WRITTEN answers to questions by General Synod members were published on Thursday.
In all, 47 questions were submitted. Topics include safeguarding, the administration of holy communion, the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), climate change, and means to reduce clergy numbers.
In answer to questions about plans for the Church’s future, the Archbishop of York insists that the work of the vision and strategy group, which he chairs, “is not a ‘top-down’ exercise but the invitation is for us all to share together, at every level, in God’s work for us in the next ten years”.
The Bishop of Manchester, in reply to a question about the adoption of non-church buildings by some church plants, admits that some churches “are now in the wrong place, or contain features that make mission and worship difficult, and need to close.
“It is also true that in some places caring for the building places a disproportionate burden on parishes.
“However, in many places historic buildings are part of what is on offer — places of beauty, contemplation, and service.” The majority of the Church’s 16,000 buildings continue to serve their communities “as they were designed to do”.
In answer to questions about the administration of communion during the pandemic, the Bishop of Lichfield, replying on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, replies: “Because of the complexity of the issues at stake, the House of Bishops has committed itself to further study before it comments again on these matters.”
The Bishop of London gives a similarly robust answer, in the negative, to Andrea Minichiello Williams, who asked for a reversal of the condemnation of conversion therapy for those who sought help to “move away from same-sex temptation”.
In answer to another question, the Bishop of Hereford acknowledges the existence of bullying by lay people. “We have not considered it as a House, but I am sure that I speak for my fellow bishops when I say that we are all concerned about the impact on clergy wellbeing of bullying by some lay people and we are aware that bullying of clergy is an issue, even though we do not have figures about its prevalence and compiling reliable figures would be difficult.
“We encourage any clergy who feel they are being bullied to contact their diocesan bishop so that they can receive appropriate assistance, support, and advice.”
On the issue of the CDM, the secretary-general, William Nye, discloses that conversations will continue between the Church and the Charity Commission, after a formal complaint against the current CDM process was sent to the Charity Commission on 11 August last year. The Commission was “reassured” by the steps the Church is making to reform the process, he says.
He also gives details of two workstreams examining the workings of safeguarding core groups, stating: “We anticipate that draft policy should be ready by summer 2021 for wider consultation. It will address how core groups may better factor in the respondent’s views and concerns taking account of the group’s role.
“The policy will make clear that it is the role of core groups to identify, mitigate and manage the risk in any situation; it is not its role to try to establish guilt or innocence.”
Other related questions touch on who does the investigation in CDM cases, the anonymity of respondents, and conflicts of interest.
Asked how many clergy of incumbent status have been dispossessed of their livings in the past two years, the Third Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, replies: “In 2019-2020, four pastoral schemes were bought forward which would have led to the dispossession of nine clergy of incumbent status. One scheme was rejected, and another person moved on before the scheme was made, leaving six clergy who were actually dispossessed. Of those, two have a new post, one retired and the remaining three have Permission to Officiate but no new office at this time.
“There are currently only three pastoral schemes in our caseload which would lead to the dispossession of three incumbents if they are approved, and no new cases pending.
“We gather from our consultations with dioceses that most are not expecting to use the Mission and Pastoral Measure’s processes to manage many immediate clergy reductions.”
The full list of questions and answers can be found here.