas: the state of the relationships between the Bishop and his senior clergy colleagues; the appropriateness of the Bishop’s use of alcohol; and the Bishop’s workload.
The Dean and Archdeacons contended that their concerns should have been treated as supporting evidence for the Alex case, and not merely for the Elias investigation. They said that they had never made any formal complaint, but gave their evidence only to show why they believed that the Bishop’s behaviour towards Alex was reflective of a deeper problem. They denied colluding to remove him from office.
The review panel states: “The contention of the Dean and Archdeacons that they were too fearful of the Bishop of Monmouth to raise their concerns about him earlier did not convince some of our other witnesses. . . The Dean and Archdeacons were not regarded either in the diocese of Monmouth or elsewhere in the Church in Wales as shrinking violets. The Archbishop found their claim of fearfulness hard to credit.”
The HR Business Partner conducting the investigations into the Alex disclosures submitted her report on 20 September 2018. The investigation concluded that Alex was a credible witness, and that no evidence was found that allegations were malicious.
The panel states that, in its view, the HR Partner “was not given an adequate brief about how to conduct such a sensitive investigation with such far-reaching implications. Nor was she given anyone with authority, knowledge, and independence to consult while doing so.”
The second report — on the wider questions about the Bishop’s conduct — concluded that there were no grounds to believe that misconduct by anyone had occurred, including Bishop Pain; but it did include 11 recommendations “through which the shortcomings in conduct and behaviour which it identified may be addressed should the Bishop of Monmouth return to any role in the Church in Wales”.
The panel concluded: “We believe the weaknesses in the outcomes of both investigations, and the limited interaction between them was, in part, a consequence of the unsatisfactory way in which they were set up. There was no clear plan of how any subsequent investigations would be carried out when the initial meetings with the Bishop and Alex took place on the 23rd of July.”
It was to the Bishop of Monmouth’s credit that he agreed to step back from his duties at this time, acting solely out of canonical obedience, the review says. “A less compliant Bishop might not have done so.”
Because the two investigations were carried out independently and in parallel, the additional concerns of the Dean and Archdeacons were investigated in isolation and “raised to a more formal level, when they had been intended originally only to provide corroborating evidence about the Bishop of Monmouth’s health and behaviour towards Alex”.
Meetings with external lawyers followed, and a process of mediation proposed, the Dean and Archdeacons told the inquiry. “The conclusion that there was no case to answer came as a hammer blow, since all the issues to do with Alex seemed to be swept away.
“We felt we were being bounced into mediation without any understanding of how we got to this point. We began to observe that responsibility for the whole situation (and therefore any solution to it) was being shifted on to us.”
The first update to the diocese about the matter since the end of July came on 15 October 2018. A statement from Bishop Pain said: “For some months I have suffered from nervous exhaustion and had been advised by the doctors to refrain from work. Thankfully, I am now improving and I hope that I may be able to resume my duties soon.”
THE Bishop had, in fact, come to a point where he was prepared to discuss a timetable for his retirement on the grounds of ill-health. Not knowing this, two clerics close to the Bishop circulated a general letter in November asking people in the diocese to offer him encouragement to return to ministry.
Known as Operation Lovebomb, it encouraged recipients: “TODAY OR TOMORROW [sic] to write a card or letter to [the Bishop], assure him of your prayers, offer him words of encouragement, send him your love and say how you are looking forward to him resuming his duties as our much loved Father-in-God.”
A further email expressed “complete confidence” in the Bishop.
The review group said this week: “We were told that not all those whose names appeared on the email had seen the content before it was sent. . . One area dean said this was the case for some of the other signatories, too, and added that the gossip circulating in the diocese was very damaging.”
As a consequence of the support garnered by Operation Lovebomb, Bishop Pain decided not to retire after all.
The inquiry found: “Regrettably the information which accompanied Operation Lovebomb was partial, and led to an increased suspicion within the diocese focused upon the Dean and Archdeacons. We admire the way in which the Dean and Archdeacons maintained confidentiality when their reputations in the diocese were being traduced. That this episode had a serious and ongoing adverse impact upon them is evident.”
AN ANONYMOUS letter to a journalist at the Western Mail resulted in an article on 22 December 2018 which included a statement from the Church in Wales: “In recent weeks there has been speculation regarding the Bishop of Monmouth and about relationships in his senior team. The Archbishop of Wales is aware of these issues and remains actively engaged, with all parties, in a formal process of mediation which seeks to resolve them.”
This statement, the review group says, “played into the narrative already widely believed in the diocese, and confirmed the suspicions of those who thought the whole matter was related to the desire of the Dean and Archdeacons to be rid of their Bishop”.
There remained the hope that mediation would provide a way forward. “However, trust was ebbing away, including in the Archbishop and the process as far as the Dean and Archdeacons were concerned,” the review group acknowledges.
The furore that the statement triggered was “an accident waiting to happen, since there had been no coherent and well-informed communications strategy in place from the time the Bishop stepped back in late July”, the review says. “The line which had been pursued by the Archbishop and those most closely advising him was that as few people as possible should be briefed about what was happening in Monmouth.”
The director of communications in the Church in Wales, Anna Morrell, had not been routinely briefed on matters that came before the Bench of Bishops, nor did she attend Bench meetings. The review says: “We understand that her role is now not primarily to be a spokesperson for the Church in Wales but as an advisor, since current arrangements assume that bishops and clergy will be the main spokespeople for the church (and lay people if appropriate).
“The consequence of this pattern of working was that the director of communications only learned of salient features of this narrative by accident. . . It was when the Western Mail expressed interest that she was brought in to offer advice and handle the media. She has a wide knowledge of the press, television, and radio in Wales and her expertise is considerable.
“She began to get more calls from journalists, and she told us they frequently appeared to know more than she did. If a communications officer is expected to communicate well on behalf of her employer while being kept in the dark, it is not surprising that the outcome is unsatisfactory to everyone.”
BISHOP PAIN withdrew from scheduled meetings with his fellow bishops after two medical referrals. A medical report on 2 April 2019 supported retirement on grounds of ill-health. A final agreement on settlement terms was reached on 30 April, and his retirement was made public on 3 June.
The negative effect on the diocese during the period between July 2018 and July 2019 was “considerable”, the review says. At one stage, one quarter of all clergy posts were unfilled.
“Furthermore, since neither the Archbishop nor anyone else issued any further statements about these events from the time of the press release to the Western Mail in late December 2018 until the statement [about Bishop Pain’s resignation] at Newport Cathedral on the 5th of June 2019, rumours abounded within the diocese, particularly about the role of the Dean and Archdeacons in relation to the Bishop’s retirement.”
The review panel reflects: “The Archbishop has no means of performance-managing bishops, and does not think bishops expect or want it. It was not possible for honest conversations to take place between the Bishop of Monmouth and his fellow bishops, given that he had not been told that they knew the extent of the disclosures made by Alex in 2017 and in 2018. If this had been recognised at the beginning of the mediation process, it would have stood a greater chance of success.”
Because Bishop Pain had not been suspended, there was no process for appointing to vacant clergy posts. This led to many in the diocese to concluded that it was being neglected during this time. Archbishop Davies eventually gave assurances to a clergy meeting in Newport Cathedral. But “the way the meeting was handled, and the fact that there was no opportunity for clergy to ask questions, made it extremely difficult for the Dean and Archdeacons to continue effectively in ministry, and prompted the early retirement of the Dean.”
THE review makes 28 recommendations, 13 of which apply to the broader culture and constitution of the Church in Wales.
It recommends a full review of the the role and powers of the Archbishop of Wales in the constitution, and “a process enabling whoever is appointed Archbishop of Wales to engage in transition to their new role with appropriate and sufficiently senior staffing to support them, so that those in other important senior posts do not have tasks devolving inappropriately upon them in times of difficulty or crisis”.
Since the report was written, the Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John, has been appointed Archbishop in succession to Archbishop Davies (News, 6 December).
The review records that “a sense of power possessed by the Bench of Bishops, perceived by both clergy and laypeople as the place where decisions are made, is heightened by the surprising fact that there are no terms of reference for its meetings. . .
“The lack of definition of both the boundaries and responsibilities of the Bench means that an air of mystery surrounds it. This allows exaggerated opinions to form about the power the bishops wield collectively. They are regarded by some as unaccountable.”
The review acknowledges that the “club mentality” of the Bench has “definitely shifted” since the advent of female diocesan bishops; but it also says: “We were also told that dioceses in the Church in Wales were surprisingly independent of one another, and that a monarchical episcopate was still alive in the Province.
“At its best, the Church in Wales is rather like a large family. It is small enough for clergy, and some laypeople, too, to know colleagues across the Province. We gained an impression of relative intimacy, with all the benefits and occasional shortcomings found in familial relationships.”
It continues, however: “The investigation led by Gerard Elias commented upon some features of the prevailing culture among the bishops. Mr Elias believed that some of the concerns expressed by the Dean and Archdeacons about the behaviour of the Bishop of Monmouth went much wider.
“The prevalence of swearing and an excessive intake of alcohol among bishops and senior clergy was commented upon by several witnesses in their evidence to us, and by the Bishop of Monmouth himself in his evidence both to Mr Elias and to the HR Business Partner.
“Recommendations to change culture are unlikely to be effective. There needs instead to be a recognition by those who inhabit a culture of its weaknesses and blind spots. We venture to believe that the shock of these events, and some other recent developments beyond our remit, have begun that process of change.
“We recommend that the Bench of Bishops reflects collectively on this whole report and considers the cultural challenges to its life, values, and ethos, and that of the wider Church in Wales.”
THE review has much to say about safeguarding. “We were struck by the historic separation of the safeguarding team and safeguarding culture from the rest of the Representative Body and senior church leaders. During much of the review period, safeguarding seemed, and was perceived to be, a concept that was limited only to ensuring the safety of children and adults at risk. Indeed, the safeguarding policy applicable at the time referred only to these matters.
“Where an effective safeguarding culture exists, it will protect not only children and adults at risk, but all those who may become vulnerable. . . Safeguarding is inextricably linked to a culture of dignity at work. . .
“Embedding a new, improved culture within the Church in Wales with appropriate policies and training both in respect of dignity at work and safeguarding is essential to an improvement in understanding and awareness in these areas.
“We believe a sea-change in attitudes is needed so that dignity at work and maintaining appropriate boundaries are seen only in positive ways. Relationships do not need to become cold and detached. Authentic warmth can still be given to support and build pastoral connections with depth, without placing anyone at risk.”
The review highlights the lack of any capability procedure for clergy, and recommends that a robust system of ministerial-development review, carried out at regular intervals, would go a long way to addressing problems before they become too serious — as would more effective pastoral oversight for more senior members of clergy.
Of the impact on individuals involved in the Monmouth affair, the review concludes: “Although there were many people even within the diocese of Monmouth who knew little of the events we describe, there were some whose lives have been permanently affected. . . Almost everyone we met seemed to feel let down in one way or another, and believed they had not had any recognition or resolution of the impact on their lives.”
Although the public version of the review is redacted, the review group recommends “that those described as the Dean and Archdeacons, namely the former Dean of Newport, the former Archdeacon of Monmouth, and the Archdeacon of Newport see this report in its entirety”.
Read the full review here
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