THE case under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) against the Canon Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, the Revd Dr Paul Overend, which drove both him and his wife, Sue, to contemplate suicide, should never have been brought, it has emerged.
The admitted mishandling of a safeguarding disclosure relating to the allegation against Canon Overend led to the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, accepting a formal rebuke earlier this year (News, 1 February).
A note sent by the deputy president of tribunals, Judge David Turner QC, on 6 July, reveals that all involved in the case — “the diocesan safeguarding officer for Lincoln, the registrar of the Province of York who prepared the preliminary report, the Bishop of Grimsby (who was acting Bishop of Lincoln), Dr Overend’s own representatives, the Designated Officer and, indeed, myself” — overlooked clause s.6(1)(a) in the 2003 Measure.
This states that, in a CDM case, the tribunal can consider complaints against a cleric who, at the time of the alleged misconduct, “held preferment in the diocese or . . . [was] resident therein”. At the time of the complaint — an allegation that Canon Overend, while a university chaplain in Cardiff in 1997, had grabbed and kissed a student — Canon Overend was not working in the Church of England at all. He was acquitted after a jury trial at Newport Crown Court last December (News, 4 December 2020).
Judge Turner writes that, although he concluded that Canon Overend had no case to answer: “I very much regret (as I know others do also) any additional anxiety caused to any party affected in consequence of this unintentional, though important, legal/jurisdictional misapprehension.”
In theory, the error opened up the possibility of new disciplinary action against Canon Overend by the Church in Wales. Before issuing his note, Judge Turner consulted Matthew Chinery, head of legal services there, who in turn consulted the Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd June Osborne. He reports that both concluded that, given the English CDM investigation, “it would not (absent further substantive evidence) be right (or indeed humane) to embark on an essentially parallel process in the jurisdiction of Wales.”
Canon Overend was suspended for more than two years, and spoke in June about how he and his wife had contemplated suicide (News, 14 June). Bishop Lowson was suspended for 20 months, finally being allowed back to work in February after an apology. Archbishop Welby said then: “We have both agreed that there are many lessons we and the Church need to learn from this very difficult season.” It is understood that a formal investigation of the whole Lincoln saga has been initiated.
Canon Overend said on Monday: “I am unable to comment at present, as an independent investigation has now begun into the handling of events at Lincoln, following the complaints submitted by my wife and others. This investigation is likely to take some months.”