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Proposal for mediation in Aberdeen & Orkney diocese is shameful, says witness

04 February 2022

Former cathedral director of music speaks over mediation plan

St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Aberdeen

The Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Revd Anne Dyer

The Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Revd Anne Dyer

THE proposal for mediation in the diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney, after a report that called for the Bishop, the Rt Revd Anne Dyer, to step down (News, 11 September 2021), is a “shameful, cynical, time-buying exercise” that will not work, a witness at the centre of the affair has said.

Christopher Cromar, a former director of music at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, is one of the main figures in Professor Iain Torrance’s report on the diocese, commissioned by the College of Bishops. Professor Torrance concluded that Bishop Dyer had treated Mr Cromar in an “intemperate and unrelenting” manner, after she attempted a “hasty” merger of St Andrew’s and St Mary’s and then attempted to bar him from attending a service.

Bishop Dyer wrote to Mr Cromar on 14 September 2020, stating that St Andrew’s would cease to be the cathedral on the following Sunday, and St Mary’s would become the “acting pro-cathedral”. Mr Cromar was reassured by the Diocesan Secretary, Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, that the Bishop had “agreed you were in charge of the music at all times”.

Mr Cromar raised concerns after he was asked to take Sunday 11 October off, enabling the St Mary’s organist to play for the entire service. He threatened to go to the press. Bishop Dyer then instructed the Provost of St Andrew’s, the Revd Dr Isaac Poobalan, to collect Mr Cromar’s keys to St Mary’s and to ensure that Mr Cromar be stopped from attending worship the next day.

Mr Cromar attended worship, nevertheless, and went forward to receive communion from the Bishop. He also attempted to address the congregation on the merger. The next day, Bishop Dyer wrote to Dr Poobalan and removed his licence as Assistant Priest at St Mary’s. She described Mr Cromar’s behaviour as “deplorable” and wrote: “His intimidating and threatening manner to me at communion was unforgiveable [sic].”

In his report, Professor Torrance wrote that Bishop Dyer’s treatment of Dr Poobalan had “become a scandal and I fear her position is irrecoverable. There is a similar story of impulsive over-reaction to tell about the treatment meted out to Mr Cromar.”

He praised the “commendable courage and independence” of the trustees of St Andrew’s in refusing to bow to pressure to end Mr Cromar’s contract. He also described as a “baseless and damaging allegation” the suggestion from the Chancellor of the diocese that there was “a duty to protect the Bishop from physical threat”.

An independent HR report by Sarah Grey of Pulse HR, commissioned by the trustees of St Andrew’s, recommended formal mediation, but noted that Bishop Dyer had rejected this, and had described Mr Cromar’s actions as “unforgiveable”. Professor Torrance wrote that it was “extraordinary” that “having made what appear to be such evident misjudgements, the Bishop has to this day not apologised or sought reconciliation.”

Despite Professor Torrance’s recommendation that Bishop Dyer step down with immediate effect, the College of Bishops has established a mediation process for the diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney (News, 8 October 2021).

On 24 January, Mr Cromar sent an open letter to the proposed mediation team at Dundee University and the College of Bishops. There was, he wrote, “substantial evidence to support the assertion that any mediation process involving Mrs Dyer simply will not work”. It was “nothing but a shameful, cynical, time-buying exercise to uphold an appointment that has patently been disastrous whilst gauging if disbelief and discontentment across the Scottish Episcopal Church will die down. . .

“That this proposed mediation would by necessity be between one individual who, it is alleged, cannot be removed from office and believes she is in a position of unchallengeable authority, and multiple individuals she has used her hitherto unaccountable role to render voiceless and isolated should clearly indicate how unsupportable and unfair it is.”

He described receiving “not one word of concern or pastoral care from the primus or college of bishops . . . The abject failure of the upper echelons of the Scottish Episcopal Church to protect anyone other than Mrs Dyer has been astonishing.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the College of Bishops said that a reply had been sent to Mr Cromar last week. The statement said that “the experiences in the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney indicate a situation of conflict and relationship breakdown. The bishops believe that the situation is best dealt with through mediation as a means of seeking healing and reconciliation.” The mediation process was now under way, it confirmed.

Bishop Dyer was approached for comment.

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