Ecclesiastical First Report


A draft Code of Practice provided for illustrative purposes only. The final Code of Practice will be produced by the Clergy Discipline Commission and approved by the General Synod.


B.1.   Clergy Discipline Commission [s.3]

  B.1.1.  Membership shall be determined by the Appointments Committee of the Church of England.

  B.1.2.  The purpose of the CDC is to have a watching brief over the exercise of discipline. Consequently it will:

  B.1.2.1.  seek to learn from experience, and disseminate best practice;

  B.1.2.2.  develop a case law base of guidance on misconduct and on penalties appropriate to misconduct, so as to encourage consistency throughout the dioceses of the Church of England; and

  B.1.2.3.  provide an advisory service to bishops and Registrars, both in matters of law, and in matters of procedure and good practice.

B.2.   The Bishop's Disciplinary Tribunal [s.2.]

  B.2.1.  Each diocese will have its own tribunal, for the purpose of adjudicating in contested disciplinary cases, or where serious disciplinary offences are alleged.

  B.2.2.  The Registrar of Tribunals, probably in consultation with the Diocesan Secretary shall be responsible for the practical arrangements (venue, facilities, etc.) when a tribunal hearing is required.

  B.2.3.  The Registrar of Tribunals shall be responsible for clerking the tribunal hearing.

  B.2.4.  The members of the tribunal will be allocated from the provincial lists, after consultation with the diocesan bishop [s.21(2)].

  B.2.5.  It is envisaged that, whilst a tribunal hearing will follow the requirements of the Rule Committee as to procedure, etc., the trappings of a court of law will be modified (no wigs or gowns, etc.), and the hearing will be in appropriate church property, in a location convenient to the parties involved. It is important that the feeling of criminal proceedings is avoided, and that the tribunal is seen to be what it really is—a disciplinary hearing.

B.3.   Disciplinary Offences [s.8.]

  Discipline is relevant in three areas:

    —  professional conduct as a person in Holy Orders;

    —  personal conduct; and

    —  doctrinal belief.

  B.3.1.  Professional Conduct

  Certain expectations are required of clergy, though these vary with the nature of the particular responsibility for which the cleric is authorised. They are covered by the Oath of Obedience (Canon C.14).

  B.3.1.1.  There are several sources from which these requirements come.

  They include:

    (a)  the Canons of the Church of England;

    (b)  Measures of the General Synod (and associated Codes of Practice);

    (c)  Legal Opinions—by the Legal Advisory Commission;

    (d)  by decisions of Chancellors in faculty case rulings;

    (e)  by decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council;

    (f)  various codes of good practice issued by dioceses; and

    (g)  Ecclesiastical Fees Measure—current requirements and advice given.

  B.3.1.2.  Professional conduct includes:

    (a)  Public worship and occasional offices conducted according to the authorised forms and in a seemly, reverent and pastoral manner.

    (b)  Preaching and teaching of the Gospel and Christian faith in order to bring people to, and build them up in, Christian discipleship.

    (c)  Pastoral care of people, not least of those in vulnerable situations who can easily be abused unless proper provision is made available.

    (d)  Good administration, which is an aspect of pastoral care, and is essential to the proper running of parishes and chaplaincies.

    (e)  Leadership in the Church to guard and shape its mission. This will involve collaboration with others, due respect for those in authority, and partnership in appropriate levels of synodical government.

  B.3.2.  Personal Conduct

  Canon C26.2. is quite clear that the WHOLE lifestyle of the minister is relevant to his vocation. There is no distinction between public behaviour in office and private conduct. The two form a seamless whole. 1 Tim.3:1-13 is a good starting point. Clergy are expected to be good and wholesome examples of Christian living.

  Canon C.13 (the Oath of Allegiance) emphasises the requirement to remain a law-abiding citizen within the secular state. Sections 30-34 of the Measure allow for discipline where secular law has been broken.

B.4.   Overview of the new disciplinary procedure

  B.4.1.  When a complaint is made, it is important that it is handled sensitively, thoroughly, and without undue delay.

  B.4.2.  When complaint is made by word of mouth, no attention can be given until it is reduced to a written complaint.

  B.4.3.  Literary or educational prowess is not a pre-requisite for making complaint.

  However, there are many people for whom the need to reduce their concern to writing or to complete official forms is a major obstacle to expressing their complaint. Diocesan authorities need to be alert to this, and make provision for those who will need assistance. Rural Deans and Lay Chairs of Deanery Synods might be one source of help.

  Such complainants need to have their concerns and evidence in support transcribed, as far as possible using their own phraseology and vocabulary. Transcription is to achieve a communicable written copy, not to translate or paraphrase the concern.

  On occasions it might also be appropriate for such a complainant to bring a friend when attending for interview with the bishop or his representative.

  B.4.4.  Equally, anonymous written complaints should be disregarded.

  B.4.5.  The four-week period (s.11) is to create an effective sieve. Regrettably, clergy are particularly vulnerable to being the focus of dissatisfaction, because of their public accessibility. So, rather than a policy of making the laying of complaints unduly difficult, with consequential implications of defensiveness and protection, the Measure allows for alleged complaints to be voiced, and then to be subjected to a rigorous sieving process.

  B.4.5.1.  First, a complainant must record his/her complaint in writing, and identify him/herself.

  B.4.5.2.  Second, a complainant must provide the evidence to justify the complaint.

  B.4.5.3.  Third, a complainant needs to be aware that, as a matter of natural justice, both the substance of the complaint and the identity of the complainant will usually be shared with the cleric against whom they have complained.

  B.4.5.4.  Then, the bishop will ensure that the complaint is examined and evaluated. If it is found to be frivolous or malicious it will be discounted.

  B.4.5.5.  A decision will be taken as to whether:

    (a)  the complainant is qualified to complain under s.10 of the Measure;

    (b)  the complaint, if upheld, would constitute misconduct under s.8 of the Measure; and

    (c)  if upheld:

      (i)  though technically an offence, the alleged misconduct would be so minor that no action is taken [s.12(1)(a)];

      (ii)  though technically an offence, the alleged misconduct is such that a warning (to be kept on the record) would be a sufficient response [s.12(1)(b)]; and

      (iii)  the laying of a complaint is the presenting action that reflects an underlying deterioration or breakdown of relationship. In such cases the bishop would offer conciliation [s.12(1)(c)] with the possibility that if the underlying problems are properly addressed, the complainant may no longer wish to request disciplinary proceedings.

  B.4.5.6.  By the conclusion of the four week initial consideration period, only more serious complaints should remain to be addressed. With the agreement of the cleric concerned (if he admits the validity of the complaint) the matter can be dealt with by the consent procedure [s.12(1)(d)]. Alternatively, the adjudication process is available [s.12(1)(e)]. Adjudication is necessary where the cleric denies the complaint, in very serious cases, or where conciliation or consent provisions fail.

B.5.   Suspension during proceedings [s.36 & 37]

  Suspension is sometimes desirable whilst a complaint is being investigated. Alternatively, it may be necessary for the protection of the cleric against whom complaint has been made.

  Wherever possible it is preferable that the bishop and cleric can reach a mutual agreement for the cleric to withdraw. The bishop should only resort to this power when he believes that a withdrawal is essential and where such a mutual agreement proves impossible to achieve, or where the bishop does not have confidence that the cleric will honour a voluntary agreement.

  Regrettable as suspensions are, when they take place it is essential to ensure that the very act of suspending does not, of itself, prejudice the investigation of the complaint. It will often be the case that an accused cleric will respond negatively to a suggestion of suspension, on the basis that this presumes or implies guilt or culpability.

B.6.   Courses available beyond the initial four week period

  B.6.1.  No further Action [s.12(1)(a) and 13].

  In this one instance, the complainant may appeal against the bishop's decision, on the grounds that the complaint has been unfairly treated, or is of greater seriousness than the bishop has allowed for.

  Under s.13(2) the bishop must notify his decision.

  As this is an exercise of permitted discretion, the complainant will need to demonstrate that the bishop has acted wholly unreasonably.

  B.6.2.  Warning [s.12(1)(b) and 14].

  This is particularly valuable when the misconduct is of a minor nature and, possibly, a one-off or out of character. The recorded information acts as an indication that the behaviour is unacceptable. It also allows evidence of a growing habit to be documented. So, whereas one incident is regrettable, a consistent pattern might be taken more seriously.

  B.6.3.  Conciliation [s.12(1)(c) and 15].

  The appointment of the Conciliator is vital to any progress that can be achieved. Such persons will need proven experience in conciliation procedures. They will also need to have the confidence of both complainant and cleric.

  Persons able to fulfil this task may well be found within the diocese. But this will not always be so, and on occasions, a neutral from outside the diocese may be more appropriate. So, for these instances, the CDC will compile and maintain a register of persons who might be available to serve as conciliators.

  B.6.4.  Penalty by consent [s.12(1)(d) and 16].

  B.6.4.1.  The admission of culpability by a cleric must not be forced. Although the bishop perceives the complaint to be straightforward and legitimate, this is an insufficient reason for bringing pressure to bear upon a cleric in a weak or vulnerable position.

  B.6.4.2.  Equally important with the issue of admitted guilt, are the circumstances surrounding the admitted misconduct. There may be extenuating circumstances that should be explored and evaluated.

  B.6.4.3.  In determining a penalty, the bishop will have access to the CDC who will offer guidance as to the range of penalties that might be appropriate.

  Seeking such advice would encourage consistency between dioceses. All penalties listed in s.24(1) of the Measure may be applied, as appropriate.

  B.6.4.4.  Under the existing informal and ad hoc system in current use (outside the official procedure) resignation is the most popular result when misconduct is admitted. It may sometimes be an appropriate outcome, but is in too wide a usage:

    (a)  in serious cases of misconduct something more than a simple resignation is required; and

    (b)  in minor cases of misconduct resignation may be an inappropriate and harsh response.

  It is understandable that bishops may push for, or clergy may offer, to resign as a simple response to a misconduct situation. Thus far it has also been an effective way of avoiding more appropriate disciplinary procedures. But in future, such resignations, reached by the procedures allowed for in the Measure, will be recorded on the Archbishops' List as "resignations for disciplinary reasons."

  B.6.4.5.  As the offer of resignation, or the suggestion that it be used, often occurs quite suddenly during an interview, it is essential that time for proper reflection, as well as consultation with others, occurs. The cleric would need at least to discuss this with a spouse (where married) and consider the future. A bishop would need to evaluate whether resignation is a "soft option," when in fact it may be too weak or too strong a response to the admitted misconduct.

B.7.   Provincial Panels [s.21]

  B.7.1.  The legally qualified chairperson [s.22(1)(a)] is to be selected for their experience in handling the sort of cases that may fall to be heard by a tribunal. They should also be such persons as will work collaboratively with the other panel members appointed to a hearing.

  It is possible, if the Archbishops so determine, for one or more persons to be appointed to both provincial panels.

  B.7.2.  The clerical and lay nominees result from consultations by the bishop with the members of his Bishop's Council. The provision in s.21(3) permits the Archbishops to balance the two panels in their province, if they believe there to be an imbalance amongst nominees (eg on the basis of gender, age or ethnicity.)

B.8.   Proceedings in Secular Courts [s.30-34]

  B.8.1.  Offences incurring a prison sentence or a suspended prison sentence received anywhere in the world by a court properly constituted under the laws of that country are included within s.30(1) and s.31(1).

  B.8.2.  s.33 and s34 mean that the bishop must be informed of:

    (a)  conviction for offences not involving imprisonment (suspended or actual); and

    (b)  divorce or separation orders.

  Past experience has shown that secular courts cannot be relied upon to supply records of relevant proceedings. So the responsibility is placed upon the cleric. Disclosure does not mean that disciplinary proceedings will be initiated. But it does ensure an appropriate openness, allowing disciplinary implications to be tested if this is relevant, and for pastoral care and support to be offered where necessary.

B.9.   Archbishops' List [s.38]

  B.9.1.  The present List has been in existence in one form or another since 1908. Bringing the List within the Measure is a significant step forward. It ensures that what should be on the record is properly collated and managed in a clearly understood manner.

  B.9.2.  Under the Measure there will be a publicly known List. The procedures by which a name is placed on the List, or removed from it, will be transparent.

  Any cleric who is sufficiently concerned will be able to seek information as to whether or not his/her name is recorded. And those on the List will have clearly defined rights to ask for review of their inclusion on the List.

  B.9.3.  Contemporary secular employment legislation is concerned to outlaw "black lists". However, when a cleric is under discipline, or where [s.38(1)(e)] there are known problems in the performance of a given cleric's ministerial duties, it is not unreasonable that bishops should be alert to such information when making appointments. Few people will accept that the bishop was ignorant of significant information when offering preferment. But without a List, carefully regulated with adequate rights of representation by affected clerics, ignorance would be unavoidable.

  B.9.4.  It is not envisaged that the List should be distributed any more widely than in the past. Whilst its existence and regulation would be in the public area, the List itself should remain under limited confidentiality.

B.10.   Wider Consultation

  When considering alleged misconduct, the bishop needs to be mindful of the wider implications of the situation. The needs of the cleric's spouse (or former spouse) and family, church officers, and parish are all important. They will need to be consulted. Pastoral care and support may need to be provided for them (and also for the cleric against whom a complaint has been made) throughout the inquiry and beyond.

B.11.   Rehabilitation

  Rehabilitation is an important feature of Christian discipline. But when encouraging a return to ministry, the bishop needs to be aware of those who were damaged, or who may remain aggrieved, as a result of the previous misconduct. Such persons must be allowed to offer comment (in confidence) to the bishop, and their representations need to be included in the full consideration given by the bishop to the circumstances before he makes a decision. The cleric's family and former spouse (if a divorce is involved) should be advised, by the bishop himself or his representative, of such actions as the bishop decides to take.

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Prepared 3 April 2003