Thinking Anglicans

Priest found guilty of spiritual abuse

Updated Friday

The Church Times reports: Oxfordshire vicar, Tim Davis, guilty of spiritually abusing a teenage boy.

The full text of the tribunal decision is here.

A VICAR in Oxfordshire has been convicted of spiritually abusing a teenage boy, in what is thought to be the first judgment of its kind. The victim was judged to have been put under “unacceptable pressure” during one-to-one Bible-study sessions in his bedroom over a period of 18 months.

The priest, the Revd Timothy Davis, of Christ Church, Abingdon, was found guilty under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) 2003 of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in holy orders through the abuse of spiritual power and authority” by a five-strong Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Oxford diocese, chaired by His Honour the Revd Mark Bishop. Their judgment is dated 28 December and was published by the diocese on Monday.

It is thought to be the first CDM tribunal that has found a case to answer over allegations of the abuse of spiritual power and authority. A penalty has not yet been set…

There are also reports in the Guardian and Telegraph newspapers and on the BBC website:

The Church Times also has this: Two-thirds of Christians in new survey say they have been spiritually abused.

The research report mentioned is available in summary form here.

VIa Media News has Are You Suffering From Spiritual Abuse?

Update
Law & Religion UK reports this here: Clerical abuse of spiritual power and authority. There are links to some relevant policy documents.

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JeremyEdward PrebbleDavid LammingInterested ObserverJanet Fife Recent comment authors
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Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

I have read the full report by the tribunal.

Anyone who believes that the Church of England has effective child protection policies should read it too. They won’t after they have finished.

Grumpy High Church Woman
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Grumpy High Church Woman

What are the available disciplinary measures in a case like this?

Stephen Parsons
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Stephen Parsons

Might we see in this tragic saga the lingering effects of the Shepherding Movement? Although the originators, the Fort Lauderdale Five in the States, later wanted to back pedal on the ideas that they had come up with in the early 70s, these notions took deep root. Teachings about obedience, discipleship and being in submission to a Shepherd caused havoc in charismatic circles in the 70s and 80s. The Anglican Church was not unaffected. Were the ideas fashionable at Trinity Bristol in 1989 when Timothy Davis trained? From my own observation the attractiveness of this way of thinking as to… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Perhaps, Stephen Parsons, perhaps. It has to be said that if a school teacher behaved this way towards a child, they would be unlikely to work as a teacher again (“List 99”). Schools hardly have an unblemished record on safeguarding, but moving in with a pupil and spending hours in his bedroom “looking at his collection of football posters” would be enough for even the most relaxed headmaster to call time on proceedings. It also has to be said that if someone were to behave in this way towards a married adult, it would be clear grounds for divorce. That… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest

Stephen Parsons ‘Were the ideas fashionable at Trinity Bristol in 1989 when Timothy Davis trained?’ No they weren’t. I also think ‘havoc’ overstates the influence of the shepherding movement in the wider charismatic movement – and certainly within Anglican circles. But I am not denying there were issues then as here.

David Rowett
Guest
David Rowett

FWIW safeguarding training in this diocese (Lincoln) does cover spiritual abuse. Our SG officer expressed concern that there was no statutory category specifically covering this dimension in the law of the land. Wonder why HMG is so reluctant to address it?

Peter Owen
Guest

To answer Grumpy High Church Woman’s question, the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, section 24, lists these available penalties. 24 Types of penalty (1) One or more of the following penalties may be imposed on a respondent upon a finding that he has committed any misconduct, namely— (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… Read more »

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

I joined the Church of England in 1980 after escaping from the Shepherding moment. I was a member of a free church when the pastor was ousted and the deacons brought in shepherding – it certainly caused havoc in that church and a lot of people were hurt. Shepherding had a very negative impact on the Charismatic movement generally, though it may not have done in the C of E. I knew people who were ordered to marry (or not marry) a certain person. Not far from where I lived, businessmen and academics were told to wash their neighbours’ cars… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

So it is wrong if the minister, acting alone, tells a vulnerable male that it is wrong for him to date a specific girl, but it is not wrong if a minister and congregation together exert far greater pressure through the numbers acting together tell a vulnerable male he can’t date *any* men. How does that work?

FrDavidH
Guest
FrDavidH

I am astonished that on a topic about spiritual abuse Janet Fife expresses gratitude to Peter Ball who was responsible for such appalling damage to so many young men. He brought nothing but shame upon the Church of England.

Recovering Charismatic
Guest
Recovering Charismatic

“‘havoc’ overstates the influence of the shepherding movement in the wider charismatic movement” Sorry, but it doesn’t. I was involved with a number of churches during that time, which were affected to greater or lesser degrees by the Shepherding movement. I knew of countless examples of terrible abuses. I had hoped that these kinds of practices were long gone. Sadly I’m wrong. For the sake of all concerned, I trust that the priest will never minister in the C of E again. He clearly needs lots of help, as do the family. But how can this have gone on for… Read more »

FrDavidH
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FrDavidH

Apologies to Janet Fife following my late-night reading of her comment above. The tragic irony of her situation had become lost on me.

Cassandra
Guest
Cassandra

FrDavudH, the earlier statement is surely ironic, bearing in mind Gordon Rideout’s record as well as that of Peter Ball!

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

FrDavidH, clearly the irony was lost on you then…

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“Janet Fife expresses gratitude to Peter Ball”

I suspect she is being sarcastic, as indicated by the final ellipsis.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

I have now read much, but not all, of the tribunal’s report.

I am not at all familiar with the shepherding movement or its practices.

Am I the only one who is skeptical about the tribunal’s conclusion that there was nothing sexual about this case?

Iain Strachan
Guest
Iain Strachan

Answering “Recovering Charismatic” – how can it have.gone on so long without ringing an alarm bell. I’m a member of Christchurch Abingdon (though I have to say I rarely attend as I’m involved with Quakers now). The reason it went on so long is that all the staff were scared of TD’s “outbursts of anger”, mentioned in the tribunal report. The curate only found the courage to blow the whistle when TD was away on sabbatical. I have for a long time thought he is a troubled man. Nonetheless it was a shock for me to read the report and… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
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Bernard Silverman

The tragic irony of Janet’s situation is a tragic irony for all of us. The deeper question is whether organised religion inevitably falls into this kind of trap, or whether it’s possible genuinely to avoid it. Sad to say, but Kate’s post and what lies behind it, suggests the former.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“Am I the only one who is skeptical about the tribunal’s conclusion that there was nothing sexual about this case?” I didn’t submit my original analysis. But since you have pointed to the obvious issue, let us talk about the obvious issue. I think I wrote something along the lines of “I am glad that there are people as untouched by evil and unaffected by cynicism that they believe that a fifty year old man who takes a fifteen year old to his bedroom to look at football posters and play ‘trust games’ has no sexual motive. On balance, however,… Read more »

Grumpy High Church Woman
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Grumpy High Church Woman

Thank you Peter Owen for your characteristic clarity and precision about the range of penalties available under a CDM. This is clearly a very serious and grave case. I hope the penalty will reflect that.

And who amongst our Church Leaders (that is, those who Lead us), decide which penalty is imposed and are there criteria they are supposed to use to come to a ruling so that penalties are applied with some consistency and fairness?

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

I’ve been subject to Ministerial Development Review in two C of E dioceses in the last 10 years. I am not by any means one of the world’s placid people, but there is no way that behaviour like this on my part would have been glossed over or ignored by even the most loyal (to me) of parishioners contributing to the required consumer evaluation forms. I hope the diocese of Oxford is asking itself questions about both pastoral care of clergy and MDR process.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“how to provide better pastoral support for clergy.” He isn’t the victim. Seriously, he isn’t the victim. Fifty year old men do not get to spend hours in the bedroom of unrelated fifteen year olds “looking at their poster collection” and then it’s because they didn’t get enough pastoral support. Ever. The very thought is a complete inversion of where our concerns should lie. “Oh, it’s because of the poor minister who is under stress and didn’t understand the implications of his entirely honest and good-faith actions which were so sadly misinterpreted” is completely unacceptable. It’s the sort of nonsense… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

It is very difficult to reconcile paragraph 17 with the first sentence of paragraph 60. But perhaps the latter is stated for the benefit of the 15-year-old.

Andrew Martin
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Andrew Martin

I’m disheartened by some of the comments here trying to undermine or cast doubt on the Tribunal’s process and findings. It appears to have done a careful and thorough job, having heard the evidence and have reached clear conclusions. For the rest of us, who didn’t hear all the evidence, to bring our own prejudices to the story is really unhelpful. If anyone has evidence that the Tribunal erred, they should present it. Innuendo helps no one. The man is clearly troubled, and did wrong, and brought harm on another. Mental health issues do not excuse his actions, but may… Read more »

TP
Guest
TP

In answer to Andrew, there is presumably a process whereby someone can “plead guilty” to a CDM and thereby save a great deal of time and expense. That does not seem to have happened in this case, because as I understand it, it took the Tribunal to reach the conclusion that spiritual abuse had occurred. I think there are a lot more questions to be answered but most of them would have been out of the Tribunal’s scope. However, it is to be hoped that eventually it will be worked out why any of this behaviour was countenanced; what in… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“The man is clearly troubled, and did wrong, and brought harm on another.” Hang on. You’re quick to say that we should consider only the evidence of the tribunal and avoid innuendo, and refer to the report written by people who heard all the witnesses. OK, let’s do that: what evidence do you have that he is “clearly troubled”? Paragraph 27, “We note that TD states at para 6 of his statement ( p 248) that he was diagnosed with PTSD in September 2016 but that diagnosis, and who made it, and in what terms has not been shared with… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

It is easy to generalise, trivialise etc. I think that we need to pay more attention to the person who did call out this behaviour – very often whistleblowers have poor outcome in institutions. Those of us who have not been in that position probably haven’t a clue what it takes for a junior member of a team to call out the most senior person in their immediate circle – the person who has most influence on their future, whose friends will back them. I am in the Oxford Diocese (no secret). Will the person (named in the documents) who… Read more »

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Grumpy High Church Woman asks (10 January),”who amongst our Church Leaders (that is, those who Lead us), decide which penalty is imposed and are there criteria they are supposed to use to come to a ruling so that penalties are applied with some consistency and fairness?” The answer to the first question is, the members of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal who conducted the hearing, namely the Revd Mark Bishop (the chairman, who is also a diocesan chancellor and a serving circuit judge), the Revd Edward Bowes-Smith, the Revd Canon Ann Philp, Prebendary Sue Lloyd, and Dr Stephen Longden. The last… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

It’s nice to see the CDM process being followed properly. I’ve heard of some dioceses where they don’t bother with those pesky CDM hearings or a right of appeal and just make up penalties on the hoof with no limit of time.

Edward Prebble
Guest
Edward Prebble

Three (almost) unrelated points: 1. I think I have to disagree with Jeremy and Interested in their assumption that there was a sexual component to what happened here. I certainly acknowledge that the primary reason for so many guidelines about not meeting in private, avoiding bedrooms, etc, is to avoid the opportunity OR THE APPEARANCE of sexual misbehaviour, and I concede that the appearance of such is in play here. I expect that this is why the tribunal felt the need to state that no evidence of sexual improprieties was given by anyone they spoke to. I presume they raised… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“I presume they raised this possibility in their various interviews”

I would hope they didn’t, as it would constitute the CofE investigating, and contaminating the evidence and witnesses in, a crime. I hardly cry for their downfall, but it was this that essentially finished the SWP as a political force. If there was a suggestion of a crime, it was for the police to investigate.

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/05/comrades-war-decline-and-fall-socialist-workers-party

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

Edward Prebble, well said. Your point 1) The physical contact certainly gave the appearance sexual abuse might have taken place, but I too was concerned by the assumption that it must have, despite the tribunal’s finding that it didn’t. Not all craving for touch is sexual, the need for touch is inbuilt. I used to have a queue of widows waiting to be hugged after church services. 3) as a fellow pedant, I’d point out that the title ‘Rev’ (or Revd etc) shouldn’t be used without the definite article. ‘Mr. Patel’ would be correct, as would ‘the Rev.’ But usages… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“despite the tribunal’s finding that it didn’t” Tribunals can’t prove negatives. They didn’t find that it had happened. That’s not the same as finding that it didn’t. This isn’t a criminal court operating to “beyond a reasonable doubt”, it’s explicitly a balance of probabilities civil procedure. No evidence was adduced as to sexual motive, that’s all. I think their repeated assertion that something they didn’t take evidence on didn’t happen has to be read in context, and that content is subtle enough that it is easy to over-interpret the statement. TD was found to be an unreliable witness whose accounts… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“Not all craving for touch is sexual, the need for touch is inbuilt. I used to have a queue of widows waiting to be hugged after church services.”

Hint: if you’re fifty years old and craving the touch of a fifteen year old boy to whom you are not related, and regard his bedroom as the place to do that, then you’re not fit to be employed around children.

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

According to the tribunal’s report, ‘ 60. In reaching this conclusion we emphasise again that there is no suggestion of any sexual touching by TD, nor do we find that any sexual touching took place. We acknowledge the powerful and successful ministry that TD has had in leading Christ Church Abingdon and earlier ministerial posts in which he has served . However, we are satisfied that he is guilty of the misconduct alleged.’ I didn’t read in the report any statement that they had not made enquiries as to a sexual motive; it would be odd if they had not… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Touch not necessariiy sexual? A biological argument could be adduced and defended that every interaction is sexual to some degree.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“I didn’t read in the report any statement that they had not made enquiries as to a sexual motive” If they had taken unto themselves the task of investigating a criminal offence, that would be entirely inappropriate. Had they interviewed someone as a potential suspect in a criminal case, outside the scope of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and without legal representation, then that would be completely outrageous. They aren’t the police, they aren’t the CPS, and they aren’t operating a criminal court. If a witness had raised the possibility of criminal acts, the only legitimate thing to do… Read more »

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

‘Touch not necessariiy sexual? A biological argument could be adduced and defended that every interaction is sexual to some degree.’ New born babies who are not touched will die, even if well cared for in other ways. Children who are not loved do not thrive. Adults who are not touched at all by other human beings don’t thrive either. I can see why some of you are insisting there must have been a sexual element to this, and if the tribunal had not been so clear about avoiding this attribution of motive I probably would have done too. As it… Read more »

Edward Prebble
Guest
Edward Prebble

I think it would be best if we left it here. I would, Janet, except that I feel bound to record my agreement with what you are saying. I certainly take Interested’s point that for the Tribunal to have raised the question of sexual misbehaviour would have been inappropriate, so I no longer “… presume they raised this possibility in their various interviews”. I happily stand corrected there. What is the correct inference to draw from their statement “we emphasise again that there is no suggestion of any sexual touching by TD, nor do we find that any sexual touching… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

1. It was I who first suggested this possibility. But after reflection I do not think that is what is going on. 2. Assumes what is attempted to be proved. 3. I think a mix of this and IO’s analysis will explain things best. The charge here was explicit in that there was nothing sexual. So the issue goes back that far in the process. Which makes me wonder whether the Church is accepting this asexual understanding of this case in order to make the spiritual-abuse point. If that were so, then other questions arise.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“this finding is important precisely because it states spiritual abuse IN AND OF ITSELF to be reprehensible” Absolutely. Take out the sexual motive and TD’s behaviour is still absolutely outrageous. In general terms that a disciplinary process has come to a strong conclusion without needing to address sexual motives is A Good Thing. I completely agree that it should not be necessary to show a sexual motive in order to discipline stuff of this unpleasantness. However, just because someone is guilty of A without discussing B does not make them innocent of B. It just means that A was shown… Read more »

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Janet Fife (Sunday 14 January at 12.07 pm) quite rightly asks, in effect, that a line be drawn under the discussion and dissection of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal judgment in this case. Suffice to say that over a 3-day hearing in mid-December the Tribunal members heard evidence from the complainant (referred to as ‘W1’), his mother (‘W2’) and the respondent (‘TD’). Having heard that evidence, the Tribunal were entitled to record (para 43) that “we want to make it clear that there has been no suggestion at any time that there was any sexual touching and we are satisfied that… Read more »

Edward Prebble
Guest
Edward Prebble

OK, Interested.
Now I agree with you.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

David Lamming, on the substance, I would again refer readers to para 17 of the tribunal’s decision. Readers can determine for themselves whether the facts there support the tribunal’s conclusion–or not. In urging us all to a respectful and trusting quiet, however, I am not sure what you are trying to accomplish other than indulge a misplaced authoritarianism. Given the long record of mistakes by religious authorities in abuse cases, commenters here and elsewhere will not be chivvied into any “they must have got it right” silence by you or anyone else. Nor should we be. Contrary to your suggestion,… Read more »