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Scottish Episcopal Church Synod: safeguarding and youth

16 June 2023

Francis Martin/Church Times

A member of the Provincial Youth Committee, Jadon Rongong, speaks to members of the Synod about the importance of support for refugees

A member of the Provincial Youth Committee, Jadon Rongong, speaks to members of the Synod about the importance of support for refugees

A REVISED safeguarding canon, which uses simpler language and puts into church law elements of the safeguarding policy agreed in 2020, received its first reading on Saturday.

Before the motions were debated, Dr Stephen Goodyear (Aberdeen & Orkney) proposed a “small but significant amendment” concerning the process by which lay employees and volunteers at a church could be recommended for suspension, to expand it to include the clergy.

The changes proposed would “put laity and clergy on the same footing”, he said, rather than maintain a separate process for clergy under Canon 54, which governs clergy discipline.

Lexy Plumtree, the member of the Committee on Canons charged with presenting the motion, resisted Dr Goodyear’s amendment. There were issues of employment and charity law at play, she said, and Canon 65, the safeguarding canon, had never been intended to change the rules on clergy suspension, which were covered by Canon 54.

Canon Lynsay Braybrooke (Aberdeen & Orkney) said that members outside that diocese might not realise a tendency towards “undermining canon law by reference to charity law”, and that “this is not a simple thing being asked. . . It’s cutting into where bishops have authority because they have ordained authority, and trying to bring everything down to trustee basis. This is a very complicated matter, and don’t be deceived.”

The Revd Dr Stephen Holmes (Edinburgh) also opposed the amendment. It “confused the structure of the Church”, in which there was a hierarchy of bodies, he said.

The Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth (Glasgow), agreed. What Dr Goodyear was proposing “would not achieve what he is hoping to achieve”. Provost Holdsworth suggested that Canon 54 was deficient in many respects, but was commendably clear and robust on the issue of suspension after accusations of a safeguarding failure.

Martin Old (Aberdeen & Orkney), who seconded the amendment, said that fairness of treatment was important: “It’s about natural justice.”

Responding, Dr Goodyear suggested that charity law trumped canon law, as, in contrast with the situation “down south” in the Church of England, canons did not have the force of law in Scotland, but were more like the “rules of our club”.

Canon 54 did not give trustees the authority to suspend a priest after the performance of a risk assessment, which his amendment would achieve in Canon 65.

After a point of order asking for an independent view, the Assessor, Gavin McEwan, made a short statement, saying that the intention was to keep these particular parts of Canon 65 focused on lay employees and volunteers, and that the proposed amendments would make this “unworkable”.

Dr Goodyear challenged the advice, repeating his point that Canon 54 made no provision for suspension after a risk assessment, and so there was no conflict on this point.

None the less, his amendment was lost by 74-21, with seven abstentions. After further debate, the changes themselves passed their first reading, with one objection and no abstentions across the three Houses.

 

IN A similar way to last year, the Synod concluded with a presentation by the Provincial Youth Committee, although, this time, some of the young people were able to attend (News, 17 June 2022).

Three diocesan representatives on the Provincial Youth Committee addressed the Synod about their priorities, on subjects that included support for refugees, and how the cost-of-living crisis was affecting students and young people.

Olivia Smith, who represents Edinburgh, rebutted the idea that young people should simply give up coffee and avocados to counter rising costs and the lack of affordable housing.

“Why shouldn’t we buy frothy frappuccinos laced with enough sugar syrup and caffeine to make me write half my dissertation in one sitting?” she asked. “Is this not the life Jesus promised?”

The Synod also heard from the Provincial Youth Co-ordinator, Claire Benton-Evans, who asked members to show their appreciation for all those involved in “discipling our young people”.

She said that “Scottish Episcopal Youth has been punching above its weight” on the global stage, and highlighted the election of several members to the Anglican Communion Youth Network.

After thanking the young people for coming, and leading members in a hymn, the Primus closed the Synod with a Celtic blessing.

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