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Monmouth inquiry and review caused ‘thought and soul-searching’

06 May 2022

We recognise that what happened was disastrous to the diocese and to individuals’

Church in Wales

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann

THIS was the first meeting of the Governing Body since the publication in December 2021 of the Monmouth inquiry and review concerning the events surrounding the long absence and subsequent retirement of the previous Bishop, the Rt Revd Richard Pain (News, 17/24 December 2021). The events were described in the report as a “tragedy” and a “shock to the system” which had triggered a reshaping of the culture in both the diocese and on the Bench of Bishops.

It was not an item for debate, but the meeting approved a Standing Committee report on the implementation of the 28 recommendations. Dr Siân Miller, who chairs the committee, said that the report had “caused us a lot of thought and soul-searching”. Actions were important now: it must not be a case of “We have a report, we have a paper,” implying that that would do.

The implementation group is to include an independent member, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, a former Bishop at Lambeth and Bishop of Truro. It is to be chaired by Tim Llewellyn, whom Dr Miller described as “very able and very considered — very gifted in ensuring we deliver something”.

One lone voice from the floor took the opportunity to comment. The Revd Richard Mulcahy (Monmouth) lamented the lack of any “proper discussion” of the damaging report, and observed that such errors in any other organisation “would probably have seen heads roll. . .

“We’ve recognised that what happened was very much disastrous to the diocese and to individuals involved, and [has led to] a lack of trust in general. . . It’s not so much an own goal as giving your pitch away to someone else. It was dreadful.”

The report of the Bench of Bishops also touched on the Monmouth review. The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, acknowledged that it had been a difficult matter for the diocese, and that he was acutely aware of how unsettling a time that had been. But the work done so far had “ensured we were not marking our own homework”. Not only processes, but skills were needed: people who could deliver and ensure on safeguarding and human resourcing in ministry.

The matter of the review was raised again in Question Time, when the Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Ian Black, reminded the Governing Body of the Archbishop’s statement on publication that he would ensure that the matters were addressed “quickly and comprehensively”. He asked the Bench of Bishops for a detailed action plan and timelines, which were given.

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann, who took up her post seven weeks before the first lockdown, described the diocese as “a very, very different place from the one I came to two years ago. We have moved on from what was a most difficult time of turmoil and distress.”

She spoke of the challenges that had ensued from the events in Monmouth: “a period of uncertainty when the diocese was in limbo”, with “long vacancies, unease and resentment, and a decline in spirit and morale”. But the transition from full parish structures towards commissioned ministry areas would be complete by January 2023, and there was, she said, a growing feeling in the diocese of a common sense of purpose and direction.

A demonstration of that conviction came in a presentation of five short films from the diocese under broad themes such as equality and diversity, social justice, and stewardship, which showed the Church working at the grass roots.

They featured clerics including the Revd Justin Groves, a Team Vicar in Newport, where his church’s clothes bank is in partnership with the local authority’s foodbank.

There was a climate activist, Poppy Stowell, a youth climate ambassador for Wales, who called for unified climate action at all levels; Sandy Blair, a diocesan director of finance, spoke of the extraordinary imbalance in the nation, and in a diocese that “has some of the poorest and some of the richest”; and the Foden family, three newcomers who spoke of both a welcome and a contribution to make to the church in which they had found a spiritual home.

“It is too easy to find ourselves working in silos,” Bishop Vann told the Governing Body. “It is through the ministry of local people, supported by the diocese, that people are drawn to faith.”

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