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Six-month removal from office for vicar who administered baptism in his underwear

11 March 2022

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St Peter’s, Bromyard

St Peter’s, Bromyard

A TRIBUNAL under the Clergy Discipline Measure has found the Revd Clive Evans, Vicar of St Peter’s, Bromyard, and Stoke Lacy, and Rural Dean of Bromyard, to have behaved in a manner unbecoming to a clerk in Holy Orders and removed him from office for six months.

His prohibition since April 2019 (News, 4 March) is deemed to have been an appropriate period to which the further time can be added; but he must undertake training in areas relating to safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, pastoral boundaries, and appropriate working.

Mr Evans faced three allegations: officiating at a baptism in a private house in April 2017 while wearing only his boxer shorts; touching a child on her bottom without her consent, in or around February 2018; and touching an adult on her bottom, without her consent, in March 2019. He denied all three allegations.

He had argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to consider the first allegation, which, he contended, was about incorrect vesture rather than inappropriate or sexual behaviour, and should therefore be dealt with by the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. But the tribunal ruled that “undress” engaged “more than simply the question of whether or not the correct robes and vestments were being worn”.

The facts around the baptism were not in dispute: he attended the home of Person 1 in order to baptise Person 3; he performed a full-immersion baptism in the bath while wearing only his boxer shorts; Person 1 and her family were present, and the baptism was filmed.

Mr Evans had been told that Person 3 was leaving to join the army on the same day and wanted to start his new life having been baptised. He had been initially reluctant because he was about to go on holiday that day, but was persuaded by Person 3’s “emotional state”.

He went to the house on the way to the holiday, having breakfasted and done his packing. He contended that the urgency of the situation was such that he had little time to think about what to wear; and that by appearing in his boxer shorts, he was acting appropriately to avoid getting wet before his holiday.

But the panel considered that there had been ample opportunity for him to give thought to including a change of clothing for conducting the baptism, and concluded that there was no agreement reached with the family to his taking off his clothes, leaving only his boxer shorts. Regardless of the family’s lack of objection, “the real question is one of maintaining an objective standard of dignity and propriety when conducting a holy sacrament.

“The panel considers that underwear is intimate apparel. It is qualitatively different to, and has different associations from, other forms of clothing, or even of swimwear. As such there is a loss of dignity by stripping down to underwear in the circumstances in which it occurred which is inherently inappropriate and unbecoming. There was no extreme urgency which might conceivably be imagined to justify a state of semi-nakedness and public display of underwear.”

He was judged as having “ought to have known better, acted more responsibly, and with far greater restraint, insight and self-control than he did” in relation to each charge. Persons 1, 2, and 3 (names were withheld under an anonymity order) were assessed under “properly challenging cross-examination” to be credible witnesses. Person 1 was shown to have had a very difficult and traumatic background, and, when she met Mr Evans, was newly grieving over the death of her partner in traumatic and distressing circumstances.

“The great effort required of her to rebuild a new life as a single mother in a new area, coupled with her distress at the tragic circumstances of her partner’s death meant that she and her family group had a greater than average dependency on the support of the Church, and Reverend Evans in particular,” the panel judged.

“This amplified the position of trust that Reverend Evans occupied in their lives and rendered them vulnerable to harm in circumstances where that trust was breached.”

Mr Evans’s Assistant Curate, the Revd Kina Robertshaw, was deemed to be an honest witness, but “weak and unconvincing” on the issue of why she failed to report Person 1’s account to her of the matters concerning Person 2 which formed the second allegation.

The panel found that, having learned the facts in question and considered the matter in her own mind to be one that raised safeguarding issues, she failed to report it to the diocesan safeguarding team at the time. It commended the Hereford diocesan safeguarding officer (DSA), Mandy McPhee, a retired detective inspector, as “very capable and straightforward”.

The tribunal report describes Mr Evans as “plainly a highly experienced and self-confident priest who has made strong relationships, offered strong leadership, and given of himself generously in his roles”. In the face of an undoubtedly stressful and difficult time for him, “he gave his evidence calmly and in a measured way.

“However, we also found that there were some limited areas of his evidence where his answers revealed untruthfulness. The tribunal ultimately resolved on the balance of probabilities that in some limited but critical respects, Reverend Evans had not told the truth.”

Mr Evans had refused offers to meet with the DSA and diocesan secretary to receive details of the allegations, and to meet with the Bishop to provide an explanation, because he felt that he would be dealt with in a prejudicial fashion — “that it would be a ‘kangaroo court’.”

The panel concluded unanimously on all three allegations that he had engaged in conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders. It said that it had been troubled by several aspects of the case, in particular the failure of appropriate safeguarding after the initial raising of the matters referred to.

It concluded that Mr Evans had lost sight of what was “appropriate and becoming conduct”. There was some mitigation in that he was of good character, had no previous record of misconduct, and had “clearly undertaken faithful ministry for many years to good effect”; but “a striking lack of remorse and insight” was noted in the case.

It concluded: “The panel wishes to emphasise the importance for Reverend Evans to face his misconduct and its consequences and fully embrace opportunities for deep reflection, learning and improvements.” It also warned of the damage to the wider Church by potentially diminishing the public’s regard for parish clergy.

A statement from Hereford diocese said: “We commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations forward and acknowledge how difficult this would have been. We apologise unreservedly to them for what has happened and for what they have experienced.”

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