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Letters to the Editor

29 January 2021

Church Times letters: letters@churchtimes.co.uk We regret that we cannot guarantee consideration of letters submitted by post under present working conditions


Clergy discipline, safeguarding cases, and NDAs

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — The announcement (News, 22 January) by the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, that reform of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) is “on hold” to enable wider consultation on proposed changes before they are brought to the General Synod is welcome, as is the Sheldon Hub’s recommendation of a moratorium on “all new CDM cases which do not meet the threshold of ‘if proved would warrant prohibition’”.

This test, at least for determining whether a case should be referred to a Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal, has the support of the recently retired Deputy President of Tribunals, Sir Mark Hedley. In a lecture to the Ecclesiastical Law Society in October 2017, Sir Mark opined that a case should only be referred if it involved “a degree of seriousness that, if conduct is proved, will render the respondent liable at least to removal from office or revocation of licence”. He added: “Whether that is a threshold that should apply at every stage of the Measure is a matter that we will need to consider further.”

I would go further and suggest that the proposed moratorium should apply to existing CDM cases that do not meet the Hedley test — such as, I would maintain, the CDM complaint against the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

It is not only the CDM that needs to be changed. The separate non-statutory “jurisdiction” of core groups requires substantial reform, together with the ability of bishops to deny or revoke a priest’s permission to officiate (PTO) without due process or any right of appeal. It is welcome news that Lord Carey’s PTO has been restored, but he should not have been put through seven months of anguish before justice was done.

As I stated (Letters, 3 July 2020), the revocation of his PTO last June could not be justified on any safeguarding basis, and the decision to do so was both “irrational and cruel”. He deserves an apology from the National Safeguarding Team, but I note that none was forthcoming in the less-than-gracious announcement on the Oxford diocese’s website, which, in its “Note for editors” was more concerned to record that the NST had found “substantiated”, solely on the basis of two letters written in 1983/84 by Canon David MacInnes to David Fletcher, a concern that Lord Carey had seen the Ruston report detailing allegations of physical abuse by the late John Smyth, a conclusion rightly rejected by Lord Carey.

General Synod member
20 Holbrook Barn Road, Boxford
Suffolk CO10 5HU


From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — I can’t comment on how much, if anything, Lord Carey knew about John Smyth’s abuse in 1983. But I am concerned at the grounds on which decisions about safeguarding are now being made.

Lord Carey’s permission to officiate has been reinstated on the grounds that whatever he did or didn’t do in the past, he has completed a safeguarding course and therefore doesn’t currently pose a safeguarding risk. This is the same standard as was recently used to dismiss a similar complaint against the present Archbishop of Canterbury. In the case of Lord Carey, we are told that the concern about his past actions was substantiated, but he wasn’t deemed to be a current risk (which is patently true). In the case of Archbishop Welby, the opposite logic was applied: he isn’t deemed to be a current safeguarding risk; so, therefore, the issue about what he did or didn’t do about Smyth didn’t need to be investigated.

I have nothing against either man, but the casuistry with which the National Safeguarding Team deals with complaints should ring loud alarm bells for us all. It is precisely this Law of Convenience that was criticised by IICSA just a few months ago. It doesn’t make victims feel any safer, or potential abusers feel any less confident.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG


From Dr Chris Knight

Sir, — It is good to see bishops condemn gagging clauses in contracts for cladding (News, 15 January), after similar criticisms of the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by universities, as raised in Parliament by the Bishop of Winchester in March 2020.

I am led to understand that the Church of England has no policy on the use and misuse of NDAs, centrally or in the dioceses. In the light of the IICSA reports and current concerns about the Church’s secrecy and misplaced concern for reputation, perhaps it is now time that the C of E considered these issues and produced such a policy. This might prevent future embarrassment as the Church was, yet again, found to be perpetrating what it decried in the world.

5 Griffiths Close
Oakham LE15 6FP


Church of England finances and the parishes

From the Bishop of Kensington

Sir, — Professor L. J. S. Lesley (Letters, 15 January) laudably emphasises the need to keep parish churches open. He also claims that “a typical parish church has to pay about £30,000 a year towards the central costs of the C of E.” This assertion — as well as the subsequent argument that parishes are bearing the financial burden of the C of E’s central organisation — is unfortunately very misleading.

None of the parish share goes directly to the National Church Institutions or to bishops. A small part goes to the diocese to pay for diocesan support services (whose aim is precisely to support the mission of parishes at local level), and a smaller part of this is passed on as a contribution to the Archbishops’ Council’s services costs. The overwhelming majority goes to pay for the provision of parish clergy — who, along with their congregations, are the heartbeat and lifeblood of the Church of England, and enable the ongoing mission and ministry of local churches across the country.

There are plenty of important conversations to be had about the C of E’s structures and finances, especially as we minister amid the ongoing economic and social impacts of the pandemic, but these debates must be based on the facts.

Dial House, Riverside
Twickenham TW1 3DT


From the Revd Peter C. Bellenes

Sir, — Your correspondents last week regarding the parlous state of the Church’s finances have done an admirable job of describing the heart of the problem: a leadership out of sync with the parishes.

Since I left theological college in the early 1980s, the attendance at C of E services has dropped by two-thirds, and yet there has been minor adjustment to the number of dioceses. To make things worse, as your correspondents point out, the bureaucracy in each diocese has grown inexorably, paid for by reducing the front-line staff.

Rural churches are neglected while money is shovelled at Evangelical “mission centres”. So why don’t we debate? Perhaps because our governing structures do not encourage it. People are made to feel guilty while phrases about the “generosity of God” are wielded. Only this week, a deanery secretary felt obliged to resign with immediate effect, having been chastised by the rural dean for circulating the views of a churchwarden about this very topic. The Revd Simon Douglas Lane (Letter, 22 January) requested transparency, but I fear he may be disappointed.

A former diocesan bishop talking about reducing the number of parishes said to me how it was doomed as a solution, as “Catholics go to mass. Anglicans go to church.” So, reducing parish structures to enhance the superstructure is a madly hopeless strategy.

Little Grove
Cornwall PL17 8JN


From the Revd David Ford

Sir, — Correspondents frequently and, in my view, rightly, defend the parish system through your letter columns. Without our commitment to a Christian presence in every community, our claim to be a national Church, quite apart from “the” national Church, is at best an aspiration and at worst delusional.

Nevertheless, the assumption that the parish system is best protected by stipendiary clergy needs testing. We can no longer afford a Christian presence to mean the presence of a priest or even, for that matter, a gathered congregation. What we mustn’t do, however, is lose the visible presence of the Church perfectly represented by our heritage buildings.

The parish system is safe as long as the Church is prepared to embrace part-time ministry as fully valid rather than second best, whether in the world or in the Church, ordained or not, stipendiary or not.

As part of a book proposal that I am preparing, I am keen to research the experience of part-time ministers, lay or ordained, currently exercising incumbent responsibilities in a benefice. The purpose is to explore the conditions necessary for parishes to thrive with part-time ministers. I am keen to test the common assumption that a parish with a part-time minister is a failing parish. If the decision to transition to part-time is well thought through and timely, I believe the opposite to be true.

If any part-time ministers would like to participate in this research, please would they contact me on revdavidford@googlemail.com.

The Vicarage, 15 Finstall Road
Bromsgrove B60 2EA


Discussion about sin

From the Revd Dr Andrew Davison

Sir, — I was glad to see the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss quote Aquinas’s Commentary on Titus in a recent letter (22 January). The biblical commentaries remain an under-appreciated part of the Angelic Doctor’s corpus.

Dr Gatiss’s letter, however, risks giving the impression that perspectives within the Church of England over same-sex relationships differ between those (such as Dr Gatiss) who think that sin (specifically “fornication”) is a bad thing and those who do not. This strikes me as incorrect, and liable to derail the current Living in Love and Faith process. That conversation is not about whether anyone wishes to endorse sin; it is about recognising and addressing differences of informed judgement about what is and is not sinful in the first place (and what counts as “fornication”).

The coming season of Lent would be an ideal time for Christians of different traditions to learn from one another as disciples together, wishing to seek holiness, and be rid of sin, which we know “clings so closely” (Hebrews 12.1). I, for one, would no doubt have much to gain from conversations with members of the Church Society. I fear, however, that we will not be able to learn from one another constructively while the impression is given that conservative Evangelicals care about avoiding sin, and that those who disagree with them do not.

83 Hazelwood Close
Cambridge CB4 3SW


Last request: for the CT

From the Revd Michael Campling

Sir, — Thank you for the admirable obituary by Canon John Hadley of my wonderful brother Christopher Campling (Gazette, 22 January). When I was able to visit him (just four days before he died), he was by then very weak and scarcely able to talk. I prayed with him and anointed him, and then sat and talked. The very last request he made was: “Please read me the Church Times.”

9 Orchard Grove, Bloxham
Banbury OX15 4NZ


Full payment of tax should precede philanthropy

From the Revd David Haslam

Sir, — As I usually find myself reading Paul Vallely with a murmured “Hear, hear!” I was distressed to be feeling such profound disagreement with his invitation to applaud philanthropists (Comment, 22 January). Few would oppose philanthropy, of course, but the clue for resisting applause lies in his admission that Sir Jim Ratcliffe — despite being a feverish Brexiteer — moved his operations to Monaco last year, thus avoiding £4 billion in tax.

His £100-million donation to the University of Oxford may appear generous but, besides attracting tax relief, it represents less than one per cent of his wealth. And that wealth will almost certainly have increased substantially in the past ten months, as has that of all the super-rich during the pandemic, as Oxfam’s report to this week’s Davos World Economic Forum highlights.

What philanthropy by the very rich does is to distort democracy, in that it lies in the hands of its individual owners to decide what are human priorities at any given time rather than what elected governments (even if elected imperfectly) believe is right for their people. Mr Ratcliffe’s donation for work on “super-bugs” is certainly welcome, but it also removes to some degree the responsibility of government to fund such essential research. They might excuse themselves on the grounds of insufficient income.

Church Action for Tax Justice has recently launched its campaign on Fairness in the tax system. As the Bishop of St Albans said in the Lords debate that he sponsored on the initiative last week, the purpose is “to level the playing field and facilitate a fairer tax system that ensures that those with the deepest pockets do their duty to the societies that provided the context in which they were able to amass their wealth”. This means pay the right amount of tax first, and then, by all means, indulge in philanthropy afterwards.

Mr Vallely quotes my Methodist forebear William Booth’s view that “tainted money” can and should be used. I have no quarrel with that, and the Bible welcomes charity, but time and again it puts justice first. He then writes: “the real problem is only one in ten of the seriously rich give seriously. . . 91 per cent give almost nothing.”

No, the real problem is that we do not yet have fair and efficient structures of taxation, and that governments are continually failing to create a global tax system that prevents the persistent tax-dodging of the super-rich, and thwarts the provision of the public services that are so essential for the solidarity of whole human communities.

59 Burford Road
Evesham WR11 3AG


Holocaust Memorial and the conversion of Jews

From the Revd Richard Martin

Sir, — I have just listened to a service on Radio 4 in which the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser for Reconciliation marked Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission’s 2019 report God’s Unfailing Word included an afterword by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, in which he expressed his “substantial misgiving” that it “does not reject the efforts of those Christians who . . . dedicate themselves to the purposeful and specific targeting of Jews for conversion to Christianity”. There is, he continues, “a real and persistent concern, set in a tragic historical context, that even now, in the twenty-first century, Jews are seen by some as quarry to be pursued and converted”.

The aim of the Holocaust was that there be no more Jews. Targeting Jews for conversion betrays precisely the same aim. Would not our marking of Holocaust Memorial Day be more authentic if the Faith and Order Commission on behalf of the whole Church of England rejected such “mission”, once and for all?

Church House, Cornfield Drive
Hardwicke GL2 4QJ


Christian-based counselling services in the UK

From Kathy Spooner

Sir, — Thank you for the excellent article on how the coronavirus epidemic has exacerbated mental-health difficulties and how churches can support people with mental-health problems (Features, 8 January). We want to let your readers know that there are Christian-based counselling services available throughout the UK.

Like Heart and Mind, which the article mentions, these agencies are members of ACC (Association of Christian Counsellors), and many offer low-cost counselling. They welcome relationships with and referrals from Churches, GPs, and other community-based services such as food banks. These agencies can be found on ACC’s website (www.acc-uk.org) by going to the “Find a Counsellor” page. “Find a Counsellor” is also where people can find professional qualified registered counsellors, many of whom are offering counselling by video link or over the telephone.

ACC have also set up a pro bono counselling service on a self-referral basis for NHS frontline workers. More details regarding the service can be found on our website.

ACC also seeks to equip, train, and support individuals or churches and organisations involved in pastoral care. We regularly provide training for pastoral carers; details are available on the website www.pastoralcare.org.uk, along with many resources relating to pastoral care during Covid-19.

Association of Christian Counsellors
29 Momus Boulevard
Coventry CV2 5NA


Isolation and exclusion during the pandemic

From Dr Penelope Upton

Sir, — The Revd Anna Griffiths asks: “What does it say about our faith if we cannot manage a few more months with the blessing of so much technological connection for worship, even if we do not have a partner or family with whom to worship at home?” (Letters, 15 January). A few more months with no technological connection for worship alone at home?

The last time I was in church receiving communion was 8 March 2020. The absence of fellowship and regular communion has had a devastating impact. My mental health and spirit are shattered.

Anna Griffiths should experience ten months of social and spiritual exclusion. She may then revise her airy and insensitive suggestion that several more months of isolation is endurable.

Redlands, Lighthorn
Warwickshire CV35 0AH

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