Thinking Anglicans

Bishop of Lincoln to resume ministry

The Church of England has issued this: Statement on resolution of disciplinary process regarding Bishop of Lincoln

…The Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, has accepted a penalty for misconduct in relation to the management of one safeguarding issue.  At their meeting the Archbishop apologised to the Bishop for the long process that he has endured.  The Archbishop expressed his full support for the Bishop as he now begins the process of returning to ministry as the Bishop of Lincoln.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I am very sorry that Bishop Christopher and his wife Susan have had to endure such an ordeal over the last 20 months.  I have expressed my regret to Christopher and am very grateful to him for the gracious way he has responded.  I want to make it clear that I am fully supportive of Christopher returning to ministry as the Bishop of Lincoln.  We have both agreed that there are many lessons we and the Church need to learn from this very difficult season, as we also continue to learn lessons from the scrutiny of IICSA which highlighted our poor response to survivors…

And the Diocese of Lincoln has issued this: Letter to the people of the Diocese of Lincoln

We write as episcopal colleagues to the people of the Diocese to share news of the Bishop of Lincoln’s return to ministry and our shared sense of encouragement for the future.

1. What has happened?

On 12th January 2021 the Bishop of Lincoln had a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. They met together to pray and discuss next steps following the conclusion of the clergy disciplinary process instigated after the Bishop’s suspension in May 2019, and subsequent investigation. That process resulted in a judgment by the President of Tribunals, Dame Sarah Asplin, following which the Bishop agreed to accept a rebuke in relation to his handling of an allegation made against a priest in the diocese. Bishop Christopher has offered an unreserved apology for the way in which he handled this matter.

Archbishop Justin expressed his full support for Bishop Christopher as he now begins the process of returning to ministry as Bishop of Lincoln…

The Church Times carries this report: Bishop of Lincoln can return to duty after 20-month safeguarding investigation. That account reminds us how it began:

…The Church’s safeguarding procedures were triggered in May 2019, after police informed the church authorities about an allegation (News, 17 May 2019). Bishop Lowson was immediately suspended because, as Archbishop Justin Welby said at the time: “If these matters are found to be proven I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people.”

Bishop Lowson agreed to co-operate fully, while expressing his bewilderment at the charge, and hoped that the investigation would be completed “as quickly as possible”.

Part of the delay was down to the police, who did not conclude their investigation until January 2020, deciding that, on the evidence before them, there was no case to answer. The Church’s investigation, carried out for the National Safeguarding Team, began at that point, and it was later confirmed that Bishop Lowson was being investigated under the Clergy Discipline Measure…

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Froghole
Froghole
7 months ago

The pastoral letter indicates that there will be a transition period during which the bishop of Lincoln will move back into the diocese. That period had better not be too long, as he has little more than two years to go before retirement; one transition would soon follow hard on the heels of another.

The diocese will need delicate handling in the near future, given the extreme weakness of attendance across much of Lincolnshire, no doubt exacerbated by the virus. See plans here, for example: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/01/31/covid-crisis-bring-radical-changes-church-england-report-suggests/.

Fr. Dean Henley
Fr. Dean Henley
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
7 months ago

If my memory of the Measure serves me right, as the matter of Bishop Lowson’s misconduct was decided upon by a tribunal, a summary of the case, the tribunal’s judgment and the penalty imposed should very shortly become available on the CofE’s website.

M Evans
M Evans
Reply to  Fr. Dean Henley
7 months ago

I don’t think “a judgment by the President of Tribunals, Dame Sarah Asplin” is the same as a full tribunal such as produce the reports that can be seen on the CofE website. It’s used when the person concerned accepts they’ve done wrong, and bypasses the need for a full-on tribunal. So I doubt anything will be published.

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  M Evans
7 months ago

Correct. However, I have seen the President’s judgment, dated 21 December 2020, also Dame Sarah Asplin’s earlier judgment dated 29 June 2019 dismissing Bishop Lowson’s appeal against his suspension. I consider the 2019 judgment to be legally flawed and I intend shortly to write a critique of that judgment. (My arguments were initially set out in an article, a link to which was given in a post on this blog on 24 May 2019,’Legal issues arising from the suspension’ of the Bishop of Lincoln.’) Meanwhile, not mentioned in the above statements is the fact that in her latest judgment Dame… Read more »

Fr. Dean Henley
Fr. Dean Henley
Reply to  David Lamming
7 months ago

Thank you David for that clarification. Can I ask why Dame Sarah has made the judgment and not the Archbishop?

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  Fr. Dean Henley
7 months ago

Dean, the answer to your question lies in section 17 of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 (“Formal investigation”). This provides: (1) Where the bishop directs that the complaint is to be formally investigated, he shall refer the matter to the designated officer and it shall then be the duty of that officer to cause inquiries to be made into the complaint. (2) After due inquiries have been made into the complaint the designated officer shall refer the matter to the president of tribunals for the purpose of deciding whether there is a case to answer in respect of which a… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  David Lamming
7 months ago

All of which goes to show how regrettable it is that people jump to conclusions and condemn without knowing the facts: some people, actually on this thread (and elsewhere), opining that the Bishop should go. In a non-church context, I remember the halcyon days when a magistrates’ court would have disposed of this by a conditional discharge within six weeks.

Jeremy
Jeremy
7 months ago

All I can say is that any Q&A that begins by telling us that an Archbishop and a Bishop had a meeting does not deserve my time and attention.

Fr. Dean Henley
Fr. Dean Henley
7 months ago

So ‘many lessons’ to be learned … but no evidence that they ever are in fact taken on board. Archbishop Welby was presumably appointed because of his management background but his tenure has been characterised by what feels like an endless series of management and HR blunders. As Froghole highlights the numbers attending church even before Covid-19 were in freefall but none of the bishops or archbishops accept the logical conclusion that their poor leadership has failed the Body of Christ. In other news we’re told that there is to be a cull of 20% of the stipendiary clergy; will… Read more »

NJW
NJW
Reply to  Fr. Dean Henley
7 months ago

At least one cathedral has already cut its residentiary membership of chapter by 25%, and I suspect others may follow. The sadness of any cull of bishops may be the loss of pastorally sensitive suffragan bishops – in my secular experience, it is not always the right people who get pruned…

Last edited 7 months ago by NJW
Fr. Dean Henley
Fr. Dean Henley
Reply to  NJW
7 months ago

You’re fortunate to know pastorally minded bishops NJW, but even so why shouldn’t they face the chop along with everyone else? If the church prizes pastorally gifted clerics it could retain those whilst losing the pseudo managerial types who seem to have proliferated of late. ‘Pastoral’ of course is not a synonym for ‘nice’; being pastoral can mean tough love at times as any incumbent will know. A gifted pastor has the ability to empathise – but sadly in my experience very few bishops and archdeacons have the imagination to be able to see themselves in someone else’s shoes –… Read more »

NJW
NJW
Reply to  Fr. Dean Henley
7 months ago

Perhaps I did not make clear enough: my fear is that, with a reduction in the number of bishops, those who make a positive contribution (often suffragans) will be the ones to go – leaving the managerialists (who have climbed higher) in place. (And I agree that ‘pastoral’ does not equal ‘nice’). My personal confession is that I had a career as a manager prior to ordination. In that role prior to ordination, my pastoral outlook was more highly prized than have often seemed my managerial skills in ministry… For me, my managerial skills have been important – but only… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
7 months ago

By reinstating the Bishop of Lincoln – and others – it looks like the Church of England hierarchy [who loyally serve its Supreme Governor Her Majesty The Queen] is trying desperately to extricate itself from the unholy mess at Christ Church. Smart move if it can pull it off. But can it?

Last edited 7 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
Interested Observer
Interested Observer
7 months ago

I have expressed my regret to Christopher and am very grateful to him for the gracious way he has responded.”

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down victims for his friends.

Has Justin Welby ever encountered a safeguarding failure he can’t excuse?

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Interested Observer
7 months ago

I have no idea what the failure was, nor how serious, but note that a penalty of some kind was imposed. We can’t judge whether the punishment fits the crime – which is perhaps one intended outcome. The Church needs to be more open.

Helen King
Helen King
7 months ago

Does anyone more familiar with C of E arcana know what actually happens when someone is ‘rebuked’?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Helen King
7 months ago

‘Rebuke’ is the least penalty which can be imposed under the present CDM (which is in course of revision) and it means just that: a formal admonition for a guilty act. I think there’s a strong hint here that this might have been a penalty made by consent, for which the CDM makes provision: “The Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, has accepted a penalty … ” etc. The long-drawn out period doesn’t seem consistent with something minor, but as Janet Fife rightly points out, we don’t know any details.,

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Helen King
7 months ago

This is a very good question. I suspect/fear it is rather like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhvVatP2dwo&t=13s.

Hannah
Hannah
Reply to  Helen King
7 months ago

A rebuke is one of the range of penalties open to a bishop (or archbishop) to propose under the CDM. It is effectively a formal telling off, and so consent to a rebuke is an admission of misconduct. It sits on the clergyperson’s blue file and is entered on the Lambeth and Bishopthorpe Register. It is the least serious of the penalties (but not of the options open to the bishop) that can be disposed under the Measure.

Helen King
Helen King
Reply to  Hannah
7 months ago

It sounds pretty insignificant compared to Wikipedia’s description of what used to happen in the Church of Scotland, where
’a rebuke was necessary for moral offenders to “purge their scandal”. This involved standing or sitting before the congregation for up to three Sundays and enduring a rant by the minister. There was sometimes a special repentance stool near the pulpit for this purpose. In a few places the subject was expected to wear sackcloth’.
Just a note on a file, eh?

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
Reply to  Helen King
7 months ago

Good Evening Helen, I believe the Church of Scotland also kept Books of Discipline in the Local Kirk Sessions on offending members of a Local Congregation and any members defaulting could have the Communion Table fenced against them (The Church of Scotland version of Excommunication), I do not know whether fencing of Tables still goes on in certain parts of the Church of Scotland like the Evangelicals are Books of discipline and Fencing of Tables just reserved to groups like the Wee Frees? Jonathan

Geoff McLarney
Geoff McLarney
Reply to  Hannah
7 months ago

So rather like accepting a police caution?

peter kettle
Reply to  Helen King
7 months ago

I suppose it’s similar to the legal ‘caution’ see details on

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police_caution

Filigree Jones
Filigree Jones
7 months ago

Another case, another clutch of apologies, but why do these things so often leave us feeling unsatisfied and what would satisfactory look like? We might imagine a scenario in which a bishop or other church leader commits a grave offence for which they are directly and individually responsible. This comes to light and they are immediately suspended from their duties. A thorough and transparent investigation quickly follows, and legal remedies are applied as appropriate. The perpetrator accepts full personal responsibility for what they have done, they express sincere sorrow and regret and make restitution to the best of their ability.… Read more »

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
7 months ago

This is only second-hand (although my episcopal sources are usually pretty reliable) but it has been suggested that this is related to a priest in Lincoln who was recently cleared after a Crown Court trial. It’s had fairly widespread media coverage, so no secrets as to the identity of the person nor the details of the situation.Apparently, the ‘mishandling’ was an initial expression of scepticism about the veracity of the complaint – a scepticism reflected in the jury’s verdict. If this is so, it doesn’t explain why it has taken so long. The police, presumably, would have had no interest… Read more »

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
7 months ago

Another completely unsatisfactory statement. No information as to what the issue was, what action has been taken and what will change as a result.

Is it really credible for +Lincoln to come back after such a long suspension, particularly given that he only has 2 years to go before retirement? It would be better for all concerned if he retired now and a new bishop was appointed from outside the diocese.

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  Sam Jones
7 months ago

Happy Birthday +Lindum 3 February 1953 [Wikipedia accessed 02/02/2021]
Some kind of a welcome back. 20 months out; 24 to retirement?
Another ‘position’ for the Dioceses Commission to consider?
Perhaps time for a ‘Root and branch petition- any thoughts Froghole e.g?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_and_Branch_petition

Adrian
Adrian
7 months ago

But perhaps not better for him?

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
7 months ago

“While we are aware the process has taken far too long and apologise for the effect this has had for all involved, when safeguarding matters are raised with the Church it is absolutely right that we respond” – National Safeguarding Team.

And it is absolutely right that the Church responds with due regard for legal process, natural rights, moral responsibility and presumption of innocence – not like a lynch mob in a kangaroo court.

Last edited 7 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
7 months ago

The police concluded their investigation in Jan 2020 and said there was no case to answer. It takes until this year – 2021 – for the church to conclude it’s alleged investigation. There is no substance to the statement or letter. No one knows the truth of the matter except the police concluded there was no case to answer. What has taken all this time? What was being investigated once the police stepped out of the picture? Why would anyone trust this process given the time frames and the lack of transparency? Lessons are clearly not being learned and there… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Marise Hargreaves
7 months ago

See David Lamming’s explanation above, with more details of the case and the legal processes.

Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
Reply to  Janet Fife
7 months ago

Thank you for pointing me to that. It is still a very long time for something which seems to have been yet another example of the church dragging something on beyond what is reasonable and at times appears to be legally questionable.

Stanley Monkhouse
7 months ago

The Bishop of Liverpool referred in his piece (see earlier thread) to “It’s a sin”, the Channel 4 Russell Davies drama about the AIDS epidemic. In the last episode, Ritchie’s mother (played by Keeley Hawes) is seen as having smothered the development of her son in order to keep him as a toy to prop up her own self-worth. It destroyed Ritchie, of course, filling him with shame because he was never able or allowed to be honest with his parents. Furthermore, his mother’s manipulative need to control rendered her blind to what was obvious to everyone else. A twist… Read more »

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
7 months ago

Thank you, Simon, for alerting me to this report, which serves to demonstrate how the lack of transparency in the C of E press release and its processes has given rise to unjustified criticism of Bishop Christopher. In my view, all decisions of the President of Tribunals should be published on the C of E website. Bishop Thornton (Bishop at Lambeth) effectively dodged the interviewer’s question, resorting to the mantra that the Church is ‘constantly learning lessons’. The trouble is that there is scant evidence of those supposedly-learned lessons being put into practice. However, at least the proposals for reform… Read more »

Anne Farthing
Anne Farthing
Reply to  David Lamming
7 months ago

Tim Thornton is well-schooled in the reputational management trade and, when not schooling wannabee bishops in the superficialities of a mini MBA, is making an art out of dodging questions and keeping scrutiny at arm’s length. Putting the CDM reform on hold is a classic example of his capacity to promise much and deliver little, while also sidelining key stakeholders (e.g. Sheldon) because there’s too much risk of people being involved ‘above their station.’ We know all about it in Truro. As one priest used to say of our former bishop (paraphrasing Seneca) ‘quid tacitum velis nemini dixeris’!

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
7 months ago

Insightful letter from Rev Philip Chester of St Matthew’s Westminster in today’s Daily Telegraph – “Unjust Church process” [Thursday, February 4]: “It will be a matter for relief and rejoicing for the Rt Rev Christopher Lowson, as well as his family, friends and well-wishers, that he has been exonerated from the taint of major safeguarding failure and restored to his ministry as Bishop of Lincoln after nearly two years’ suspension from office (Letters, February 1). The way the bishop has been treated is not simply a rare aberration. It is one more egregious example of a defective process, the overzealous… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
7 months ago

The Church system [eg core groups], designed to deal with victims of those abused and victims of those falsely accused, is not fit for purpose. Those who implement and enforce this structurally-flawed system, which protects an unaccountable elite, are bringing the Church into disrepute. They are likely to become a billion-pound liability which could well bankrupt the Church of England – unless immediate remedial action is undertaken.

Last edited 7 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
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