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New ‘twin-track’ Clergy Conduct Measure is flawed, warn critics

01 July 2021

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THE “twin-track” replacement for the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) proposed by the Lambeth working group and due to be discussed at General Synod in a week’s time is missing a track, critics say.

The Vicar-General of York, the Rt Worshipful Peter Collier QC, chaired an independent working group on the CDM set up by the Ecclesiastical Law Society (News, 24 February; Comment, 11 December 2020). In an online article for the Church Times this week, he expresses appreciation of the acknowledgement done by the society (ELS) that is contained in the short paper produced for the Synod by the Lambeth Working Group, which was commissioned by the House of Bishops to find reforms and, latterly, a replacement for the discredited CDM.

But he writes: “I don’t understand how we can be said to have assisted to shape their proposals when they appear to have rejected the fundamental thrust of what we were saying. . .

“The proposals developed by the ELS working party wanted to separate the serious misconduct from everything else. The ‘everything else’ includes what might be described as grievances but also misconduct that is less than serious.”

The Lambeth group has, instead, proposed a new Clergy Conduct Measure that divides complaints between “complaints”, i.e. non-serious matters; and “misconduct”, i.e. allegations of clerical wrongdoing.

Mr Collier calls this approach “confusing, because everything starts with a complaint”.

He continues: “‘Misconduct’ can cover a vast range of seriousness. Quite trivial matters such as ‘inefficiency’ or ‘inappropriate behaviour’, are both phrases used in the current Measure as being among the grounds for making a complaint. The process is exactly the same for very serious misconduct which can include serious criminal offences.

“Unless misconduct is to be defined as serious misconduct then we will not be ending up in a place any different from where we are now.”

The other groups working for the reform of the CDM have been the Sheldon Hub, and the union, the Church of England Clergy Advocates. In a letter to the Church Times this week, the Sheldon Warden, Dr Sarah Horsman, echoes Mr Collier’s criticism, writing: “The essential ‘misconduct-less-than-serious’ channel is missing. Without this it fails to meet the criteria of ‘no one should be in a process that risks home and livelihood unless the allegation, if proved, would warrant prohibition.’”

Although the ELS envisaged that bishops would play a central part in any new system, Dr Horsman disagrees with the Lambeth group’s view that the diocesan bishop should decide which track a complaint should follow, writing of the need for a “safe gateway to undertake the triage into the three channels. This needs to be independent of the diocese, with reliable training, formal accountability and the ability to act swiftly. Bishops are the wrong people for this role.”

The General Synod debate a week on Sunday is the first of several stages that the proposed Clergy Conduct Measure is to pass through before it is drafted and presented to the Synod next July.

In the clear. The CDM complaint against the Revd Robert Thompson, the London priest who supported Rachel Gillingham in her dispute with St Luke’s, Kentish Town (News, 12 May), has been dismissed.

Mr Thompson was accused of bullying the Vicar of St Luke’s, the Revd Jon March, when Mr Thompson acted as an advocate for Ms Gillingham, who left the church over its attitude to her coming out as a lesbian.

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