Comments: Chichester safeguarding: no response from Lambeth Palace

The whole sorry story is quite extraordinary. Benn was to have retired on 31st August, the leaving events have been held and yet his name is still on the diocesan website. How he can remain in post is beyond most people here

Also extraordinary is the statement that 'the Church is not like other organisations in terms of employment arrangements' If the Church isn't careful, it is going to find its exemptions removed. In any other organisation Bp Benn would have been suspended whether or not the allegations are subsequently proven. That's how the world works. To say that the church is not like any other organisation is just pathetic. The ineffectiveness of the Church and the refusal of Benn to retire show the church in an extremely bad light and just compounds the damage already done.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 10:12am BST

Wonderful circularity from the CofE: the church press offices in London and Chichester say it's for Lambeth Palace to comment and Lambeth Palace then say no comment. You might just as well be speaking to the building not the press officer. The correspondence with East Sussex appeared to come from Chris Smith. Is there any proof that the Archbishop was ever shown them. So many things seem to hit the dead hand of Smith.

Posted by Stephen Bates at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 10:40am BST

Wot, no anonymous comment from the Lambeth Palace Press Office? Now that's a change.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 11:45am BST

The diocesan spokesman referred to the interim report on the issue of neutral suspension.

The report says on page 20: 'any cleric (of whatever seniority) who is the subject of a credible allegation relating to a safeguarding issue should immediately be suspended until the investigations and proceedings have run their course.'

The corresponding national church recommendation appears on page 45: 'Urgent consideration should be made to amending the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 to permit the compulsory suspension of any cleric immediately a complaint of abuse which is not obviously malicious is received'

A credible allegation relating to a safeguarding issue is not the same as a complaint of abuse. The former extends to include a bishop's alleged failures in respect of crucial safeguarding measures.

Posted by David Shepherd at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 1:27pm BST

If the CoE isn't careful, it's going to find itself in the same position as the Roman Catholic church in regard to public opinion about its handling of such situations.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 1:37pm BST

So much energy and attention given to female bishops and gay folk, and so little to safeguarding children...

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 4:11pm BST

Dear David,

You make a good point about the wording in any amendment to the CDM 2003 needing to be 'credible allegation relating to a safeguarding issue', rather than the narrower 'complaint of abuse which is not obviously malicious'. But I think the really crucial phrase is "urgent consideration".

I recall that one of the founding purposes of the Church Assembly - and therefore of its successor, General Synod - was to be able to legislate more quickly than Parliament [Archbishop Davidson, House of Lords, 3rd June 1919].

Well, Parliament can take a Public General Act from first reading to Royal assent in seventeen days. I think now would be a fantastic time for General Synod to live up to its founding purpose, and demonstrate that it really can legislate at least as quickly as that.

Posted by Feria at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 6:15pm BST

Dear Feria,

Unfortunately (and as you'll probably reflect), the relative alacrity of an Act of Synod is only permissible 'in cases where provision by or under a Measure or Canon is not required'. So, I'm not sure what General Synod could accomplish with the best of intentions.

The provisions in the Synodical Government Measure were well intended, but an amendment to the CDM 2003 would need to go from General Synod to Legislative Committee to Ecclesiastical Committee.

How long would it take for the drafted report and amended Measure to be presented before each House of Parliament for resolutions to be passed and Royal Assent? Tragically, much longer than 17 days.

Posted by David Shepherd at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 8:19pm BST

This organisation that is not like other organisations in terms of employment legislation wasted no time in suspending another Bishop for merely commenting negatively on the recent Royal Wedding. Suffer the little children indeed...

Posted by Fr Paul at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 10:43pm BST

Even without fast-tracking the suspension process, there should have been time by now for this to have been arranged. Despite the Archbishop's efforts to sort things out in Chichester, the appearance is being given that the C of E is not taking this seriously enough, which is highly damaging.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Friday, 14 September 2012 at 11:58pm BST

Dear David,

You're right that an Act of Synod would not be enough. Nor, for that matter, would a Canon. Only a Measure (or an Act of Parliament) would do it.

To get a Measure through on the sort of timescale I mentioned would need Synod to suspend some of its Standing Orders - certainly 48(b), and possibly some or all of 50-59. Suspension of Standing Orders requires a three-quarters majority, so a lot would rest on whether three-quarters of Synod could be persuaded of both the principle and the urgency of the reform. It might help to offer some sort of quid pro quo in terms of additional checks and balances in the existing diocesan courts system.

Once over that hurdle, the wording of the motion for final approval would need to make it clear that the "steps prescribed to be taken" by the Legislative Committee were simply to pass the Measure to Parliament as quickly as practicable. Somehow, I can't see anyone at Westminster wanting to hold things up.

Posted by Feria at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 10:28am BST

This one is more complex than it first appears. We can suspend clergy where criminal charges are in train. I think we should be able to suspend in circumstances such as the Chichester report suggests. But Synod was very protective of clergy rights when the CDM was going through the legislative process, so it would require amendments to the existing Measure. Similarly, we put proposals into the Churchwardens Measure that Bishops should in certain circumstances be able to suspend Churchwardens, and Parliament refused to find the Measure expedient. It's the culture which needs changing. And we aren't helped by the so-called "Protection of Freedoms" Act, which will limit the circumstances in which we can CRB check people who may have contact with children.

Until we have a shared culture throughout the Church and the country that the protection of children and vulnerable adults from potential abusers is a priority which may entail the cutailment of the freedoms and rights of individuals, we won't crack this.

Posted by Pete Broadbent at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 12:01pm BST

Could not suspension be arranged under the Clergy Discipline Rules 2005, sections 60, 62, 81, 82 and 85?

Posted by Savi Hensman at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 3:33pm BST


Thanks for your explanation. I sympathise when the balance of justice appears tilted towards the level of public reaction.

To summarise, the third most senior bishop in the CofE can say in respect of a suffragan bishop (you?): 'I have now had an opportunity to discuss with Bishop Peter how his comments came to be made and I have noted his unreserved apology. Nevertheless, I have asked him to withdraw from public ministry until further notice. I have also been in touch with St James’s Palace to express my own dismay on behalf of the Church.'

In contrast, on the heels of the joint apology issued in June 2011, neither the diocesan bishop of Chichester, nor Lambeth Palace can say of the suffragan bishop of Lewes: 'I have now had an opportunity to discuss with Bishop Wallace how self-confessed 'weaknesses in implementation of our procedures...may have compounded the problem for victims' and I have noted his unreserved apology. Nevertheless, I have asked him to withdraw from public ministry until further notice. I have also been in touch with the sexual abuse victims to express my own dismay on behalf of the Church.'

Our faithless and perverse generation, how long shall God endure us?

Posted by David Shepherd at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 4:34pm BST

Dear Savi,

I think we're working on the assumption that the Registrar's report has not yet been sent to the Archbishop. Therefore, the complaint does not yet "fall to be considered under section 12(1) of the Measure", and section 60 of the Clergy Discipline Rules 2005 cannot be invoked. Of course, one way to resolve the immediate crisis would be for the Registrar to hurry up.

Posted by Feria at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 4:38pm BST


Those rules only apply after the institution of proceedings. For all we know, the registrar, Canon John Rees may have proposed to extend the time required to complete the written report of the preliminary inquiry beyond 28 days (rule 13), or the Archbishop may have extended the 28 days normally provided to consider the complaint (rule 18).

In both cases, it is mandatory for the respondent and the complainant to be notified of the extension, stating their reasons. I presume that 'the importance to my career of waiting for my successor to take office' would not count among them.

Posted by David Shepherd at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 5:10pm BST

Something that just occurred to me: does the delay perhaps indicate that the Provincial Registrar has an excessive caseload? Could things be improved by the Church taking on extra staff ("Assistant Registrars"? "Suffragan Registrars"?)

Posted by Feria at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 6:07pm BST

@David I wasn't, of course, actually suspended. I just agreed to keep my head down till the gutter press had lost interest. But of course the pathetic journalists reported it as a suspension.

@Savi - David has answered this. Proceedings have to have reached a certain stage.

The point I was making has nothing to do with the various bishops in the Diocese of Chichester. It has everything to do with the recommendation that the Church should be able to suspend those against whom an allegation of abuse is made. Which we can't at present. There is a difficulty in relation to those who are accused falsely. We recently had a terrible case here in NW London where a teacher was suspended for months. No explanation was given, though rumours leaked out. When it came to trial, he was found not guilty. But his reputation was ruined. That's the other side of the coin. I think I would err on the side of suspension when allegations are made, but there is a salutary warning here.

Posted by Pete Broadbent at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 8:41pm BST

According to BBC reports, in November 2011 the Diocese of Chichester's safeguarding advisory group complained to Lambeth Palace about Bishop Wallace Benn; and in May 2012 the most senior figures in child protection in that area wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing grave concern about the church's failure to act. I would have thought that, by now, there would haver been enough time to do so, even for an organisation working at a glacial pace, without prejudging the outcome of the disciplinary process(es) taking place.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 8:47pm BST

I should maybe add that speed and thoroughness can also help in clearing the names of those unjustly accused of either committing abuse or neglecting to take reasonable steps to protect children and adults from being abused in settings where one has supervisory responsibility. Suspension should not be seen as evidence of guilt but rather a precautionary measure where there is an appreciable risk.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Sunday, 16 September 2012 at 12:59pm BST

So, we know it needs to happen. The wording needs to be properly nuanced to protect those who are victims of malicious allegations, but we need to galvanise the political will of General Synod to support temporary suspension in the interest of best practice safeguarding.

Bishop Pete,
Private member's motion for November?

Posted by David Shepherd at Sunday, 16 September 2012 at 1:52pm BST

Given the urgency, it would be nice to think that the Presidents might take the initiative on this, and summon a special group of sessions well before November.

Posted by Feria at Sunday, 16 September 2012 at 5:22pm BST

Pete Broadbent has a point - suspension may be a neutral act so far as the formal process is concerned - it does not prejudge the issue. But this does not mean that suspension is an act without consequence in the real world. In the wrong case suspension can give a malicious allegation the kind of traction it would not otherwise have. Naive "neutrality" is simply sophistry.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Sunday, 16 September 2012 at 9:42pm BST

I still find it astonishing that someone can so obviously damage the reputation of the church, whether otherwise guilty or not, and not offer or be persuaded to stand aside until the end of the investitations.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 17 September 2012 at 8:55am BST

Dear Mark,

As far as protecting the reputations of the falsely accused is concerned, it might help that the Church would have two different kinds of suspension: the ancient, post-trial kind which does imply guilt; and the new, pre-trial kind which doesn't imply guilt. (Presumably, also, one would be accompanied by sequestration and the other would be on a full stipend.) We could even give them different names.

Posted by Feria at Monday, 17 September 2012 at 12:15pm BST

Feria - thanks for the suggestion, it has a chance but ...

... the enduring social and relational consequences of suspension are not governed by what the rules say, nor by what things are called, but by the cultural norms for reading meaning into the act.

A formal process can aspire to neutrality - but the cultural/social processes involved are not readily amenable to administrative or rule-based amendment. "No smoke without fire" runs deep.

This is particularly true of clergy, amongst others, since their activity is so public, and it is obvious they are no longer doing it - and because their home is required to be local (and children will be at school etc) - so it will be obvious they are still present in the community.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Tuesday, 18 September 2012 at 8:12am BST

The link to the Eastbourne Herald doesn't seem to work and I can't find the report on their website. Has it been taken down?

ED: Have checked with newspaper and they say it is a temporary technical glitch and the page should return soon.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 18 September 2012 at 10:19am BST

While suspension should not be undertaken lightly, it seems strange that, even if s senior figure responsible for safeguarding the public - e.g. a director of children's services, head of safeguarding for an area, director of adults' services, chief constable, chief fire officer etc - advises that suspending a member of clergy is necessary for public protection, there is not even the option of doing so. In most organisations with which I am familiar, top managers have discretion to suspend staff if they are being investigated by the organisation for gross misconduct or by the police for criminal activity.

I suspect that, if the church authorities had credible information that a young person in an area represented a serious threat to the safety of senior clergy, they would urge preventive action, even if this resulted in besmirching the reputation of a blameless individual. Likewise if it was feared that the alleged incompetence of a building supervisor managing repairs on a cathedral was about to bring the building down about the ears of the chapter, it seems likely that the company responsible for the work would be asked to remove him at least temporarily.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Tuesday, 18 September 2012 at 11:07am BST

The other side of the coin is the need for better support for clergy and fair and reasonably fast procedures for investigating complaints by or against them.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Tuesday, 18 September 2012 at 11:30am BST

While none of us want clergy to endure social and relational consequences governed by our cultural norms, what's the alternative response to a serious complaint of abuse?

Specifically, in the case of alleged abuse (rather than negligent oversight), there are good reasons for demanding an immediate leave of absence. These include reducing the possibility of intimidation, preventing recurrence and thwarting attempts to hamper the investigation by concealing evidence.

While any adverse disciplinary measure may attract an assumption of guilt, the only alternative I could consider viable is to establish a firm time limit (almost a statute of limitations) for the preliminary investigation and decision to institute proceedings, rather than extending the process almost interminably.

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 18 September 2012 at 11:50am BST

I can't help noticing that, while we on this thread (and the Arches Court, and the Presidents of General Synod) have been rather quiet on the matter, the national press has been carrying prominent discussion of the safeguarding procedures of a CofE school in the Diocese of Chichester.

Posted by Feria at Saturday, 29 September 2012 at 12:12pm BST
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