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Scottish Episcopal Church found to have been using NDAs

20 June 2024

Even though the Primus has questioned whether they are appropriate

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THE Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) has made use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), the Church Times has discovered — even though the Primus, the Most Revd Mark Strange, has questioned whether they are appropriate, saying: “I don’t think anyone should be silenced.”

In an interview on Saturday for the Church Times podcast, Bishop Strange, who has been the Primus since 2017, said: “I’m not aware of non-disclosure agreements being used, certainly not in my time, when I would have been aware of that.

“Non-disclosure agreements I don’t think are always helpful, [but] I’ve never explored it greatly. . . I’d want a discussion about whether that would be appropriate, because for me, I don’t think anyone should be silenced.”

After the interview, a spokesperson for the SEC got in touch to say: “Non-disclosure agreements have, on occasion, been entered into in the past in the Church. HR processes are handled at the appropriate level within the Church, and therefore the Primus would not normally be involved.”

Documents seen by the Church Times suggest that a confidentiality agreement was reached with a senior church officer who left the SEC in 2019.

The Church Times has seen an email from the Synod’s Secretary General, John Stuart, to members of the Church’s standing committee, which includes Bishop Strange, outlining the agreement with the staff member, writing that it “will be subject to strict confidentiality on both sides”.

The email details a £30,000 “compensation payment”, with an additional sum to cover legal costs.

A supporter of the church officer resigned from another SEC committee in protest at the person’s treatment. In a letter to the Primus at the time, they wrote that some of the bishops and provincial staff in the SEC “seem to have lost their moral compass”.

The letter continued: “It is often stated in the press that NDAs are used to hide inappropriate behaviour by employers. I strongly suspect that this is the position with SEC.”

The Church Times approached the former church officer for comment, but they declined to respond.

Separately, a former senior cleric in the Scottish Episcopal Church told the Church Times this week that they had signed an NDA, and knew of at least two others who had done the same. They spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying that there was a “culture of reprisal in the SEC”.

Of Bishop Strange, they said: “I have reason to think he ought to know at least one NDA was signed.”

The use of NDAs to prevent former employees from disclosing details about their employment and its termination have been a topic of debate in the Church of England. In 2021, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was “totally against NDAs. . . NDAs are unacceptable”, after it was reported that they had been used in the C of E (News, 23 April 2021).

The Church Times has previously investigated the use of NDAs in the C of E, speaking to two priests who had signed confidentiality agreements (News, 3 September 2021).

Listen to the interview with Bishop Strange here.

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