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Cleric who called for the suspension of the Bishop of Llandaff resigns

11 March 2022

BILL BOADEN/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral

THE cleric who called for the suspension of the Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd June Osborne, after the latter was accused of “bullying and harassment”, has resigned, saying that she “can no longer minister with any sense of integrity in Llandaff”.

The Revd Vicki Burrows, the Garth Ministry Area Leader, wrote of a “culture of fear” in the diocese in the Church Times (Letters, 17/24 December). A disciplinary committee of the Church in Wales found that the Bishop had “a case to answer” over the allegations, but she remains in post, and had maintained silence while an investigation is being conducted.

The Dean of Llandaff, the Very Revd Gerwyn Capon, has been on sick leave since being diagnosed with work-related depression in April 2020, a state that he attributes to the “unsafe and threatening atmosphere” to which, in his view, the Bishop subjected him over a three-year period.

He was exonerated of charges of mis-spending brought against him and made public by the Chapter, whom, he believes, the Bishop “weaponised” against him. A Provincial Disciplinary Tribunal found that he had “absolutely no case to answer” (News, 26 November).

He has documentary evidence that, after the judgment, the Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Ven. Peggy Jackson, wrote to Bishop Osborne: “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” The Dean, who is on a half-stipend, and tithed £19,000 to the Cathedral between 2015 and 2019, has turned down offers to persuade him to drop his complaint against the Bishop, and seeks to clear his name through a disciplinary tribunal process. He has now formally asked the Church in Wales to expedite the tribunal.

Ms Burrows said that her letter to the Church Times had prompted a flood of responses from others referring to instances of Bishop Osborne’s behaviour in Wales and in Salisbury, when Dean there previously. In all, 23 members of the Llandaff Cathedral’s congregation, headed by an intensive-care consultant, Dr Nick Mason, described Llandaff as a “spiritual wasteland” in the Church Times (Letters, 17/24 December).

As a matter of courtesy, Ms Burrows says, she wrote to Bishop Osborne to explain why she had written to the Church Times, and to express “deep sadness about the Dean’s situation and how things were unfolding in Llandaff”. She asked: “Is there no way on God’s earth for reconciliation here?” and concluded with an offer to meet the Bishop and do “anything I can to help bring about reconciliation with Gerwyn”. The Bishop said that she could not see her.

After the publication of Ms Burrows’s letter, clergy in the diocese were invited to complete a survey on life and ministry in Llandaff. The Archdeacon of Margam, the Ven. Mike Komor, and the Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Ven. Rod Green, told colleagues that Mrs Burrows’s letter “came as a surprise to us. Our door is always open and we would have preferred to have had one-to-one conversations about any matters of concern.”

The survey was sent out by email in January. Responses to each section were on a scale of zero to five. Statements inviting rating on the senior leadership team section included: “I have confidence in the leadership team of the diocese,” “The leadership team shows a genuine interest in my well-being,” and “I trust what the leadership team tells me.”

Further feedback was invited via a drop-down box for confidential comments. Seventy clergy out of 126 (56 per cent) returned the survey. Others were reportedly mistrustful of its declared anonymity. The results were revealed in February at a meeting for ministry-area leaders, and at a ministerial-development day for clergy. Bishop Osborne was present at both.

The senior leadership team reportedly fared badly: average scores were said to be between 2.1 and 2.2 out of 5. Concerns were expressed about lack of openness and transparency, a culture of fear, and the need for a change in leadership style. The director of communications for Llandaff, Matt Batten, was asked for a summary of the results, but reports that they cannot be released until all the clergy have had a chance to see them.

In her resignation letter of 2 March, Ms Burrows tells Bishop Osborne: “I publicly called for the Church in Wales to demonstrate that it regards the safety, health and wellbeing of its clergy and people to be of paramount importance, and to demonstrate this in terms of its action and behaviour.

“Numerous people have contacted me echoing these sentiments, often telling stories of intimidation, bullying and harassment. Many have suggested they do not feel safe working here. Curates, Ministry Area leaders, vicars and lay people have written. Senior clerics in other dioceses in both England and Wales have written too. . . I urge you to respond to the increasingly well-articulated opinion of those who minister and work here.”

She has copied her resignation to the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, and the Bench of Bishops, but is conscious of the lack of power that any of them has to intervene. The director of safeguarding for the Church in Wales, Anthony Griffiths, and the provincial safeguarding officer, Fay Howe, will be providing a report to the chief executive officer of the Church in Wales, Simon Lloyd, detailing the concerns expressed in the letters and messages that Ms Burrows has received.

“Neither could think of another organisation that would not hold its senior staff to account,” Ms Burrows said. “I’m a whistleblower because I think the culture is unsafe here. It’s heartbreaking. I believed I would serve here until I was 70, and I continue to believe that ‘faith matters’; but the Bishop’s version of the ‘joyful story’ is not mine.”

Dean Capon said on Wednesday: “I expect the Church in Wales to address not just my complaint, but to examine carefully the policies, processes, and culture of the provincial Church to ensure that clergy can flourish in a safe and supportive environment.”

Bishop Osborne said in a statement on Wednesday: “I thank Rev’d Vicki for her ministry in the diocese and wish her well. The Diocese of Llandaff will hold Vicki and her family in our prayers as she discerns her future plans.”

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