THE diocese of Southwark has “weaponised” safeguarding against the Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden, the Revd Stephen Kuhrt, the PCC alleges.
The diocese of Southwark has confirmed that Mr Kuhrt was suspended from all his ministerial duties on 22 June, “pending the investigation of a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003”. Its statement says: “Suspension is a neutral act and does not imply that a view has been formed on the matter. He has been offered pastoral support during this time. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”
A statement from the PCC of Christ Church, issued to the congregation on 24 June, states: “His [Mr Kuhrt’s] offence has been to whistle-blow by expressing significant and evidenced concerns about safeguarding within Southwark Diocese. The Churchwardens believe these need to be addressed thoroughly, professionally and accountably, rather than weaponised against the person who has raised them.”
It refers to actions taken by Mr Kuhrt in 2007, “which led to the criminal conviction of a long-standing member of the church for a sexual offence”.
It goes on to mention a “review of affairs at Christ Church” begun by the diocese in April 2020. As part of the process, Mr Kuhrt compiled a paper on safeguarding “detailing a number of issues and his frank concerns about the way they had been handled by the Diocese in recent years”. The statement says that Mr Kuhrt received no response to this paper for five months, and did not hear from the National Safeguarding Team when he sent it to them in October 2020. It was at this point that he shared the paper with “a handful of trusted supporters”.
In November 2020, Mr Kuhrt was notified that a complaint had been lodged by a member of the diocesan safeguarding team. First, he was accused of not following correct procedure in the case that led to the 2007 conviction — something that Mr Kuhrt denies.
Second, he was accused of having failed to redact names before revealing his safeguarding paper. He has acknowledged that this was an error. But, the PCC statement says, “the allegation was made by the same Diocesan Safeguarding Officer whose non-engagement with the paper in the first place had caused such frustration.”
Mr Kuhrt voluntarily stepped back from ministry, in compliance with a request from the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, in February this year. But he returned to work in June, “following legal advice that the informal suspension wasn’t satisfactory”. His suspension was then formalised, and he is appealing against it.
The PCC statement says that the diocese “have not engaged with our views and have been brief, bureaucratic and evasive in their correspondence with us”. A response to Mr Kuhrt’s safeguarding paper is still awaited.
The statement concludes: “Stephen takes responsibility for errors he has made, but expects, as we do, that disciplinary action taken in response should be fair, proportionate and appreciative of the context in which it has occurred. The Churchwardens, PCC and Ministry Team stand united in support of him.”