Law and religion round-up – 20th August

Seal of confession

“The Society” (previously known as The Society of Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda) has published its response to the Government’s consultation on mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. It asks that an exception be made to the requirement for mandatory reporting in respect of ”the Seal of the sacrament of Confession, as practised in the Roman Catholic Church and parts of the Church of England”. It bases its argument on the experiences of survivors of abuse rather than of perpetrators:

“The loss of the Seal would take away from survivors a safe space for disclosure and would be doing so against the incredibly remote contingency, and unproven concern, that perpetrators will abuse the Seal. This will not make us a safer church. Rather it will take away from many victims and survivors a place in which a journey of healing can begin.”

The Home Office consultation Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse closed on 14 August, and the announcement by The Society prompted debate in social media on the merits or otherwise of making an exception for confession. Links to our posts on safeguarding are listed in the Index, which includes the session of the IICSA at which the Revd Canon Dr Rupert Bursell KC gave evidence, here and here. This also gives links to the relevant sections in the Terrorism Act 2000 and the legal advice currently given by the Church of England.

In March 2018, Dr Bursell explained to the IICSA that the Legal Advisory Commission was asked to advise the House of Bishops about the Seal and it could not actually come to a common mind – hence his communication to that Commission. On 3 July 2023, the Ecclesiastical Law Society published the Report of its Working Party on the Seal of Confession, on which we reported here. The Working Group was divided on the necessity for a voluntary exception to the seal of confession.

Employment status of clergy again

In Reverend D Green v Lichfield Diocesan Board of Finance [2023] UKET 2409635/2022, the issue before the Employment Tribunal at a preliminary hearing was primarily whether Mr Green, a deacon in the Church of England and, at relevant times an assistant curate in a parish in the Diocese of Lichfield, had the status to enable him to bring complaints of detrimental treatment because of making protected disclosures (whistleblowing) and disability discrimination based on a perception that he was disabled by reason of autism.

The Tribunal held that Mr Green was a “worker” for the purposes of bringing a complaint of protected disclosure detriment. He was not an “employee” for the purposes of bringing a complaint of disability discrimination under section 39 of the Equality Act 2010, but he could pursue his complaints under section 49 as the holder of a personal office.

The Tribunal had no jurisdiction to consider a complaint against the respondent under section 53 Equality Act because it was the Bishop of Lichfield who was required to sign off the second stage of Mr Green’s Initial Ministerial Education (IME2). That part of the claim was dismissed.

Mr Green posted on X (Twitter as was) that a further preliminary hearing was listed for November and a final hearing for April 2024. We hope to publish a full note later in the week.

“Due regard” and statutory guidance

On 18 August we posted the first part of an analysis of “due regard” and “statutory guidance” issued under the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007 (“the 2007 Measure”). This addresses the guidance issued for “net zero” and, more recently, for “contested heritage“. At the present time, only four judgments have been handed down following the revision of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules in relation to net zero issues, and two most recent – Re St Mark Haydock [2023] ECC Liv 2 and Re All Saints Scotby [2023] ECC Car 2 provide examples of how DACs and petitioners operate within the new provisions.

Briefly, in the former the Chancellor granted a faculty being satisfied that the PCC had considered all alternative options and that the chosen system, “whilst not perfect in terms of carbon emission, was nevertheless a significant stride forward compared to the current system. In the latter, the system proposed was the only viable option that the church could afford. The faculty was to be subject to a condition that the church either switched to a green gas tariff or entered into a separate arrangement with a carbon offsetting scheme to offset the carbon emissions from all non-renewable gas used.

A fuller analysis of these two cases will be posted in the next few days, as will the second part of the “Due regard” and statutory guidance post which will address guidance on Clergy Discipline and Safeguarding, the general issues of the authority of guidance, and its practical application.

Quick links

And finally…I

Concerns were expressed at the timing of the Lionesses’ match in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday vis-à-vis church services. Kick-off at Stadium Australia will be at 11 am BST. Initially, the Sunday Times carried the headline “Skip Worship and Pray for the Lionesses” but following much fulmination amongst #anglicantwitter and elsewhere, the headline was revised to “You can change Sunday worship plans to cheer on Lionesses says Church“.

One commentator observed, “why did many apparently intelligent people get into a tizzy on the basis of the headline rather than what the Bishop actually said?” A mismatch between headline and copy is often attributed to an over-enthusiastic subeditor, and the original headline was a gift for some of the Twitterati.

And finally…II

For those planning for 2024 and beyond, the more observant will have noticed the clash on 14 February which marks both St Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday…

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