Clerical abuse of spiritual power and authority: Penalty

Our post on 12 March 2018 reported the announcement by the Diocese of Oxford that a two-year penalty had been imposed on the Revd Timothy Davis, following the recent penalty hearing, Decision of the CDM Tribunal, 8 December 2017, (“the Abingdon case”). The Determination of the penalty has now been published formally by the CofE and in this post we examine aspects of “clerical abuse of spiritual power and authority”, raised in this decision and in the evidence given to the IICSA hearing on the Anglican Church

Determination of Penalty

The Tribunal delivered the decision on penalty orally at 2pm on 10 March, giving brief reasons; the subsequent written reasons note that they “add to the oral reasons” which are underlined in the text where more detail is provided on specific issues. [This underlining has been retained in the following extracts].

The Penalty Decision was prefaced:

“[1]. We have decided not to seek the Bishop’s views on penalty. The reason for this is that we have been entrusted with the responsibility to decide these allegations and set the appropriate penalty. We have heard all the witnesses and made findings about their evidence, we have heard submissions…as well as reading all the material placed before is in the Trial and Supplementary bundles. In the circumstances we consider that we are able to reached decision on penalty without seeking the Bishop’s views.

“[3]. …any consideration of the penalty we have set must be understood by reading our determination and our findings of misconduct. The finding of misconduct is at para 59 of the determination. We also found that there was an obvious imbalance in the relationship between Revd Davis and W1 (para 41), Revd Davis had a poor understanding of the vulnerability of young people and the reason that safeguarding was required (para 52), the safeguarding breaches were serious (para 55) and Revd Davis placed his own emotional needs first (para 54).


5. The penalty that we impose takes into the account the following:

(i) The submissions made on behalf of the Complainant and the Respondent

(ii) the misconduct that we have found to be proved, and the period of time over which it occurred – some 21 months

(iii) the regulatory nature of the proceedings: we were referred to Bolton v The Law Society 1994 1 WLR 512 and other cases cited by Mr Iles. We adopt the approach set out by the CA and the Chancery Court of York and the Court of Arches in those cases

(iv) our concerns about his continuing lack of insight about (i) his underlying emotional fragility (as diagnosed recently by Dr Orr) and (ii) the imbalance in the relationship between himself and W1. Mr Gau described his insight as ‘evolving’. We are not satisfied that his insight into these events and what may have caused them, has developed yet sufficiently. The summary he gave in February 2018 to Dr Orr of his understanding of what had occurred with W1 and W2 is set out at p 2 of Dr Orr’s letter 28/2/18. The words quoted by Dr Orr at para 8 demonstrate a poor grasp of the misconduct that we found had occurred. We take into account his expression of remorse and sorrow against this background.

(v) his fruitful ministry until these events took place as shown by the testimonials submitted to us.

(vi) the Guidance of the CDC on penalties: they should be proportionate to the misconduct taking into account personal and mitigating features. We have applied this Guidance.

6. We have considered each possible penalty beginning with the least serious first.

7. We look forward to a time when as a result of greater insight, and through engagement with treatment, pastoral support and safeguarding training, he will be able to be restored to a fruitful licensed ministry in the Church of England.

8. The penalty that we impose is:

(i) That he be put out of office as Vicar of Christ Church Abingdon
(ii)That there is a prohibition on his licence for 2 years.

9. At the end of that 2 year period, we hope that with medical treatment specified by Dr Orr, pastoral support and safeguarding training, he will be in a position to be entrusted again with licensed ministry. However, it will be for the Bishop to whom he applies for a position to be satisfied that the progress he has made with treatment, support and training is sufficient that a license can be properly granted to him.

“Spiritual Abuse”

Contemporary with the Tribunal’s decision in late December 2017 was the publication of a report commissioned by the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), Understanding Spiritual Abuse in Christian Communities, Oakley & Humphreys [2018], which commented:

“Existing work around this experience (which is characterised by a systematic pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour in a religious context), is still in its infancy, to the extent that there is not currently universal agreement about this as a term.”

Aside from the issue of the report’s reliance on on-line, self-identified participants, the more general issues it raised were sufficiently contentious to prompt the Evangelical Alliance to issue a lengthy paper on Spiritual Abuse, Reviewing the Discourse of Spiritual Abuse – Logical problems and Unintended Consequences.

It is generally acknowledged that a  major  problem in considerations of “spiritual abuse” is the difficulty in defining the term. Nevertheless:

  • In the context of the Tribunal decision, the behaviour of the Revd Timothy Davis was addressed with reference to  S8(1) Clergy Disciplinary Measure in respect of  “an allegation of any act or omission. This includes “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders” and as such he was found guilty of “abuse of spiritual power and authority“.
  • More specifically, it stated that is was satisfied “that someone can ‘spiritually abuse’ another (as defined at para 3.34-3.36 of the Protecting All Gods Children p 16) both if they intend to do it , but also if they do and say things not caring what the effect may have on the other person, because they have placed their own needs and interests first” [58].
  • The Diocese of Oxford clearly equated the non-sexual abuse that has occurred in the Abingdon case with “spiritual abuse”; it commented “the findings of the Tribunal are instructive for anyone still doubting that spiritual abuse exists“.
  • A number of the responses at the IICSA hearing were made on the assumption that “spiritual abuse” had occurred in the Abingdon case.

IICSA hearing

In the Abingdon case, in reaching its conclusion the tribunal re-emphasised that there was no suggestion of any sexual touching by TD, nor did it find that any sexual touching had taken place [60]. Consequently, since in this case the “abuse of spiritual power and authority” did not have a sexual component, it is not entirely surprising that the case received only peripheral mention.

When Rupert Bursell QC was asked of his understanding and concerns regarding “spiritual abuse”, he defined this quite concisely, saying “It’s the manipulation of the person concerned by reason of the ordained status and/or teaching of the abuser”. He agreed that in respect of both children and vulnerable adults, there needs to be a clear definition and clear disciplinary action taken, adding “definition I know is difficult and I know it’s being fought by the evangelical wing because they feel it may impinge upon them. I can’t see why it should, if it’s sensibly defined”. [Day 7, 84/12 to 85/14].

With regard to the abuse of power, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams was asked “how you do at the initial stages of someone’s career and shortly after ordination to make it clear to them, firstly, that they have power, and, secondly, that it’s very easy to abuse it without even realising it?”. He replied:

“I think it’s extremely important in initial theological education and continuing theological education to return to this question to have some horror stories to share about how this can happen. We heard a couple of months ago…about the case where somebody was identified as being guilty of spiritual abuse [i.e. the Revd Timothy Davis], and to put such a case before a theological student or a ministerial candidate and explain what’s going on and invite them to reflect on” [Day 8, 124/6 to 125/5].

In response to a similar line of questioning, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said:

” My personal view is, if it can be demonstrated that it will be helpful in identifying the pathologies that will lead to problems, or are likely to lead to problems, then it is certainly worth doing, and in safeguarding and a number of other areas, because safeguarding is part of a range of abusive behaviour, or safeguarding covers a range of abusive behaviour, which can include significant levels of harassment — or emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and other forms. Therefore, you want to pick up people who are basically — because underlying it is mostly the abuse of power, and you want to pick up people who are not going to use power well or who are going to use it badly”,  [Day 13, 78/10 to 25]. 


There are two points worthy of comment within Penalty Decision:

  • The Tribunal’s decision not to seek the Bishop’s views on the penalty, (at [1]); this reflects the comments of Archbishop Welby [Day 13, 138/18 to 139/18] on the dichotomy between the juridic and the pastoral roles of a bishop.
  • The Tribunal’s decision on the potential for restoring the Revd Davis “to a fruitful licensed ministry in the Church of England, (at [7]).

On this latter point, in the context of clergy found guilty of sexual abuse (rather than spiritual abuse), Archbishop Welby said [emphasis added]:

“Where there is something done wrong, it will have consequences, and those consequences are not punishment, they are just a natural outworking. We know with abusive behaviour that it tends to repeat. If someone has been an abuser and they are — they confess or they  own up or they are found out, they can never be trusted again. That’s the consequence. It doesn’t mean that they can’t have confessed and genuinely repented, but you will never take a chance with them again, and that’s where the muddle has come, and that is just foolish”, [Day 13, 107/11 to 20].

This contrast with the approach taken by the Tribunal; clearly further thought on spiritual abuse and the treatment of offenders will be necessary before the Revd Timothy Davis is permitted to re-enter licensed ministry under the conditions imposed by paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Tribunal, above.


[I] The Tribunal was comprised of: The Rev. and Worshipful HH Judge Mark Bishop, (Chair); The Rev. Canon Edward Bowes-Smith; The Rev. Canon Ann Philp; Prebendary Sue Lloyd; and Dr Stephen Longden. 

[ii] During his evidence session at the IICSA, Archbishop Welby indicated the potential use of Crockford’s as a centrally-held register of clergy status, [Day 13, 217/15 to 18]. However, it is important that this information is coordinated with that on other CofE sites, such as A Church Near You.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Clerical abuse of spiritual power and authority: Penalty" in Law & Religion UK, 26 March 2018,

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