Vexatious Complaints – or – Serious Misconduct? C.of E.


Clergy Discipline

The synod also considered a proposal for reforming the Clergy Discipline Measure, which has been widely criticized for its cost and inefficiency. The new system would separate out “misconduct,” i.e., allegations of serious wrongdoing, from “complaints.” Diocesan bishops would have the authority to determine the category into which a particular allegation fell.

The Rt. Worshipful Peter Collier QC, the senior ecclesiastical lawyer in the Province of York, who chaired an independent working group set up by the Ecclesiastical Law Society to consider revisions to the measure, criticized the working draft shared with synod in a July 1 Church Times article. He said the nomenclature of “complaints” and “misconduct” was confusing, and that the proposal’s inclusion of trivial matters like “inefficiency” and “inappropriate behavior” among potential issues of misconduct would do little to streamline the process.

Dr. Sarah Horsman, who leads the Sheldon Hub’s initiative on discipline reform, said in a recent letter to Church Times, that the person responsible for classifying complaints “needs to be independent of the diocese, with reliable training, formal accountability and the ability to act swiftly. Bishops are the wrong people for this role.”

While the synod voted 299-4 to approve the report from the group developing the new legislation, it also passed a separate motion that nodded to Collier’s concern that the ambiguity of the proposed twin tracks “is likely to perpetuate existing trauma of clergy being subjected to serious formal process for some conduct which does not justify prohibition from ministry and the loss of home or livelihood.”

The motion urged instead that initial assessments distinguish between “complaints not involving misconduct,” “misconduct that is less than serious,” and “serious misconduct.” Only offenses in the latter category would require a formal tribunal process. Synod also encouraged the implementation committee to speed up its work, so the new measure could be approved next year.

The busy session also appointed a body to oversee the next stage of ecumenical relations with the Methodist Church, received updates on the churchwide reception of the Living in Love and Faith process’s discernment about sexuality and identity and the implementation of more robust standards for safeguarding, acting on the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It reviewed proposals for reforming bishop selection and synod election to encourage greater diversity among applicants and approved the Church of England’s 2022 budget. The Church Commissioners also presented a report on its progress toward prioritizing carbon neutral investment in the church’s investment portfolio.

The session was the last for the current membership of the lay and clerical houses, with online elections for five-year terms scheduled for early fall. General Synod expects to convene next, in-person, in London in November 2021.

This article is based on the excellent synod reporting of Church Times

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This is an extract from the deliberations of the recent Church of England General Synod Meeting, which was held on-line recently.

Apart from the burden of the Synod, which dealt with disputation over the recently-announced project to ‘Plant 10.000 New Churches’ in the U.K., to expedite a plan of evangelical expansion under the auspoices of the Church of England – this extract on Clergy Discipline caught my eye, as pertaining to the difference between Complaints against clergy, and Charges against clergy of Serious Misconduct, which needs to be addressed – not only in the Church of England but also in other Church communities.

There are all sorts of reasons to bring complaints against the clergy, among them being:

  1. Personal dislike of the clergy-person.
  2. Perceived difference of opinion on theological or worship practices.

However, in circumstances where a clergy-person is proven to have been guilty of serious sexual harassment, or serious bullying in the exercise of their ministry towards a member of the local congregation or other clergy; this may offer grounds for some sort of Tribunal, which should only be set up after a proper invesitgation is carried out of the situation in question by a nominated Assessor, independent of the diocese.

The danger of injustice can occur :-

(a) when the complainant is not heard, or

(b), when the complaint is (a) frivolous, (b) spiteful, or (c) misconceived by a person who has a grudge against the clergyperson: seeking to have them personally disgraced or dismissed from the exercise of their ministry. (see the recent complaint against the Dean of Christchurch Oxon)

THUS; it would seem that there is a case for a more just way of dealing with complaints against clergy by their parishioners in the exercise of their ministry – or in circumtances where their personal behaviour towards a parishioner or fellow clergy member renders them unsuitable for continuance of their ministry.

(The recent situation where a bishop in the Church of England was voted ‘out of order’ by his own diocesan clergy and one of his fellow bishops in the diocese, for example, was so patently obvious to many people – even outsde of the diocese – that the said bishop has now agreed to tender his resignation. – see relevant articles on the Winchester (C.of E.) Diocesan web-site)

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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STOP PRESS– here is an article from today’s news, on this very subject:

https://premierchristian.news/us/news/article/church-of-england-criticised-over-priest-suicide-following-false-child-abuse-allegations

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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