The proposals in GS 2219 make several improvements to the existing scheme for clergy discipline but fall short of what is needed to protect clergy from the destructive weaponizing of the measure.
The CDM process has been shown to be severely punitive to respondents. Terms were unclear, rules contradictory and cases mishandled in a way which was deleterious to clergy mental health and wellbeing. The avoidance of the abuse of the process needs to be foremost in the mind of the church. The process of seeking justice must be humane.
Bishops, registrars, respondents and complainants ordinarily have existing relationships with one another. This inter-connectivity makes impartiality and objectivity almost impossible. Bishops, registrars and complainants may have mixed motives, desired outcomes and personal bias which act against natural justice. If a bishop, registrar and complainant want to make life difficult for a respondent cleric, safeguards need to be provided. This scheme does not adequately prevent the weaponising of the measure.
Detailed comment, questions and notes
Definition of terms. The terms Clergy Discipline and safeguarding require definition. What is a ‘safeguarding concern’ and when do ‘safeguarding matters relate to discipline’?
Para 7 fails to clarify, the role and nature of ordained ministry needs definition. ‘Areas of relationships within dioceses’ are said to need further work in relation to clergy ‘development, support and accountability’, safeguarding and lay discipline. This is severely problematic. The relationships within the diocese act against natural justice.
a. The difference between ‘complaints’ and ‘allegations of misconduct’ must be made clear.
b. Effective pastoral support needs to include detailed working knowledge of the Measure, Rules and Code of Practice and the authority to challenge any divergence from these three.
c. What is envisaged by ‘early investigation’?
d. What powers will the independent overseers have during a case? Will specialist lawyers be trained and employed in place of diocesan registrars?
e. What is proper resourcing?
Para 11. It is interesting that a 1996 report highlighted the need for a grievance procedure for clergy if discipline is mishandled. So what?
Para 12 – see above about clarity of definition
Para 15 – definition of misconduct
Para 16 – the terms will be defined by the implementation group
Para 18 – the advice of unqualified registrars is not appropriate assistance to the bishop.
Para 22 – Impartiality needs to be ensured. Matters of theological conviction, where the bishop and cleric are in theological dispute, must be removed from the measure. The diocesan bishop may not be qualified to judge on what constitutes a complaint or misconduct and diocesan registrars may not be suitably qualified to determine a course of action according to the doctrine of the Church of England. Registrars cannot always be deemed to be impartial, in part due to the interest of keeping on side with the bishop and in part due to potential bias against clergy with whom there is an existing working relationship.
Para 23 – what qualifies the complainant to determine which is the most appropriate track? Is this different to asking the complainant what outcome they are seeking.
Para 28 – support for respondents must include detailed working knowledge of the Measure, Rules and Code, akin to a shop steward.
Para 29 – where a complainant continues to worship at the parish church where the respondent is incumbent, the respondent should be offered the option to cease ministering in that place pending the outcome of the investigation or the complainant asked to worship elsewhere.
Para 31 – what effect will a panel which represents the entire diversity of the church have on cases of a doctrinal nature?
Para 32 – unmet deadlines are a significant source of stress and trauma for respondents. 28 days for a referral to an assessor, their investigation and report to the bishop a decision is predicated on assumptions that cannot be guaranteed. Postal delays, unavailability of the complainant or respondent, unreasonableness or uncooperativeness by the complainant, hesitancy by the bishop, who might say ‘ordinarily” the process would take 28 days but I need further time to come to a decision.’ Communication of delay needs to be prompt and bishops need to be bound to the 28 days without room for dilly-dallying or the punitive use of delays.
Para 36 – how will complaints be determined to be vexatious or repetitive?
Para 50 – who would be responsible for costs in cases where no legal aid was provided but the case is dismissed?