Clergy Discipline – Rebuke administered in “an unusual case”

On 14 May 2019, the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Carlisle heard a complaint against the Revd Canon Cameron Butland by the Archdeacon of Westmoreland and Furness, alleging that the Respondent had been neglectful or inefficient in the performance of his duties. Since the misconduct was admitted, the only issue before the Tribunal was that of penalty. The Tribunal determined that the appropriate penalty was one of rebuke.

The Revd Canon Cameron Butland – June 2019, Decision & Penalty

The President of Tribunals referred the following matter to the Tribunal [2.1].

“The conduct of the Respondent…was neglectful in the performance of his office as Rector of St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere, contrary to section 8(1)(c) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, I that having been notified by a solicitor that St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere, was a residuary beneficiary of the estate of the late Mrs Alene Hackett, and having been requested by the solicitor to disclose the registered charity number for the church:

(i) on 6th September 2011 when replying to the solicitor he failed to disclose the registered charity number of St Oswald’s PCC, but instead provided the name and registered charity number of the Grasmere Church of England School Trust of which he was a trustee;

(ii) on subsequently receiving a letter from the solicitor dated 9th May 2012 referring to the bequest to St Oswald’s Church and enclosing a cheque for £338,823.80 made payable to “The Grasmere Church of England School”, he neglectfully accepted the cheque so that the bequest monies were paid to the Grasmere Church of England School Trust (“the School Trust”) instead of the PCC;

(iii) through such neglect or inefficiency, St Oswald’s PCC was permanently deprived of a sum totalling bout £70,000, which was spent by the Grasmere Church of England School Trust for the benefit of the school before the Respondent’s error was discovered and rectified.

The reference was made on 30 June 2018, shortly after the complaint was made. An extension of time was sought for bringing the complaint, which the Respondent did not oppose: “it did, however, mean that the tribunal was dealing with misconduct which had occurred many years previously” [2.2]. By the time of the Tribunal, the Respondent had taken up his current position as Chaplain to the Bishop of Carlisle [3.1].

Facts

The facts of the case are detailed in paragraphs [3.1] to [3.13]; of relevance are the following extracts:

  • There was no suggestion of any misuse or misappropriation of the funds by the School Trust 3.9]
  • The payment of the monies to the Trust came to light during an independent audit of its accounts by Saint & Co, a firm of accountants [3.10]
  • Once it had been found that the payment should have been made to St Oswald’s Church, the Diocese and the Charity Commissioners were informed, and both undertook investigations:

…the Diocese concluded that there had been no loss of charitable funds, because at all times the monies had been held within church funds“.

The Charity Commission decided to take no action, having reached the conclusion that it had no specific concerns that funds had been misapplied, and although the trustees had acted in error they had done so in good faith” [3.11].

  • …St Oswald’s PCC held an Extraordinary Meeting … chaired by an independent Chair and the Respondent was not present for any part of the discussions where there may have been a potential conflict of interests. The situation as it had developed was rectified by the PCC resolving to make a gift to the school of those monies which had already been spent. The balance of the residuary bequest was subsequently transferred back to the PCC [3.12]. (See [1]. below)

Findings

The findings of the case are detailed in paragraphs [4.1] to [4.9]; of relevance are the following extracts:

  • It formed no part of the allegation that the Respondent had acted dishonestly or other than in good faith. The Tribunal did not consider there could be any basis for such a suggestion [4.2]. (see [2]. below)
  • The Respondent’s belief that Alene Hackett wished her gift to be used for the benefits of the children of Grasmere was a genuinely held belief, although the evidential basis for the belief was limited and could not excuse the subsequent errors of the Respondent [4.3].
  • In simple terms, in the two letters that were sent to the Respondent, the solicitors set out that the gift was to St Oswald’s Church. It was the Respondent who determined the money should go elsewhere [4.7].

Penalty

Section 24 of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 provides for six types of penalty, and under section 25, reference [3], a conditional discharge may be imposed where it is found that the Responded has committed a misconduct but it is inexpedient to impose a penalty.

The Tribunal considered each of the options available [5.3] to [5.6] and in the light of its deliberations, concluded that the misconduct of the Respondent was worthy of a penalty, and determined that the appropriate penalty was a Rebuke [5.7].

Postscript

The relevant terms of Alene Hackett’s bequest were “…as to a half share for St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere, Cumbria…to be used for the maintenance, repair or improvement of the Church and churchyard“. In 2017, the West Cumberland Gazette reported that a £270k project had been completed for the replacement of the “hazardous” 90-year-old cement render on St Oswald’s Church. The article states: “This project would not have got off the ground without considerable financial help from the Alene Hackett bequest and The Friends of St Oswald’s”.

Notes and References

[1]. The transfer of monies is also described in paragraph 4.8.

[2]. The second sentence in paragraph 4.2 could be read as either “The Tribunal did not consider [whether] there could be any basis for such a suggestion” since it formed no part of the allegation, or as “The Tribunal did not consider [that] there could be any basis for such a suggestion”. The latter appears to be consistent with paragraph 5.3, which states “The misconduct neither involved any dishonesty or any gain for the Respondent of any kind”.

[3]. Types of Penalty (1)(a) prohibition for life, that is to say prohibition without limit of time from exercising any of the functions of his Orders; (b) limited prohibition, that is to say prohibition for a specific time from exercising any of the functions of his Orders; (c) removal from office, that is to say, removal from any preferment which he then holds; (d) in the case of a minister licensed to serve in a diocese by the bishop thereof, revocation of the licence; (e) injunction, that is to say, an order to do or to refrain from doing a specified act; (f) rebuke.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Clergy Discipline – Rebuke administered in “an unusual case”" in Law & Religion UK, 23 July 2019, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2019/07/23/clergy-discipline-rebuke-administered-in-an-unusual-case/

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