Safeguarding in the church

The Ecclesiastical Law Society held its AGM and Day Conference at the Cardinal Vaughan Centre, London, on Saturday 5 April 2014 where the subject of the conference was safeguarding.  Below is an extract from the presentation given by Adrian Isles, the Archbishops’ Council’s Designated Officer under the Clergy Discipline Measure, which focusses on the Church of England’s proposed legislative amendments.  This and summaries of the other presentations at the Conference are in the Easter Edition of the Society’s Gospel and Law.

Safeguarding: from a Clergy Discipline Measure perspective

Adrian Isles, the Archbishops’ Council’s Designated Officer under the Clergy Discipline Measure   spoke about the proposed legislative amendments prompted by the enquiry into safeguarding in Chichester.  He asked delegates to think about two particularly difficult areas that would be addressed in legislation: [i] how ‘vulnerable adult’ could be satisfactorily defined within a church context (existing secular safeguarding did not define ‘vulnerable adult’ in terms that took account of the nature of the relationship between a priest and a parishioner seeking pastoral support); and [ii] what action should be taken where a risk assessment concluded that a cleric was a significant safeguarding risk but there was insufficient evidence for a disciplinary tribunal to make findings of misconduct.

The main legislative amendments to be put before General Synod at First Consideration   Stage in July 2014 will include:

– Removal of the time limit for making complaints in cases of sexual abuse against a child or ‘vulnerable adult’;

– Power of a bishop to suspend a cleric when an application is made to the President of Tribunals for permission to make a complaint out of time (this would apply to all complaints) – the bishop will have to be satisfied that it was necessary in all the circumstances of the case, and will be required to seek preliminary legal advice from his registrar;

– Prohibited and suspended clergy will not be allowed to robe during divine service;

– Canon C8 will be amended so that only those with a bishop’s authority to minister [whether as an incumbent, under licence or PTO (Permission to Officiate)] may be invited by the minister with the cure of souls to officiate or be permitted to robe during divine service.  This means that e.g. those teaching in theological colleges and retired clergy would need PTO before they could be allowed to officiate or robe.  Additionally, Canon B43 will be amended to that where a minister form another Church is invited to officiate, the host parish priest will need to be satisfied that the person is of good standing.  Some concern was expressed during questions about the discretion to invite visiting ecumenical clergy remaining with the local incumbent.  There would, however, be a duty on the incumbent to make appropriate enquiries before issuing an invitation to officiate.

– Safeguarding training will be mandatory for all ordained clergy, and all lay readers and lay workers in the church. Bishops will be required to appoint a safeguarding advisor in accordance with House of Bishops regulations.

– All ordained clergy, all licensed lay readers and lay workers, all PCCs and wardens will be under a duty to have due regard to House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance.

– Anyone on the barred lists under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, and anyone who has been convicted of certain offences, will be disqualified from serving as a warden or being a member of a PCC.  However, the bishop will be able to waive a disqualification following a conviction e.g. where the conviction is historic and the person concerned is not a safeguarding risk.

In plenary it was agreed a significant problem area remains: that of risk assessment in cases where there are concerns but no criminal convictions and insufficient evidence of misconduct to put before a disciplinary tribunal, (e.g. because victims are unable or unwilling to give evidence). One of the key problems is finding an established set of facts on which to base a risk assessment when the respondent disputes the alleged conduct.  Possible ways forward might include some form of fact-finding hearing, as happens in child protection proceedings. The use of intermediaries, Audio visual technology and written evidence was discussed as a means of getting evidence before the relevant fact-finding body where victims’ capacity to testify was impaired.

The discussion concluded with a vigorous debate, particularly about issues of evidence for the Clergy Disciplinary Measure, the need for more rigorous assessments, consideration of the balance between child protection and the interests of jussive, and issues of where responsibilities lay, e.g. invitations to ecumenical or retired clergy.

We are grateful to the Rev Dr Catherine Shelley, Editor of Gospel and Law, and Adrian Isles the author of the presentation for permission to reproduce the above extract. 

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