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Thursday, 18 February 2010

A Word About the Clergy Discipline Measure


There is widespread misunderstanding and considerable anxiety about the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), particularly among clergy. On Wednesday 27th January, I attended an Ecclesiastical Law Society lecture on the CDM. It was given by the Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir John Mummery, who is the “President of Tribunals” under the Measure.  Sir John spoke of his experience which gave me renewed trust in the way the Measure is being observed throughout the Church.

For one thing he shared a statistic which helps to keep things in perspective. The number of complaints brought under CDM are few: 22,000 clergy are subject to the measure yet in 2008 (the latest year for which we have statistics) there were only about 70 formal complaints in total, including some against bishops and archbishops. Of these only 3 complaints ended up being referred to tribunal. To date, there have been no complaints under CDM in the Diocese in Europe at all.

What does the CDM deal with?
The CDM is NOT about:
  • Doctrine, liturgy or ceremonial. At some point in the future, the Church will need to decide how to address these matters.
  • Grumpy complaints by parishioners or lay leaders who want to bully clergy. Of course there are always some who try to abuse legal systems, but general grumpiness is dealt with outside the measure, usually by conciliation.
  • Moving times of services, staring at a member of the congregation from the pulpit or sunbathing in scanty clothing in the vicarage garden. (All these were real complaints; as to the latter the complainant had to stand on tip-toe to peer over a high fence in order to observe the alleged offence!)
  • Ability of the clergy to do their job properly. There will be ways to address capability under the forthcoming Clergy Terms and Conditions of Service legislation
  • Addressing the problem of people not getting on. Pastoral breakdown between clergy and people is serious, but it is not a matter for the CDM to deal with.
  • Taking away pastoral responsibility from bishops. Many complaints, after preliminary scrutiny, end up being dismissed by the bishop for insufficient evidence, or for not being a disciplinary matter at all. Complainants can appeal against the bishop’s dismissal, but if the bishop’s decision is “reasonable” and within the law, the appeal would not have much success.
The CDM is about addressing serious misconduct. It is concerned with blameworthy behaviour that is addressed by examination of fact and evidence, and with a view to the degree of the misconduct. So clearly it is about such things as inappropriate relationships, misuse of church funds, not following child protection procedures, and damaging the welfare of a minor. At times, it is necessary to steer CDM in the midst of complex parallel proceedings of a civil or criminal jurisdiction.

I believe that the clergy of our Church can have a confidence in the CDM. Clergy discipline prior to the CDM coming into force in 2006 was not always handled uniformly or with transparency throughout the Church. I was greatly encouraged to hear Sir John Mummery (left), who holds great responsibility within the system and whose approach is humble, wise and thoroughly committed to fair procedures and "getting it right".

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