Comments: Complaints regarding Llandaff electoral college are rejected

Mandy Rice-Davies, where are you now?

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Friday, 31 March 2017 at 7:57pm BST

As we say in Southern California, "Epic fail!"

Posted by Karen MacQueen at Friday, 31 March 2017 at 8:53pm BST

The First Complaint is rejected, in part, because "the Meeting was conducted on the basis of a rule of confidentiality. This itself demonstrates that a challenge to the validity of the proceedings of the Electoral College cannot be based on anything said at the Meeting."

Apparently if someone at the Meeting had urged others there not to vote for a candidate because the candidate is black, that remark (in the Subcommittee's mind) would not invalidate the outcome of the meeting....

Posted by Jeremy at Friday, 31 March 2017 at 10:13pm BST

How very curious. One of the key sections in the independent report published on 31 March by the lawyers resolving the complaints bears some resemblance to the conclusion of the letter sent to the Church Times for publication earlier in the week by the bishops.

Bishops: "...homosexuality and civil partnerships are matters that some legitimately wish to consider; but neither of them is a bar to ordination or preferment in our Province. What is a bar to preferment to the office of bishop is a failure to secure a two-thirds majority of votes ..."

Lawyers: "...sexuality or civil partnership did not bar nomination, and what prevented election was insufficiency of votes..."


Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Friday, 31 March 2017 at 10:22pm BST

I'm troubled by this as an exercise in legal reasoning. One complaint is rejected because the meeting was confidential & so nothing said in it can found a complaint.

So if the college decided to reject any candidate with freckles that wouldn't invalidate the process because it's confidential.

It's Kafka-esque. Is there a benevolent rich communicant member of the Church in Wales who feels like applying for judicial review?

Posted by James Allport at Saturday, 1 April 2017 at 7:46am BST

Um... I thought Jesus exhorted us to seek the spirit of the law, not simply the letter of the law.

Jeremy and James A home in on a key point. If 'confidentiality' means that no complaint about content can be upheld, then that means a person could have been blocked for skin colour, gender, political views, freckles, personal grudges, disability, sexual orientation, because they liked cats, envy at their skill at kick boxing, or whatever... and because confidentiality prevents those things from being used in a complaint, the process would still be 'legitimate'.

If this demonstrates one thing, it demonstrates the need for greater transparency. Otherwise these decisions lack accountability and are vulnerable to bias, prejudice or capture by influential participants.

How is it that the most popular candidate isn't even included in the new short-list? On what grounds was he excluded? Lack of theological training? Lack of experience? Lack of service over decades to church communities?

Everything is hidden from view, which protects the elephant in the room: that once again Jeffrey John is blocked from episcopal ministry because he champions a theology that does not discriminate against gay and lesbian people.

That championing and advocacy was the grounds on which he was pressed to withdraw from the Reading appointment. With zero transparency, providing cover for any prejudice, it is obvious that onlookers will suspect that once again he has fallen victim to prejudice based on his position on sexuality.

And the very opaqueness of process that covers and hides possible prejudice... is the grounds for legitimising the process, according to the lawyers, because whatever gets said in confidentiality cannot be used as grounds for challenging a decision that can be as arbitrary or prejudiced as you like.

Even if the bishops are as white as snow in this affair, the process itself is arcane and open to injustice... and effectively unaccountable. The lawyers just say that the process follows its own rules. That does not make the process right.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 1 April 2017 at 10:01am BST

King: I do not remember such words.

Anna: I remember them.

King: I will do remembering!

A lovely little moment from the King and I, the tale of a Western woman gently liberalising the misogynistic King of Siam. This little exchange parodies all those officials with selective memories.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 1 April 2017 at 3:53pm BST

When I was a school governor I served on the staff appointments panel. Of course the applications and our deliberations were confidential - but all paperwork, including the panel's casual notes, had to be handed in at the end of the process. This was in case of an appeal, so we could prove our decision had been fair and did not violate any equal opportunities policies. I understood that it was a legal requirement.

It seems clear now that the same should be done for church appointments, so if there is an appeal or doubt over the process, an adjudicator/s could decide if justice had been done.

Having learned from that experience, I have always asked for feedback when being turned down for a job in the Church that I've applied for. I've been wryly amused to see them wriggle as they try to come up with good reasons for appointing a less experienced and less qualified man. I once applied to be a part-time research fellow, but didn't get it because they 'doubted whether I could combine part-time work and part-time research'. I'd done my part-time MPhil while working full-time and also covering for an absent colleague. The man they appointed had done his MA full time and had no experience of combining research with a job.

Posted by Janet Fife at Saturday, 1 April 2017 at 4:26pm BST

More interesting than what the Bench of Bishops say in their letter to Church Times is what they do not say.

They do not say that no remark about sexuality was made to the Electoral College for Llandaff.

Nor do that say that such remarks had no effect on the number-of-votes outcome.

We must all draw our own conclusions. But mine is that the selection of a bishop for Llandaff has been unduly influenced by "publicity" and "Communion" considerations that serve as disguises for bigotry or discrimination.

Whether that bigotry or discrimination was within the College or elsewhere doesn't matter that much; the point is that those present allowed it to infect the process and to influence the outcome.

It is very hard to fathom why the Church in Wales should have so much regard for the views of Communion provinces where homosexuality is criminalised.

Posted by Jeremy at Saturday, 1 April 2017 at 5:04pm BST

I was thinking along the same lines as Janet. I was both a Chair of School Governors and a University Dean and in both capacities chaired appointments panels, all of which in formal terms were confidential. We took scrupulous notes which were very carefully collected at the end and, as Chair, I wrote a note to indicate why the successful candidate met the person specification more fully than the other candidates. Many of the appointments were challenged by the disappointed candidates, but never successfully because we had followed a correct process. The one who got as far as an Employment Tribunal was told that there was no case to answer. I cannot think why the CofE/CiW thinks that it can drive a coach and horses through normal professional practice. I am driven to the conclusions drawn by Jeremy. We need more accountability and transparency. Confidentiality is to protect the candidates, not necessarily the interviewers. Here it is being used as cloak for bigotry and bad professional practice.

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Saturday, 1 April 2017 at 11:30pm BST

A friend on the appointment panel for a senior Church post said they were told of one favoured candidate that his health was too poor for him to do the job. They later found this to be untrue, but by then the appointment had already been made. The dean of a Cambridge college told of several occasions when he was about to appoint a priest to one of the college's parishes, but was phoned by a bishop telling him the appointee was on the blacklist. The bishops concerned would not tell him the reason so (to his credit) he appointed the candidates anyway.

I had hoped things had improved in the last few years, but it seems not much. If it's true that senior appointments have to be approved by the provincial archbishop, as appears to be the case, that is wrong. No one person should have the final say.

It's clear that we urgently need a fair, transparent and accountable appointments system.

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 2 April 2017 at 12:36pm BST

The results of the inquiry are quite clear - that the correct procedures were followed. And that its rather telling that none of the complainants seems to have uttered a word of complaint during the Selection Meeting, about inappropriate discussions!?


Posted by RevDave at Sunday, 2 April 2017 at 6:26pm BST

"The results of the inquiry are quite clear - that the correct procedures were followed. And that its rather telling that none of the complainants seems to have uttered a word of complaint during the Selection Meeting, about inappropriate discussions!? "

Did nobody spot the glaring inconsistency in the Legal Subcommittee paper? They advance an wholly impossible argument.

1. The Meeting was confidential
2. Any complaint should have been raised during the meeting
3. No complaint was raised during the meeting so they cannot be heard now.

Spot it? The Legal Subcommittee cannot know whether complaints were raised in the meeting because the meeting was confidential! They are simultaneously arguing that the meeting was confidential to deny hearing complaints while simultaneously arguing that they know whether complaints were raised in the meeting. They even apparently know that the complainants voted.

If a meeting is confidential it is not reasonable to raise complaints at the time because they can be ignored or improperly dealt with in the meeting and nobody would know. What if the complaint was about the chair? In governance terms, the Legal Subcommittee argument is a complete and epic fail.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 2 April 2017 at 11:26pm BST

Commenters here still seem to be confused by the concept of an election. An election is not invalid simply because somebody happens to have made an inappropriate argument. Indeed, in the whole history of human voting, there has probably never been an election in which some idiot didn't make an inappropriate argument!

The whole presumption of an election is that we have faith in our fellow voters to use their wisdom, listen to the good arguments, and ignore the bad ones. Without such faith we have no business holding elections at all.

The legal sub-committee, as one would hope, has written a response which ignores the personalities and partisan issues and analyzes things in a detached and purely logical way. It's too bad that commenters here reject such an approach and prefer emotional reactions — after all, this website is supposed to be called *Thinking* Anglicans!

Posted by RD at Monday, 3 April 2017 at 6:13am BST

"The legal sub-committee, as one would hope, has written a response which ignores the personalities and partisan issues and analyzes things in a detached and purely logical way."

As I pointed out, the analysis was entirely illogical. Was it detached? No. Detached would conclude that it is unknown (and possibly unknowable) whether the alleged remarks affected the outcome rather than conclude that the outcome was unaffected.

Since the issue is effectively alleged discrimination, the Subcommittee should, I suggest, also have considered whether the allegations were sufficient to have reversed the burden of proof. If the burden of proof was reversed then, of course, most of their arguments instead point to discrimination having occurred.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 3 April 2017 at 10:09am BST

I am no lawyer but, in response to RD's comments, is there not a distinction between an open election such as a General Election where there is open campaigning with the results of voting declared and the meeting of an Electoral College. The latter functions more like an appointments panel, being wholly confidential, judging against some form of statement of need and where voting is confidential. This being the case an Electoral College should surely conduct its business according to best professional appointment practice. I don't think that accusations of misconduct can be evaded by saying that this was an election.

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Monday, 3 April 2017 at 1:10pm BST

Kate argues that the legal sub-committee's report is marred by "glaring inconsistency", writing: "Spot it? The Legal Subcommittee cannot know whether complaints were raised in the meeting because the meeting was confidential! They are simultaneously arguing that the meeting was confidential to deny hearing complaints while simultaneously arguing that they know whether complaints were raised in the meeting. They even apparently know that the complainants voted."

But in fact the paper explicitly addresses both of her concerns, stating "In the present case, the President of the Electoral College has publicly stated that neither from the members of the College nor from any others present, including the Archbishop’s Registrar and the Church’s legal adviser, did he receive any complaint of improper remarks in respect of sexuality. No member withdrew from the Meeting" and "The complainants in the First Complaint did not withdraw from the Meeting: no member did; therefore, unless they exercised the option not to vote, they voted and must therefore have considered that they were participating in valid proceedings." The legal sub-committee's response might have been much shorter had they simply stated that "due to the secrecy of the electoral college we have no basis to comment"; but that would have been extremely frustrating for the rest of us, so surely it was helpful of them to go on to address the complaints more directly as best they could on an admittedly hypothetical basis.

Kate also writes that "Detached would conclude that it is unknown (and possibly unknowable) whether the alleged remarks affected the outcome rather than conclude that the outcome was unaffected", which again misreads the report, which never claimed to know that the outcome was unaffected. What it did claim was that "the vote was by secret ballot, and each member’s conscience is his or her own". The argument I made in my comment was not that voters are never swayed by bad arguments; it was that if we believe in elections, we need to operate on the assumption (however naive it may sometimes be) that we trust voters.

In response to Daniel Lamont, I think the size, heterogeneity, and independence of the electoral college's members, along with their use of a secret ballot, makes it much more like a true election than an interview panel. (Certainly the language of the constitution treats it as such, with lots of detail about how to form the college and almost no detail at all on how they are to conduct themselves.) But even to the extent that there's any ambiguity, surely, given that we are choosing a leader and not an employee, we will want to err on the side of an election. And surely we want discussions to be frank and honest, not hedged around with people second-guessing themselves about what a lawyer might say.

Finally, given all the hypothetical discussion around here, I think it's important to remind ourselves regularly that *we still don't really know that anything truly outrageous was said*. The allegations have been very vague and sketchy, and have been explicitly denied by others. I am having a hard time imagining any comment which could possibly carry the burden which the critics of the college are putting on it. An empty slur would merely be grotesquely absurd, and would surely not affect any votes — anybody not repulsed by such a slur would never have been open to voting for the candidate anyhow. A reasoned argument advanced by a person of conservative theological bent, on the other hand, is surely not out-of-bounds: we have to acknowledge the fact that there are divisions on this subject in the church, and to disallow those who disagree with us from making their case would be totalitarianism.

Posted by RD at Monday, 3 April 2017 at 5:11pm BST

Just a thought re extreme comments in meetings, in case it's any help.

There's always a likelihood that a way-over-the-top attack on a person or position in a debate will not draw people towards the speaker's position, but will actually have the opposite effect. A now deceased Anglo-Catholic priest told me that 25 years ago, when our local Deanery Synod were debating the ordination of women to the priesthood, one member made an "anti" speech of such monumental unpleasantness that although he had intended to abstain (and had said so), he changed his mind and voted in favour.

Posted by Steve at Tuesday, 4 April 2017 at 3:35pm BST

What RD said - answered most people's complaints.

Posted by RevDave at Tuesday, 4 April 2017 at 8:04pm BST

'But in fact the paper explicitly addresses both of her concerns, stating "In the present case, the President of the Electoral College has publicly stated that neither from the members of the College nor from any others present, including the Archbishop’s Registrar and the Church’s legal adviser, did he receive any complaint of improper remarks in respect of sexuality. No member withdrew from the Meeting" and "The complainants in the First Complaint did not withdraw from the Meeting: no member did; therefore, unless they exercised the option not to vote, they voted and must therefore have considered that they were participating in valid proceedings."'

So they are apparently allowing into evidence reports of what happened which can be used to rebut the complaints while refusing to allow into evidence material which might support the complaints, citing secrecy as the reason.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 5 April 2017 at 3:20am BST

RD, civic and national elections are staffed by neutral people - polling station personnel, vote counters, election officers - and keenly observed by the press. Elections within organisations and charities are often administered by an independent body such as the Electoral Reform Society which sees fair play. There is no 'trust' without these measures.

The problem with senior appointments within the Church is that there is neither the rigour of, say educational appointments, nor the independent administration of elections. I have mentioned in another thread that a friend was representing her diocese on a bishop's appointment panel when a possible candidate was discussed. They were told authoritatively that his health would not allow him to take up the post - and later found this to be untrue. It was then too late for him to be appointed.

We need a much better process for appointments at all levels: the Church has far too often abused trust. I long ago learned to be suspicious of people who resist good procedures and ask simply to be trusted - they usually have strong reasons to want to avoid scrutiny.

Posted by Janet Fife at Wednesday, 5 April 2017 at 9:11am BST

Kate: it's an interesting question whether the president was within his rights to state publicly that no objections were raised in the meeting, or whether even that was too much given the oath of secrecy. Either way, though, that's not the committee's fault; and committee didn't go any further in 'allowing' his statement into the report an than in allowing in the complaints, all three of which were quoted verbatim, nor in allowing in points raised in the correspondence which has been made public between the president and Jeffrey John. As far as I can see, they have touched in a general way on ALL the evidence in the public domain, while shying away from details as much as possible; you're wrong to imply they only listened to one side.

Even without the president's claim, in any case, it's reasonable to conclude from the wording of the complaints themselves that no objection was raised in the meeting. If in fact such an objection was raised and the president is lying, that would indeed be sufficient grounds, in my opinion, for college members to break their oaths to rebut him; but none of the reasons advanced so far for oath-breaking has been anywhere close to sufficient.

Janet, the break-down in trust which you mention is very sad; and as I have said before I suppose it means that the Church in Wales needs to go to an open election. That will have some very distressing consequences, such as public campaigning, open displays of ambition and partisanship, and unpleasant publicity for the disappointed candidates; but if that's what people want, I guess it's the only way. All that said, however, let me remind everybody that in this particular instance nobody has alleged that the president and legal advisors conducted the electoral college in an authoritarian or dishonest manner; the only claim has been the rather weak one that some college members said some inappropriate things in the course of three days of debate. Whether or not this controversy provides an argument for conducting future colleges differently, it certainly does not justify all the opprobrium for the members of this college, who were only trying to do their job within the existing system.

Posted by RD at Wednesday, 5 April 2017 at 5:36pm BST

There were five bishops from Wales
Whose croziers did mightily wail (1)
For they could not agree
On a name for the see -
Oh the horrors of Landav: in Wales.

(1) See Oxford English Dictionary for 'wail'.

Posted by Phugas Menevia at Wednesday, 5 April 2017 at 11:33pm BST

To further muddy the water, there are suggestions in the Church Times that some complaints WERE raised at the time

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/7-april/news/uk/welsh-committee-dismissed-complaints-against-bishops-and-electoral-college-over-llandaff-appointment

'But a priest in the diocese of Llandaff, the Revd Martin Reynolds, spoke on Monday of his disappointment.

'“Legal opinion tells us that there is no way to put this right, and no way to stop people saying awful and disgusting things,” he said. It was his understanding that people had raised concerns about “abusive language” used during the meeting, at the time. “As no investigations can be made to say what happened, how can they say that nobody complained at the time?”'

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 6 April 2017 at 7:28pm BST
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