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Synod strongly supports swift overhaul of clergy discipline

13 July 2022

New Clergy Conduct Measure to be implemented at the next opportunity

Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, introduces a report from his working group

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, introduces a report from his working group

THE journey towards replacing the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) inched forward this week as the General Synod voted in favour of bringing forward a new Clergy Conduct Measure (CCM).

On Tuesday morning, members of the Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of proposals to overhaul how clerical misconduct is handled, and requested that the Archbishops’ Council swiftly introduce legislation to create the CCM.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, introduced a report from his working group which outlined their thinking on how the CCM would differ from the CDM (News, 24 June).

While not a finished draft, he explained that the CCM would create three pathways for complaints, with each applying different levels of investigation and determination.

The lowest level would be used for minor grievances, which would not require formal legal representation and would normally be resolved by mediation. Then there would be an option for actual misconduct, of a kind not serious enough to call into question the priest’s suitability for office. Finally, there would be a track for serious misconduct, which would be dealt with centrally via a full tribunal process and could lead to permanent suspension from ministry.

Among the other changes from the existing CDM process would be the ability for clergy to self-refer, which Dr Inge said would “hem off the weaponizing of complaints”.

Also, bishops would no longer be involved in handling complaints themselves, with their role reduced to receiving the initial report, and pastorally supporting both parties during the process, before implementing whatever outcome is decided.

Finally, the ultimate sanction of deposition from holy orders was being reintroduced to the system, on the recommendation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Contributors to the subsequent debate warmly welcomed the proposed reforms, describing them as long overdue given how toxic and destructive the CDM procedures had become for many clergy.

Many particularly praised the separating out of different levels of misconduct from more minor grievances. Some said that more needed to be done to clarify the pastoral support available to respondents from bishops and archdeacons.

Numerous suggestions for further reforms were also made. The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller, said that he had been reflecting on whether clergy should become employees, rather than officeholders, to allow for more rigorous management and discipline. Perhaps a professional association, akin to the General Medical Council for doctors, which could both accredit and discipline priests, was part of the answer, he said.

There was now a dangerous lacuna in the law regarding lay church officers, the Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Ven. Mark Ireland, suggested. Churchwardens and others who bullied priests could use the CDM to harass their victims, but were immune to any comparable disciplinary measure. He gave notice that he would shortly propose a private members’ motion to correct this “unfair” imbalance.

Others raised more minor concerns about the CCM which they urged Dr Inge’s team to address before the legislation came before the Synod. These included the question of automatically publishing all tribunal findings online; whether bishops should have to inform respondents of both complaints and outcomes in person, rather than only in writing; and whether assessors needed to have a legal background.

Overall, however, the Synod was firmly in favour of quickly moving forward to consigning the CDM to history, voting overwhelmingly in favour of welcoming the report on the CCM and asking the Archbishops’ Council to bring forward legislation to implement it at the next available opportunity.

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