Events in 1995 and 2010 lead to lifetime CDM prohibition

On 30 July 2019, the Clergy Discipline Tribunal of the Diocese of Portsmouth (“the Tribunal”) handed down a lifetime prohibition on the exercise of any function of the orders of the Reverend Simon Sayers, Rector of Warblington and Emsworth, Hampshire. The complaint was raised by the Ven Dr Joanne Grenfell on 23 March 2017 in relation to unbecoming or inappropriate conduct to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders within section (8)(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.

The Clergy Discipline Tribunal of the Diocese of Portsmouth issued three documents: the Decision (“the Decision”); the formal notification of the Penalty; and the Non-Disclosure Order relating to the non-disclosure of the name or identifying details of “Mrs X”. However, it is necessary first to review earlier events in the Diocese of London [1], since these provided the catalyst for the Tribunal hearing, and were taken in consideration when determining the penalty.

Background

On 21 November 2016, the Diocese of Portsmouth issued the following statement:

“In April 2015, the Church of England was asked to respond to a complaint about sexual misconduct by the Rev Simon Sayers while he was a vicar in the Diocese of London in the 1990s. Although the police had not pressed criminal charges, the Church of England the Church of England takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and therefore carried out its own process in accordance with the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.

[…]

The Rev Simon Sayers has admitted two sexual incidents with a 16-year-old schoolgirl, and his part in initiating that sexual contact. The Bishop of London – in whose diocese the incidents happened – has found that the Rev Simon Sayers abused his position of trust by engaging in sexual acts with the girl. He engaged in conduct unbecoming a clergy person and inappropriate for a married man.

The Rev Simon Sayers has accepted a penalty from the Bishop of London to be prohibited from ministry for a period of five years. During this time he will be unable to work as a member of clergy in the Church of England and has consequently resigned as Rector of Warblington with Emsworth….”

Decision of the Tribunal

The President of Tribunals was satisfied that there was a case for the Respondent to answer formulated in the following terms:

“That the conduct of the Respondent … was unbecoming or inappropriate conduct to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders within section (8)(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that, whilst married to his wife Andy and holding office as Rector of Warblington and Emsworth, he:

(i) had an intimate sexual relationship in autumn 2010 with Mrs X, a married woman to whom he was giving pastoral support;

(ii) sent Mrs X many sexually explicit texts; and

(iii) failed accordingly to observe and maintain appropriate professional boundaries”.

The Decision document notes that the resignation of the Respondent as Rector of Warblington and Emsworth in November 2016 “gave rise to upset within the parish which was reported in the local and national press” [5], and:

“[6]. In the wake of these media reports further concerns were brought to the attention of the Complainant alleging that an inappropriate relationship had taken place in 2010 between the Respondent and one of his married parishioners (Mrs X) …

 [8]. During the investigation of these allegations and the conduct of these proceedings, the Respondent has made certain admissions which clearly establish that he had an intimate sexual relationship in autumn 2010 with Mrs X: …”

Details of this relationship are explored in paragraphs [8] to [11], the salient points of which include:

  • admissions by both the Respondent and Mrs X of their intimate sexual relationship which included “the exchange of  vows based on the marriage service and a ring” [9];
  • “[a]lthough there was no clear evidence whether the relationship included the actual commission of adultery, it is clear that the relationship was both physical and sexual in nature” [9], a distinction which needed no finessing when applying the relevant CDM Guidance, infra;
  • the Respondent accepted the allegation of sending sexually implicit texts [10] and their content, 400 of which took the form of handwritten transcripts of text messages sent over a three month period [11].

The Tribunal was “entirely satisfied that the complaint, as formulated, has been made out, part (iii) of the complaint following directly from the findings in relation to parts (i) and (ii). It is clear that the Respondent has failed to observe and maintain appropriate professional boundaries and that his conduct was unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders” [12].

In determining the appropriate penalty, the Tribunal took account of: the Respondent’s admissions; the personal pressure he was under at the relevant time; and the apparent termination of the relationship “long before it was discovered” [14].

However, there were a number of aggravating factors: this was not the first occasion on which sexual misconduct had taken place with someone in his pastoral care; “[h]is express rejection in his letter to the President of Tribunals that there was any abuse of power in the situation indicates a failure to appreciate the position of trust in which priests are placed…” [15]. Furthermore, the Tribunal was satisfied that “the exchange of vows based on the marriage service and the giving of a ring in the context of this relationship makes the misconduct more serious” [16]. The Respondent’s 2016 claim that the 1995 misconduct was a “one-off” incident and his reliance upon his own “exemplary conduct” since that time “show that, at the very best, a serious failure to understand the seriousness of what occurred between himself and Mrs X in 2010” [17].

The Respondent’s conduct was assessed in the light of the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy (2003 Edition) which were current at that time of the misconduct, with particular reference to sections 1.1, 2.9, 2.11, 3.10 10.1 and 11.1. When determining the appropriate penalty for the misconduct, the Tribunal referred to section 5 in which sexual misconduct is explicitly considered. This states, inter alia

“… Removal from office and prohibition, either for life or for a limited time, are usually appropriate in cases of adultery. It does not, however, follow that sexual conduct falling sort of adultery should automatically attract a lesser penalty.”

In addition, the Guidelines state that if the misconduct is not the first time disciplinary proceedings have been taken against a respondent, “a more severe penalty can be considered” [20]. The harm caused is also a relevant factor, and in this case, harm was caused to: the families of the Respondent and Mrs X; the Church’s ministry in the parish of Warblington and Emsworth; and reputational harm to the wider Church [21].

Taking these factors into consideration, the Tribunal concluded that the only realistic penalty in this case was one of prohibition for life [22]. Having resigned from his post in 2016, the Respondent confirmed that he was settled in a new career which he intends to pursue until his retirement, although he remains living within the parish [13].

Comment

Although only of academic interest, it might be noted that in view of the long time-line of events, there have been significant changes in the legislation and guidance relating to clergy discipline. Events in 1994 would fall within the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963  rather than the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, and under section 50, bishops had the power to depose clergy from Holy Orders after sentence of deprivation. The Clergy Discipline Measure was modified in 2016 by the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016,  and now (though not in the instant case) a 16-year-old is regarded as a child.


[1]. The Registrar of the Diocese of London maintains a Register of Penalties imposed by the Diocesan and Area Bishops in cases where there has been no Tribunal. This is not accessible on-line, but can be requested by application to the Diocesan Registry.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Events in 1995 and 2010 lead to lifetime CDM prohibition" in Law & Religion UK, 6 August 2019, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2019/08/06/events-in-1995-and-2010-lead-to-lifetime-cdm-prohibition/

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