The Clergy Discipline Measure (2003, amended by the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016) is a Measure passed by the General Synod of the Church of England for the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline. It has the force and effect of an act of Parliament, and was designed to rationalise the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 and section 5(5) of the Ecclesiastical Judges and Legal Officers Measure 1976, which themselves were simplifications of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act 1677, the Church Discipline Act 1840, the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874, the Clergy Discipline Act 1892, and the Incumbents (Discipline) Measure 1947.
There was a lot of disparate and convoluted legislation to deal with recalcitrant and recidivist clergy, such as serial offender the Rev’d Michael Bland, who was accused of neglect of his duties, which included leaving church services early, refusing to baptise a baby, preventing one of his parishioners from entering the church to object to the marriage of his son when the banns were published, and disallowing another parishioner from receiving Holy Communion without just cause.
Far easier (and cheaper) to bring one simple CDM than have to wade through clauses of ancient and turgid statute law.
But the CDM is no longer delivering justice, if ever it did. There’s a decent account of the current state of play in the Church Times, which is of the view that “the C of E to be all at sea over clergy care“; more concerned with reputation-protection than justice for accuser and accused:
I RAISE these points because, since final retirement, I have been privileged to hear from a number of godly clergy who tell stories of acute, unaddressed pain. Some have been severely traumatised and are dealing with resultant health problems. Some have lost their ministries, house, income, and future prospects. In some cases, the trauma upon families has contributed to mental illness in their children. I know of two priests whose trauma was delivered neatly at Christmas time.
I am writing about the Church of England, looking into its face.
My attention was aroused late in 2018 when three priests — unconnected with each other — told me of their acute distress after being removed from post irregularly, in three different dioceses.
Quite a few accused clergy have contacted the Archbishop Cranmer blog over the years, some in distress and turmoil, others not knowing where to turn or seek help, and one or two really quite suicidal. Very few have ever wanted their stories to be made public: their sense of fear is palpable. They simply wanted someone to know what is really going on, and who might be able to tell their story at some point – even after their death.
Take the Rev’d X, who was accused of number things quite out of the blue, including child abuse. The police duly investigated, and after a year of purgatorial inquiry dismissed the allegations altogether. You’d think then there might have been some return to normality; to wholesome ministry, healing and reconciliation. But not a bit of it: he then became the target of a CDM, under which he was instantly cast as the ‘perpetrator’; his accuser the ‘victim’. If the Police won’t assist you in your determination to destroy a member of the clergy with criminal proceedings, just recruit the Church of England, which will not only believe the accuser and apportion guilt immediately, but they’ll also instruct everyone to have nothing to do with you, because you present a clear and present safeguarding risk.
Or that’s what they did to the Rev’d X.
Provisions designed to ensure natural justice in the CDM were summarily set aside; crucial restrictions ignored. And while the months of ecclesial inquiry and bureaucracy pass by at a snail’s pace, the Rev’d X is in a never-ending hell: now two years of isolation and despair, completely cut out of Church life, in communion with himself and God alone. If he tries to worship in another church, he must disclose his position so they may carry out a safeguarding assessment. In all honesty, who would want to bother? The sense is one of utter rejection: they want him gone. It would be easier for all if he never tried to enter a church again. Or just disappeared and died.
Martyn Percy has undoubtedly been (and is still being) bullied by Christ Church (academics and clergy), and there are plenty of nasty things happening there, but the malaise is far deeper than such high-profile cases. We don’t know how many clergy are subject to CDM purgatory, but the Sheldon Hub has undertaken some thorough research: Replacing the Clergy Discipline Measure. They confirm what we read in the Church Times, that CDMs are routinely mishandled, with crucial provisions ignored, leaving bishops to bully and gaslight accused clergy into resignation, and if they refuse, they are “made non-persons by their diocese; all denied pastoral care, becoming utterly hopeless.” The harassment is laid bear:
Whilst a few admitted a misdemeanour at the minor end of the scale, most claimed innocence, being victims of malicious complaints by plausible (mainly professional) laity who seemingly wanted to be rid of them. That is my opinion, of course, but as valid as the opinion of their superiors, for I heard no mention of rigorous, professional investigation, seeking independent witness evidence. Most of the complainants’ animosities seemed to stem from issues of churchmanship.
Some of the accused clergy were able to challenge their bishop, despite considerable cost. Financial settlements were reached — some large — conditional on the signing of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Questions on the scale of such settlements and NDAs were tabled at the April General Synod; unanswered.
We know of one Diocese which lives and breathes NDAs, which may or may not be Winchester. But when you place a tool of Star Chamber such as the tortuous CDM into the hands of bullying bishops, zealous archdeacons, deficient bureaucracies and lawyers with a mission, it is no wonder that some of those who are subject to it would much prefer to depart this life and be with their Lord, which would be better by far.