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General Synod digest: efficiency of Clergy Discipline Measure code and Rules debated

30 April 2021
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THE General Synod voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to approve the Clergy Discipline Rules 2021. Introducing the debate, the Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) described the Rules as the framework by which the CDM operated, with regard to efficiency, clarity, active case management, and vulnerable witnesses.

Greater efficiency, he said, would come from the provision of email addresses and the online facility for processing applications, giving further guidance at each step for those submitting documents. Clarity would come from the requirement to provide a statement of the relevant events in a chronological timeline.

“The Clergy Discipline Measure is not a complaints procedure in any way: it is a formal document by which legal proceedings are started,” Fr Benfield said. Importantly, he said, the word “complaint” had been replaced by “allegation of misconduct”. New powers were in place to ensure that cases progressed much more quickly, and that vulnerable witnesses would now be provided with a lawyer if they had not asked for one.

Canon Joyce Jones (Leeds) welcomed the changes to the rules and the update to the Code of Practice. She hoped that these were transparent, so that people were told as soon as possible what they were being charged with. The separation of “complaint” from “allegation of misconduct” was a welcome provision for offering pastoral care. There had been many cases in which accused clergy had been wholly isolated, she said.

Canon Simon Talbott (Ely) encouraged clergy to join the Church of England Clergy Advocates, of which he was convener. The group supported clergy and lay employees through the CDM process, he explained. He noted that the Sheldon Hub was producing a document on the scope of the reforms, but asked who would be leading and assessing them. “Cases continue and the manifest shortcomings of the system continue to cause harm. . . even to people taking their lives. These are modest adjustments, yes, but it is manifestly not enough. This is tinkering around the edges of a broken system.”

Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds) noted that there was still a reference in section 38 to the need to have “due regard”. IICSA had recommended not using this phrase, and this had been one of the changes implemented in the Draft Safeguarding Code of Practice. It was advisable in revision to replace “have due regard” across all areas.

The (retiring) Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, planned to bring a report in the CDM reform to the July Synod. He supported the amendments to the rules and praised the work of Edward Dobson and the Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC. There would need to be constant updates to bring about justice for all concerned, he said. It was unhelpful that far too much pressure had been put on the CDM. “I will be setting out that we not only need a new CDM Measure, but we need to look at the role and affirmation of clergy — how they understand themselves and take on the pressure of discipleship, and how they can be supported throughout their ministry,” he said.

The Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, said that the rationale had been to do as much as possible under secondary legislation to make the process more agile. The Committee had very much been informed by the practical experience of those administering the system on the ground. She commended the protection for vulnerable witnesses, and the change of the nomenclature from “complaints” to “allegations of misconduct”.

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) noted the reference to the wider work around clergy terms of service: the need for the Synod to be “active in working with us in this whole area. . . We can have as wonderful, effective and good rules as we could imagine, but if they are not used with humanity, care, and diligence, they will fall far short of what we need.”

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) moved his amendment, which would provide for the timeline of events to be a separate document to accompany the form setting out the allegation of misconduct rather than be included within the form itself. This was a very simple amendment to Rule 3, which made the timeline a freestanding document, so that there would be no need to amend all the statutory document forms, he said.

Valerie Hallard (Carlisle) agreed, saying that some victims were unable to produce such a document. “Use the amendment to make sure these are not disadvantaged.”

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) drew attention to the difficulty for victims in going back and thinking over the order of events. She thanked Mr Lamming — who was taking part in the Synod from his hospital bed, while awaiting transfer to Papworth Hospital for heart surgery — for his diligence in going over the rules “tooth and nail”.

The amendment was carried by 300 nem. con. The final motion as amended was carried 306 nem.con. The Rules will now be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

 

AS THE General Synod was running ahead of the agenda on Saturday morning, it also agreed to bring forward a requested debate on deemed-approval business: Clergy Discipline Measure 2003: Code of Practice.

Introducing the debate, the Chair of the House of Laity, Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham), said that the Clergy Discipline Commission (CDC), on which he sat, was responsible for enforcing the CDM and promulgating a code of practice for it. This was the latest revision for the code, but it was worth noting, he said, that it did not have the force of law. “Compliance with the code is considered to be best practice.”

Among the main changes being proposed was to make the code more user-friendly and easier to navigate, and to incorporate guidance issued by the CDC on the use of the code. The code itself now included a procedure for more minor complaints which did not warrant the use of the formal CDM protocols.

Canon Simon Talbott (Ely) was concerned about references to guidelines on professional conduct in the new code, which, he said, were aspirational and “a bit woolly”: complaints should deal only with more serious problems. He welcomed new language that would reduce the number of minor grievances sucked into the formal CDM process.

The Vicar-General of York, the Rt Worshipful Peter Collier, supported the amendments, in particular the distinction between serious misconduct and more minor grievances. A formal framework for minor complaints had been requested by the Synod in the 1990s when it first considered what became the CDM, but this had never happened. It was unclear where proposals for more widespread reform of the CDM were coming from, he said, and called for more clarity.

The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers (Leeds), welcomed the new code, but more work was needed on some areas. Currently, archdeacons who brought allegations on behalf of the complainant had to sign a form declaring that the allegation was true, which was problematic. Attention should also be paid to the practicalities of supporting clergy who were in the midst of the CDM procedure.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) asked for clarity about whether church proceedings would take priority over parallel processes regarding the same or similar allegations outside of the Church.

Canon David Felix (Chester) said there had been a plethora of new guidelines, terms of service, and codes of practice in recent years for clergy. “There needs now to be some kind of handbook for clergy where all this is drawn together, so it is clear exactly what is expected of them and how they must operate. At the moment, it’s a bit like a dog’s dinner.”

Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) said that it was vital that the Synod have a chance to comment on the new code of practice and asked that, in future, this business not be automatically pushed through without debate.

Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) said that, by default, the archdeacon was the person who represented the complainant. She knew of many cases where this had been a problem. The complainant had lost control of their story and the flow of information to them was not always smooth, she said.

Canon Paul Cartwright (Leeds) picked up on a point by Archdeacon Ayers on the archdeacon’s being both the person leading the complaint while also supposedly the pastor of the priest being complained against. “Could we have some joined-up thinking and train people to be peer supporters and offer someone outside the diocese to provide pastoral support to clergy in the CDM process?”

Dr John Appleby (Newcastle) said that the code did not make it clear what would happen to allegations made after a cleric had relinquished Holy Orders.

The Revd Christopher Smith (London), responding to Canon Talbott, said that people who sat on CDM tribunals had been using professional conduct guidelines for some time. Adding these to the code was simply regularising what already happened.

Approval was carried 285 nem. con. with six recorded abstentions.

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