THE Bishop of Winchester, Dr Tim Dakin, will remain “stepped back” from work at least until the end of August, it was announced on Tuesday.
The Suffragan Bishop of Southampton, in Winchester diocese, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin, issued a letter to the diocese, saying: “Facilitated conversations are continuing and, in order for them to be given the time and space they need, Bishop Tim has agreed these will be his sole focus until the end of August.”
The other bishop in the diocese, the Bishop of Basingstoke, the Rt Revd David Williams, will also remain off work. Bishop Sellin writes: “Bishop David has agreed to continue standing back from ministry in Winchester Diocese to enable the conversations to run their course.”
The cause of the row was the threat of a vote of no confidence in Dr Dakin’s leadership at a diocesan synod in May (News, 20 May). This was averted after Dr Dakin was persuaded to step back, after senior clergy and laity in the diocese approached Lambeth Palace.
The no-confidence motion, which was not tabled, states: “We do not have confidence in the diocesan bishop . . . to lead by example, due to allegations of poor behaviour and mistreatment on his part of a number of individuals.”
It also describes the governance and financial management of the diocese as “unfit for purpose”.
Bishop Williams is among those who represented the protesters’ views to the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, at a meeting earlier that month.
The facilitated conversations mentioned by Bishop Sellin involved Dr Dakin, the chairs of the houses of clergy and laity in Winchester, and the chair of the finance committee — Dr Dakin is chair of the diocesan board of finance, an arrangement regarded as highly unusual — together with a facilitator suggested by Bishop Thornton. There have been two such meetings and another is expected shortly. They are understood to have been positive, though the issues being dealt with are difficult.
Commentators — of which there are many — have expressed doubt that Dr Dakin can have any confidence of returning to the diocese, given the nature of some of the stories that have emerged. One solution might be that he takes early retirement — he is 63; but he would not be immune to action under the Clergy Discipline Measure if those who are alleging mistreatment decide to complain formally.
There has also been discussion about the culture of the diocese, with the suggestion that wider repairs are needed than merely replacing the diocesan bishop. In the mean time, Bishop Sellin remains acting diocesan bishop.
Extract from the Bishop of Southampton’s letter:
“It goes without saying that this remains a hugely challenging period for us as a diocese. I realise many of you feel you have not heard enough since I wrote to you almost six weeks ago, to inform you that Bishop Tim would be stepping back. Again, I am conscious that many questions remain unanswered, but I can confirm that the process to consider matters raised concerning leadership and governance is progressing.
“Facilitated conversations are continuing and, in order for them to be given the time and space they need, Bishop Tim has agreed these will be his sole focus until the end of August. I recognise many will want to know more and have questions but we do need to ensure the process is held as confidential at this stage and I would urge all to keep those concerned in our prayers.
“Once we can say more then of course we will. The Bishop of London and the Bishop at Lambeth are being kept fully aware of the ongoing process and are providing welcome support, although they are not part of the conversations.
“Bishop David has agreed to continue standing back from ministry in Winchester Diocese to enable the conversations to run their course.
“I am grateful to you for your prayers through this time and am aware also that, nationally, we continue to live in a time of considerable uncertainty. The overriding questions we have lived with for so many months throughout the pandemic appear to fluctuate almost daily: from when our lives will return to normal, through to whether they even will at all.
“The answers remain far from clear. Yet, you all continue to work tirelessly for your parishes, your communities, and for each other. This remains a source of great inspiration to me personally.