Be Careful What You Wish For

Be Careful What You Wish ForYou might get it. When Dame Heather Steel (of her own volition, but after consultation with the Bishop of Winchester) published an advert in the Jersey Evening Post asking for submissions to her in relation to the Terms of Reference of her inquiry, I’m not sure she and the Bishop anticipated what would happen next.

Last weekend an advert was placed in the Jersey Evening Post (JEP) which invited submissions to Dame Steel under terms 1(f) of the terms of reference about the behaviour of the Bishop of Winchester.

The Investigation is to make appropriate inquiries, review and report upon the available evidence, make findings of fact and make recommendations about whether or not disciplinary complaints should be brought against any member of the clergy as a result of the matters raised in the second set of paragraphs 1) to 5) inclusive of the recommendations starting on page 47 and concluding on page 48 in the Korris Review into Safeguarding in the Deanery of Jersey, namely, for:

a. Allowing a church warden to operate in contravention of the Safeguarding procedures and the training he had undertaken.
b. Failure to notify the Safeguarding Advisor on receipt of the complaint.
c. Failure to implement and act in accordance with Diocesan Safeguarding Procedure in the handling of the initial complaint interview.
d. Failure to record and make all documentation available for a review of a Safeguarding matter as required by the Safeguarding procedures.
e. Despite the request of the Bishop of Winchester, unwillingness to permit review of Safeguarding practice and also discouraging others from participating.
f.  Any other inappropriate or unbecoming conduct in connection with these matters.

The intent of those who submitted the advert is clear – they feel that the Bishop qualifies as a member of the clergy and that they accuse him of unbecoming conduct. My understanding is that a number of submissions have been made in response to this advert, though to this date I have not seen the text of any of those emails. I am also unaware of who the people are who paid for the advert or who submitted it to the JEP (though if any of my readers can provide me with documentary evidence of who these people were please feel to inform me). The existence of these submissions though raises another jurisdictional issue in this whole sorry saga – are any submissions under 1(f) about the Bishop valid under the Steel investigation?

When I asked a spokesman for the Diocese this question I was told that the Bishop was of the understanding that the Terms of Reference above referred to the matters discussed in the Korris Report and not any subsequent actions. That seems to be a fair reading of the full Terms of Reference, but of course the proverbial cat is out of the proverbial bag now and regardless of the fact that Dame Steel’s investigation may not have the remit to investigate complaints about the Bishop (however solid or spurious such complaints are), she will by now have received them. So I asked the Bishop’s Spokesperson whether the Bishop would categorically state that he would or wouldn’t rule out of order any such submissions. The response from the spokesperson for Bishop Tim Dakin was as follows.

“Any evidence or information submitted to the Investigation goes to Dame Heather and her team alone. Their work is independent of anyone in the Diocese and so the Bishop is not involved in deciding what submissions are or are not helpful or relevant to the Investigation. However, it is worth highlighting that the purpose of the Investigation is to consider the concerns raised in the Korris Report. Dame Heather wrote and commissioned the call for evidence published in the Jersey Evening Post and notified +Tim of her intention to do so.”

So the Bishop is saying that he doesn’t get to decide what submissions are relevant to Dame Steel’s work BUT he certainly has a view to what the bounds of relevancy are. Make of that what you will. And note that he didn’t actually explicitly answer my question…

One thing is clear – in these days of modern communications and the easy ability of people to disseminate opinions and facts to whoever they will, inviting public input into an investigation is to open the door to all comers. That the submissions made in response to the second advert in the JEP are valid under the Terms of Reference is possibly a matter for dispute. That the submissions have been made and that, if of substance, at some point may have to be responded to is however another thing altogether. Whoever was behind the second advert has asked for a copy of all submissions to be sent to a Gmail account and that means that someone somewhere is storing up a whole horde of grievances from different people across Jersey.

A week ago I wrote the following,

As I commented on the BBC and Premier Radio last weekend, there is the risk that with these kind of actions the situation escalates out of control very quickly.

As the events on Jersey and the content in Dame Steel’s inbox unfold, I think this warning is even more pertinent to all parties involved in this sad state of affairs. Matthew 5:44 seems appropriate in a war of egos, but unfortunately Matthew 10:16 may be the end game for some.

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