Tuesday, 11 September 2012

East Sussex County Council criticises Chichester Diocese

The BBC has two articles tonight reporting on this:

East Sussex council: Children ‘unsafe in Chichester diocese’

Social care chiefs do not believe children’s safety is assured within services provided by the Diocese of Chichester, letters have revealed.

BBC South East Today obtained copies of the letters from East Sussex County Council to the Archbishop of Canterbury under the Freedom of Information Act.

The correspondence called for the immediate suspension of the Bishop of Lewes, the Right Reverend Wallace Benn.

Neither the Church of England or Bishop Benn have commented…

And Letters to archbishop raise Chichester diocese child safety fears has a video report with considerably more detail about the extensive correspondence with Lambeth Palace staff.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 11 September 2012 at 11:36pm BST | TrackBack
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According to the report, the Council wrote of Benn: 'His position as bishop is plainly untenable until these matters are fully investigated.'

Lambeth Palace replied: 'Any process of suspension involves us jumping through several hoops and we are by no means certain that the evidence for such a step will be sufficient.

'I would add that the Church is not like other organisations in terms of employment arrangements.'

No-one is advocating haste, but we arrest citizens before trying them. We suspend teachers and doctors pending further investigation. It halts any possibility of recurrence and facilitates evidence gathering. If the Bishop's position is not even partially untenable until all the evidence is collected and examined, you cannot immediately reduce the risk to the children of Chichester.

Outside the church, probable cause and the seriousness of an allegation of negligence or misconduct are sufficient to warrant suspension pending further investigation. I'm all for due process, but the church cannot claim that it wants to foster and encourage best practice safeguarding within its community, while holding to outdated procedures that clearly hamper those efforts.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 1:12am BST

Bp Benn is still in post, even though his retirement was due on 31st August and his name is still on the diocesan website.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 7:40am BST

I totally agree with David. Whatever cloth-eared bubble-inhabitant in Lambeth wrote "the Church is not like other organisations in terms of employment arrangements" is going the fastest way to ensure that the church will be treated like other organisations, and that soon: by UK or European courts if not by Parliament. This may be good or bad but it is presumably not what the C of E wants. It should have supported, not opposed, the "ministerial exemption" it was offered in the Equality Bill 2010. by defeating that, it is open to court rulings on what posts must be subject to general anti-discrimination law.

And as to any idea that clergy need not be CRB checked, words fail me.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 9:25am BST

I too am puzzled. A suffragan bishop in London was asked to withdraw from public duties until further notice after making tactless remarks on Facebook about the royal family, though he was later allowed to resume his work. Why can a suffragan bishop in Chichester not be suspended after far more serious allegations?

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 9:48am BST

Savi - The suffragan bishop you refer to agreed to take a leave of absence - in technical, legal terms he was not suspended.

There appear to be no legal grounds to suspend a clergyman other than under the statutory processes contained within the relevant legislation (Clergy Discipline Measure 2003) which do require a particular process to be followed. Without knowing the EXACT particulars of the complaints made against the Bishop, one cannot know whether a pre-determination suspension can be applied.

Of course, Parliament (through the Joint Ecclesiastical Committee) will have deemed the CDM 2003 "expedient" - ie approved this legislation...

Posted by: tommiaquinas on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 10:59am BST

Also, since Wallace Benn had agreed to retire by the end of August, why has an acting suffragan for Lewes not been appointed to help clean up the mess, support survivors of abuse and restore the church's credibility?

In any case, as far as I am aware, clergy can be suspended while disciplinary proceedings are taking place(http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1191059/code%20of%20practice%20issued%20feb%202011.pdf sections 216-230). But maybe I have misunderstood.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 11:04am BST

Beyond disgraceful. What the heck were Lambeth staff thinking to respond like this? Honestly it beggars belief.Time for a total changing of the guard.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 11:51am BST

Tommiaquinas,
are you saying that even if the Diocese had wanted to be firmer, it would have had its hands tied behind its back?
Is there really nothing a Diocese can do in a situation like this?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 12:02pm BST

Erika,

I've looked again at the Code of Practice, helpfully provided by Savi.

Immediate suspension only seems possible if the person has been arrested, having been suspected of committing a criminal offence.

Otherwise you have to await the Registrar's report - which is a stage in the process a few weeks further down the track.

I also note that the section of the CoP referred to be Savi is stated to apply to Priests and Deacons only, not (apparently) to Bishops.

I'm not saying that the Diocese (or Lambeth) could not have acted more firmly. I'm just pointing out that they may well not have had a full spectrum of options legally open to them.

Posted by: tommiaquinas on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 1:14pm BST

Tommiaquinas,
thank you.

It seems that the Clergy Discipline Measure simply does not apply to Bishops. There seems to be an assumption that Bishops do not require discipline.

But if it is a blank canvass or a grey area, could not a case be made for saying that every Bishop is first and foremost a priest and that he therefore comes under the stipulations of the CoP?

Of course, it would have to be decided who hears the complaint, as in the CDM the Bishop is the highest arbiter, but that does not seem to be an insurmountable problem.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 2:24pm BST

Erika,

No, the CDM does apply to Bishops. The complaint is made to the Archbishop of the relevant province.

There IS provision for suspension of Bishops in the Clergy Discipline Rules (rules 85-87 for those playing along at home), on the same basis as for Priests. So unless he was arrested, there was no legal basis for immediate suspension, though there may subsequently have been a basis for suspension once the Registrar's report had been received by +Rowan.

What's now clear in my mind is that all such decisions had to be made at Provincial level. There was not legal scope for +Chichester (or acting +Chichester, depending on timing) to suspend.

Posted by: tommiaquinas on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 3:12pm BST

The CDM certainly applies to bishops, but I am not enough of an expert to know how it applies and when.

Posted by: Susan Cooper on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 3:38pm BST

With regard to 'Proceedings against bishops and archbishops' in the Clergy Discipline Rules 2005 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/2022/pdfs/uksi_20052022_en.pdf, sections 85-88), section 81 states that 'Subject to rules 82 to 90 these rules apply to proceedings against bishops and
archbishops under the Measure as they apply to priests and deacons'. As with priests, two sets of circumstances are covered: 'suspension of a bishop or archbishop during proceedings' (85) and 'suspension of a bishop or archbishop following arrest' (86).

While a Registrar's report is required for the former, given that the diocesan independent Safeguarding Advisory Group had made a complaint against Wallace Benn by November 2011, and almost four months ago the director of East Sussex County Council's children's services and the independent chair of the Local Safeguarding Children's Board wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in very strong terms, I am surprised no recommendation for suspension has yet been made. In any other organisation, such delay would seem extraordinary.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 5:12pm BST

Erika,

The Clergy Discipline Measure does apply to bishops. The Vicar-General's Court has jurisdiction (6.2).

In the case of a bishop, the registrar of tribunals would still conduct the preliminary scrutiny of the complaint (11.2).

After the registrar has completed the preliminary report, the Archbishop has 5 options (12.1):

a) he may take no further action or,
b) he may, if the respondent consents, direct that the matter remain on the record conditionally or,
c) he may direct that an attempt to bring about conciliation or,
d) he may impose a penalty by consent or,
e) he may direct that the complaint is to be formally investigated.

The remit of the Archbishop's Visitation set up by ABC does not extend to a direct investigation of the complaint against the bishop.

Given the time that has elapsed since that complaint was lodged with Lambeth Palace last November, it could be that either the registrar's preliminary scrutiny period (28 days) was extended, or that the Archbishop has now directed that the complaint be investigated formally.

Although the process is not conducted publicly, it's important to note that, by law, both the complainant and the respondent must be informed of the outcome at each stage.

So, Wallace Benn and the Safeguarding Advisory Group would know the current status of the complaint.

Unfortunately, even limited prohibition (24b) requires a formal investigation and adjudication by the Vicar-General's Court. Why has it taken so long? Could it have been expedited in the interest of safeguarding? Only Lambeth Palace knows.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 5:37pm BST

Note that the interim report on the visitation of Chichester does suggest that the criteria for suspension do need to be revisited. In many cases, as apparently in this one, this is only possible with the consent of the person being investigated unless a high threshold is reached.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 6:27pm BST

Thank you everyone.
So the one question that remains for me is why the Bishop would not offer to stand aside until the investigations had been concluded.
It would be the honourable thing to do and one of the few things that could inspire at least some confidence.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 7:04pm BST

As I recall from earlier days, the Bishops tended to presume the power to suspend in suitable cases, but took care never to use the word; 'Revd X has been required to take time away from [his] duties ...'

The priests concerned never quibbled, since a challenge to that authority was not going to be in their interests. And by the time that the situation had gotten that far, they needed the time.

Posted by: Jonathan Jennings on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 10:01pm BST

It is, I believe, highly unusual for a director of children's services and head of safeguarding in any area to write to an organisation advising that removing responsibility from a particular person is necessary to protect children from abuse. This does not appear to have been taken as seriously as it should. Of course, someone who is suspended may later be cleared: it is a precautionary measure not a punishment.

Even if the institutional church were mainly concerned with its own protection, I wonder whether Lambeth Palace has properly considered the C of E's legal position if a child were harmed because of a failure to act on the advice of those with statutory responsibility for overseeing child protection, let alone the impact on public confidence?

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 11:35pm BST

What about the procedure that was used to suspend Thomas Wood as Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry? Has that been abolished? Or does it involve just as much hoop-jumping as the procedure in the Clergy Discipline Rules 2005?

Posted by: Feria on Thursday, 13 September 2012 at 2:27pm BST

To answer one of my own questions: I asked Google's online translation service to translate the Instrument of Suspension for Bishop Wood from Latin to English, and got enough of the gist to find out that Bishop Wood was suspended only _after_ a trial in the Arches Court. That's even more hoop-jumping than the procedure in the Clergy Discipline Rules 2005.

Posted by: Feria on Friday, 14 September 2012 at 5:23pm BST

What is it about Bishop Benn that the Church authorities seem reluctant to deal with his seeming lack of vigilance as a bishop? Not long ago, he was reported to have described the advocates of Women as Bishops in the Church of England as 'Nazis' - described here:

"A Church of England bishop caused outrage last night by linking those who support the ordination of women bishops to the Nazis. The Right Rev Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes, said church traditionalists were in a similar situation to those who faced the Nazis in January 1939.'

(Mail on line - 3 November 2010)


A Church of England bishop caused outrage last night by linking those who support the ordination of women bishops to the Nazis.
The Right Rev Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes, said church traditionalists were in a similar situation to those who faced the Nazis in January 1939.

Are the hierarchy of the Church of England afraid of Bishop Benn's abusive rhetoric being enacted against them?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 15 September 2012 at 1:30am BST
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