Comments: Chichester diocesan visitation - interim report published

Leaving aside the wider issues, the report makes a serious legal mistake at page 25, note 38, when it states that

"the more serious the allegation (for example, rape) the less likely it is that the crime has been committed."

This is completely wrong, and a total misunderstanding.

In fact, Lady Hale specifically addressed this point in her opinion in the well-known case of In re B (Children) [2008] UKHL 35:

“Neither the seriousness of the allegation nor the seriousness of the consequences should make any difference to the standard of proof to be applied in determining the facts. The inherent probabilities are simply something to be taken into account, where relevant, in deciding where the truth lies. As to the seriousness of the consequences, they are serious either way.

As to the seriousness of the allegation, there is no logical or necessary connection between seriousness and probability.”

(The crucial sentence for our purposes is the last one.)

I'm concerned that such a serious legal mistake has been made in such an important report, which implies it may not have been properly checked.

Posted by Laurence Price at Thursday, 30 August 2012 at 6:19pm BST

Better late than never. I wish they had taken seriously years ago the report by CTBI entitled 'Time for Action'

Posted by Jean Mayland at Thursday, 30 August 2012 at 7:50pm BST

Laurence - it is well known that it has been, in practice, harder to obtain a conviction from a jury the more serious an allegation is. That is a matter different from a legal or philosophical or ideal position - it is what happens.

I did a double take on the same phrase in the report - and I think the point the authors are trying to make is that acquittal on a very serious charge in a court of law should not bring the processes the church operates to an end - they say that there may be grounds for "conduct unbecoming" for example.

I think the paragraph in question is poorly written and liable to be misunderstood.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Thursday, 30 August 2012 at 9:08pm BST

Mark- That's a charitable interpretation of what on earth they were getting at with that phrase- one which hadn't occurred to me! Yes, in context that makes slightly more sense.
But I'm astounded that a QC let his name go out on a statement which is at best deeply misleading, and at worst the sort of mistake that a first-year law student shouldn't make.

Posted by Laurence Price at Thursday, 30 August 2012 at 10:52pm BST

A quick glance at the report raises one or two questions for me. While it is important that the C of E is now taking firm action on this matter, and many of the recommendations seem advisable, I wonder whether certain measures taken to minimise the risk of abuse could leave young people and disabled adults more marginalised and thus at increased risk and/or undermine any leadership role they may have, as well as interfering with pastoral care.

The term 'child' 'covers children and young persons up to the age of 18' (p33), and it is proposed on p35 that 'vulnerable adult' should be defined as 'a person who has recently suffered bereavement, marriage breakdown or other such adversity making them in particular need of pastoral support, or a person with an intellectual disability, mental illness or other impairment that makes it difficult for that person to protect themselves from abuse or exploitation.' Hence the proposal on pp43-44 that 'Training should emphasise the necessity never to contact or work with children, or to counsel vulnerable adults, when no other responsible adult is in the immediate vicinity and thus able to act as "chaperone‟' would apply to a wide variety of situations, from not returning a phone call from a 17-year-old PCC member to refusing to talk to a newly-widowed parishioner about his wife's funeral. applicable.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Thursday, 30 August 2012 at 11:36pm BST

On 10th November, 2011, a statement was issued by the Diocese of Chichester saying: "The Diocese of Chichester is aware that the diocesan independent Safeguarding Advisory Group has made a complaint to the Archbishop of Canterbury concerning Bishop Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes." It was widely reported that his conduct would be investigated under the Clegrgy Discipline Measure 2003.

In the report (page 3) released on the eve of Wallace Benn's retirement, the commissaries carefully clarify areas outside of their remit: 'In particular, it is not part of our remit to enquire into, or pass judgment upon, any matters that are the subject of a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.'

So, how has the CofE dealt with those charges laid by the Diocese's Safeguarding Advisory Group against Benn? They've made it disappear. I really don't care that he's a published, high-profile influential evangelical with conservative views on marriage. If there are charges to be addressed under the Measures since November 2011, justice must be done and seen to be done.

Posted by David Shepherd at Friday, 31 August 2012 at 7:29pm BST

No David, the CofE has not made anything disappear. The proceedings under the CDM are still in progress and will be dealt with quite separately from this visitation. That is what the paragraph you quote seeks to make clear.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Friday, 31 August 2012 at 8:27pm BST

Thanks for the correction, Simon. It just seems that discipline, if it was announced post-retirement, has little impact apart from the resulting opprobrium.

Rather like Congress impeaching the President after he's left office.

Posted by David Shepherd at Friday, 31 August 2012 at 8:38pm BST

May I add a comment on the exchange between Laurence Price and Mark Bennet. I do not think that the footnote referred to by Laurence is "deeply misleading." The extract from Baroness Hale's opinion in Re B, quoted by Laurence, must be read in context. What Lady Hale was referring to in para 70 ([2008] UKHL 35; [2008] 3 WLR 1 at p.22F-G) was the standard of proof "in finding facts necessary to establish the threshold under section 31(2) or the welfare considerations in section 1 of the [Children Act 1989]." It is true that she adds (para 72), "As to the seriousness of the allegation, there is no logical or necessary connection between seriousness and probability", but her remarks were directly specifically to the standard of proof in care proceedings. In CDM proceedings, the 'higher' civil standard may be appropriate, provided that it is applied as a matter of common sense, not law.

As Lord Hoffmann said in Re B (para 15): "There is only one rule of law, namely that the occurrence of the fact in issue must be proved to have been more probable than not. Common sense, not law, requires that in deciding this question, regard should be had, to whatever extent appropriate, to inherent probabilities." ([2008] 3 WLR at p.8B)

I think, therefore, that Laurence has been rather harsh in his criticism of Rupert Bursell, who is not only a learned Chancellor but also a very experienced, albeit now retired, Circuit Judge.

Posted by David Lamming at Friday, 31 August 2012 at 9:51pm BST

I continue to wrestle with the question of how we in the C of E, collectively, allowed this situation to develop and continue in Chichester, and wonder whether it is possible that such dysfunctionality exists in any other diocese or area (I very much hope not).

Posted by Savi Hensman at Friday, 31 August 2012 at 11:48pm BST

The legalistic arguments discussed above are interesting but surely the key point from the report is that because of the dysfunctional leadership in the diocese over a number of years, support for safeguarding was at best not taken seriously with catastrophic consequences. May be now "the land that time forgot" which is how the Chichester Diocese was once described to me, will be taken in hand and we will get a ministry for the twenty first century rather than one for the middle ages.

Posted by confused sussex at Saturday, 1 September 2012 at 7:26am BST

I second Savi Hensman's concerns about about the outworking of the recommendation that clergy shouldn't see vulnerable adults without a chaperone within earshot. It is usually fairly straightforward to make arrangements for pastoral conversations with children ( I do a lot of children's work, but one to one private pastoral conversations are fairly rare, and one knows one is dealing with a child from the outset, so the appropriate arrangments can be made in advance.) Pastoral conversations with adults, however, are another matter. They are the bread and butter, day in day out, of normal parish work - funeral prep, home communions, support for those going through illness, and innumerable informal conversations with people who are finding life tough for all sorts of reasons. Not all adults one sees are vulnerable, but many are, and you don't necessarily know in advance who they will be. Almost any conversation can lead to the person you are talking to disclosing something which would put them into the "vulnerable" category. I usually do adult confirmation preparation on a one-to-one basis, since there is rarely more than one person preparing at a time. Often in the course of this the person will disclose deeply traumatic events and times of crisis - that is often what has caused them to start coming to church. There is also the issue of regular and long established members of the congregation who may go through periods of vulnerability. Several members of my PCC whom I may have to see for all sorts of reasons have been through traumas recently, and are most certainly vulnerable. When they turn up to ask some mundane question about the rotas or the PCC agenda, should I refuse to see them, or refuse to ask how they are? They would find this most odd, and I would be failing to do the very thing that I am there for at the moment when they need it most.
Like the majority of clergy, I suspect, I am working in a small church where I don't have a secretary or parish office, and where there is no realistic possiblity that I would ever have one. In any case, people don't necessarily come to see me during "office hours", and if I did have a volunteer secretary to act as chaperone, they would have to work the same hours as I do to be able to cover all the times when I see people. People often need to see me in the evenings, for example, or at weekends, because they are working, and not every conversation is one that is planned for in advance. Even if you are married, as I am, you can't assume that your spouse will be in the vicarage 24/7 and the thought of arranging teams of volunteers to come and sit around day in day out on the off chance is entirely unrealistic. It's hard enough to get people to do the jobs that really do need doing.

It is not impossible to constrct a pattern of ministry which would enable clergy to comply with these guidelines, but it would require the Church to go back to square one and redesign when and where clergy minister. Strict lines would need to be drawn between clergy as "practitioners" and those to whom they ministered as "clients" - no room for the fuzzy reality that members of congregations might have roles in ministry themselves, despite having times of vulnerability.Congregations and the general public would have to entirely rethink their expectations of clergy too. In effect, these guidelines require one to organise one's ministry like a doctor's surgery, in a separate place, during set hours, with (probably paid) support staff. To comply with them would mean a huge shift in perceptions and a lot of financial outlay - most parish churches would find this impossible to sustain.

What really worries me is that for years I have heard bishops and others working in professional safeguarding roles in the Church giving this sort of advice, and I am concerned that if anything goes wrong and we face an accusation of abuse, we will find we haven't got a leg to stand on, because the advice was there and we didn't follow it (because we couldn't) I am left asking whether those who give this advice have a clue about the day to day ministries of ordinary parish clergy.

While I am absolutely clear that abuse is wrong and that we should do all we can to prevent it and hold clergy accountable for their behaviour, we need to think through very carefully the unintended consequences of what might seem like entirely straightforward advice given by bishops and others who work in well-staffed offices with clear cut boundaries and expectations, but which is actually fraught with difficulties fo ordinary clergy working alone from their vicarages.

Posted by Anne Le Bas at Saturday, 1 September 2012 at 11:15am BST

Anne Le Bas is absolutely spot on. Will she be heard ?

The bishops as a body have arrogantly ignored the experience and practical wisdom and skills of the pastoral care and counselling movement for years. They have no idea. One bishop of Southwark even closed the large and vibrant pastoral care and counselling work in the diocese, which Derek Blows had begun, in Mervyn Stockwood's time.

That very bishop later came unstuck in the glare of the media himself, presumable for lack of pastoral care and counselling himself.

Further to Anne Le Bas excellent post, the sacrament of penance can never be 'chaperoned'.

THe clergy need real support from the bishops, or at least, for the bishops to get out of the way, and let ministers minister unhampered.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Sunday, 2 September 2012 at 11:32am BST

I think Anne is correct in the implications for ministry she draws from the report. Clergy will have to become more professional in that sense as every other profession has had to do. But it will mean a huge shift in expectations from the laity, which they might not welcome. I don't think it will be any bad thing for the clergy to be more professional in that sense, maybe it will help the clergy focus on what they are there for, rather than being all things to all people all the time, and this could make for more effective and focused ministry. The whole culture of the church will have to shift though.

Posted by sjh at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 5:59am BST

"Rather like Congress impeaching the President after he's left office." - David Shepherd -

Do I detect the faint whiff of sulphur here. would you like Bishop Benn to be put into the stocks while you're about it. The Gospel has two sides to it, and one of them is mercy. Yes, Justice, but also, mercy!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 3 September 2012 at 12:22pm BST

I agree with Anne le Bas and her concern about the professional vulnerability of clergy. I don't understand why there is no professional association specifically for CofE clergy that will provide professional indemnity insurance. I have been advised by my Archdeacon that clergy will not be sued because 'nobody sues a man of straw' ie. 'of straw financially'. But there is a vast weight of legal and quasi-legal duty on clergy now that wasn't there 20 years ago and Diocesan structure doesn't want to acknowledge this. Presumably it's because the incumbent must carry the risk. I think there's something wrong here.

Posted by Jon Hale at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 2:53pm BST


'The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching...Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.' (1 Tim. 5:19, 20)

In relation to church affairs, a firm, impartial and timely imposition of discipline is not the unrelenting final retribution of brimstone.

However, discipline is a bulwark against the presumption of earthly impunity with which some conduct themselves. Impunity encouraged the likes of Roy Cotton, Colin Pritchard et al to persistent in the most egregious predatory behaviour towards the young. The Lord's millstone analogy is most apt!

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 5:41pm BST

sjh, I think it depends on what one thinks clergy are there for and indeed what 'professional' conduct is. Professional social workers, for instance, do visit frail elderly people living on their own and listen to them, district nurses may go to assist those who are terminally ill. There are also questions about the 'them' and 'us' model of ministry, especially since the laity is rather more than a set of clients.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Tuesday, 4 September 2012 at 10:55pm BST
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