A COMPLETE overhaul of clergy discipline will come under scrutiny at the General Synod next month when the Clergy Conduct Measure (CCM) is under first consideration.
The CCM is intended to replace the discredited Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), which, church authorities accept, has contributed to the unjust treatment of both complainants and respondents.
Last summer, members of the Synod voted in principle to bring forward a new Measure (News, 13 July 2022); now, they will have the opportunity to vote on the draft legislation for the first time.
The most significant change from the CDM is that complaints would be categorised in three divisions, from the mildest to the most serious, each with its own bespoke pathway for resolution. The lowest-level grievances would be dealt with locally and informally, and no penalty incurred.
Allegations of actual misconduct would be investigated by an assessor, organised regionally in the Church of England and from outside the diocese involved. If misconduct was confirmed by the investigation, the bishop could impose a penalty, but not remove the priest from office, take their licence away, or prohibit them from ministry.
Finally, allegations of serious misconduct would be referred automatically by the diocesan bishop to a central Investigations and Tribunals Team (ITT). If the investigators deemed it necessary, a complaint could trigger a full tribunal process, similar to the existing one.
The reforms originated during the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). As a result of criticisms made of the CDM during the IICSA hearings, a working group chaired by the then Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, was set up to explore how the Measure could be improved.
Instead, highlighting in particular the inability of the CDM to respond differently to different levels of complaint, the group recommended that it be replaced entirely.
Among the other reforms, the CCM will allow clergy to refer themselves (not possible under the CDM); and it would also have provisions for a child, or an adult without capacity, or with a disability, to have a “litigation friend” bring a complaint on their behalf.
There would also be a new power to bring a restraining order against a person deemed to have made vexatious complaints. In addition, a new “interim restriction order” would prohibit a priest from carrying out specified functions without necessitating their complete suspension from all clerical work.
“No further action” would no longer be a possible outcome of any complaint. The CCM would also introduce administrative sanctions for lower-level misconduct. These would fall short of formal penalties.
Finally, if passed by the Synod, the CCM would make it possible once again for a priest to be deposed from Holy Orders, as long as the finding of misconduct did not involve a question of doctrine, ritual, or ceremony. The ability to formally unfrock a priest was removed some years ago; reintroducing it was another IICSA recommendation.
If the CCM passes through its first stage in York, it will then move on to revision by committee. It is expected to return to the Synod for final approval by July next year.