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General Synod digest: Churchwardens added to new safeguarding legislation

30 April 2021
ALAMY

THE Draft Safeguarding (Code of Practice) Measure received final approval. The revision stage was taken on Friday afternoon.

Introducing the debate, the Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis, who chairs the steering committee for the legislation, said that the Measure would introduce a code of practice, as recommended by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). This Measure was being fast-tracked through the Synod, Dean Ellis.

A pair of uncontentious technical amendments were quickly voted nem. con.

The Dean then introduced an amendment to allow the Archbishops’ Council to amend the list of “relevant persons” bound by the new code. This would ensure that the Church remained “nimble” in responding to future organisational changes, she said.

Her amendment was carried by the Synod by 276-2 with one recorded abstention.

Her next amendment required the House of Bishops to ensure that appropriate consultation had been carried out, with victims and survivors of abuse, as well as others, before the code was revised. This was carried by 281 nem. con. with one recorded abstention.

Church of EnglandThe Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis, addresses the Synod on Friday afternoon

A third amendment sought to satisfy the desire for synodical involvement without “miring the production of the code in unnecessary process”, and to strike a balance between responsiveness and respecting the democratic importance of synodical governance. The amendment would allow for synodical scrutiny of the proposed code and for members to request to debate it formally or allow it to come into effect automatically.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that the Dean’s remarks regarding the conscientiousness of the Synod could not be justified given the low turnout of members at the current online session.

Responding to Mr Hind, Clive Scowen (London) said that to have nearly 300 people voting when meeting in person was usually regarded as a good turnout. This matter was uncontroversial; hence many people had not shown up to debate it.

The amendment was carried by 282 nem. con. with two recorded abstentions.

The Dean then moved a further amendment to ensure that churchwardens complied with the code or were liable to consequences.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) welcomed the amendment but warned that there was a disconnect between the suspensions of priests or bishops compared with churchwardens. He suggested that, for parity between the clergy and laity, the steering committee should introduce equivalent amendments to the Clergy Discipline Measure to allow discretionary suspension on the same grounds as would now exist in the Churchwardens Measure.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), wanted to clarify that the list of relevant persons would include diocesan volunteers.

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that his diocese had often struggled to get its churchwardens to comply with safeguarding legislation, knowing that it had no powers to do so. He was grateful for the amendment to give it the legal recourse required.

The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers (Leeds), also welcomed the amendment and seconded Archdeacon Miller’s point on diocesan volunteers. He also asked for more clarity on how action could be taken under charity law.

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, supported the amendment but, like Mr Lamming, was concerned about the disparity in the treatment of lay and ordained church workers. Currently, the only route should a cleric be seen as a threat was through the CDM, he said, but often the concern did not reach the threshold to progress. “There needs to be something added in order for there to be teeth in how we make our Church a safe place.”

The amendment was carried by 274-1, with 11 recorded abstentions.

 

ON SATURDAY morning, the Synod moved to final drafting and final approval. The legislation was a vital part of the Church’s response to the Peter Ball and diocese of Chichester scandals, the Dean of the Arches said.

“We know that the sin, error, and poor process revealed was not a one-off, because we now have IICSA’s second report, other shocking reports, and Synod has heard directly the powerful testimonies of some of those whom the Church has harmed,” she said. Anglicans had a collective responsibility to do all they could to fix the problem of safeguarding, she said. “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again you did not know.”

She was confident, however, that the Synod could back the new legislation to provide “clarity and certainty” about safeguarding responsibilities. Doing so would send a message to the watching nation that the Church was committed to safeguarding.

The Measure would strip away the ambiguity and vagueness of the previous wording in safeguarding legislation — that everyone should have “due regard” to the relevant guidance — and replace it would clarity and rigour. It would also give the House of Bishops a duty to create a code of practice, which all clergy and a wide range of lay people, working and volunteering in the Church, would then be under a legal obligation to follow.

Amendments made the previous day had improved the Measure significantly, she said, notably assuring more democratic accountability and enforceability.

John Mason (Chester) was supportive of the Measure, but asked whether the guidance could be clearer about who would count as a church worker or volunteer. The current wording could be read to include everyone in England who worked in safeguarding. Accompanying guidance in non-legal jargon would be vital, he said.

John Freeman (Chester) was concerned by how long it had taken to bring in these reforms, arguing that he and other members had called for similar measures in the immediate aftermath of the Chichester report.

Dean Ellis assured Mr Mason that his concerns would be covered by the code.

In a vote by Houses, final approval was carried nem. con. with no recorded abstentions: Bishops 29; Clergy 131; Laity 146.

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