ALL Anglicans in Jersey have been invited to a meeting next week to discuss a dispute that threatens the Island's centuries-old link with the Diocese of Winchester. The meeting, on Tuesday, has been organised by Senator Sir Philip Bailhache, who a member of the congregation at Grouville Parish Church.
The former Bailiff has been critical of the Bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev Tim Dakin, since the Bishop removed the powers of the Dean of Jersey in March following a complaint of sexual misconduct made by a vulnerable young adult against a churchwarden in 2008.
The Dean, the Very Rev Bob Key, has since been reinstated but his seven-week 'suspension' has sparked a chain of events that includes a 'Visitation' by a former Bishop looking at the whole relationship between the Island and the Diocese. (1)
The terms of reference for the Visitation are interesting, as apart from safeguarding issues, they also include the following:
"clarifying and describing the legal, ecclesiastical and practical nature of the relationship between the Deanery of Jersey, the Diocese of Winchester and the wider Church of England, including the roles of the Bishop of Winchester, the Suffragan Bishops, the Archdeacons, Diocesan staff, the Dean and Vice-Deans of Jersey and the ecclesiastical courts of Jersey in relation to the appointments process, the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people, disciplinary provisions and the general oversight of the Deanery of Jersey" (2)
That's quite a bit wider than just safeguarding, and also includes "disciplinary provisions and the general oversight of the Deanery of Jersey", which suggests that there may be pressure to reform Jersey Canon Law to make it easier for the Bishop to exercise control over what happens in Jersey.
And, apart from safeguarding matters, what might the Bishop like to do with regard to Jersey's churches? The Church of England Newspaper, describing the Jersey Canon Law in 2011 - later approved and adopted on 14 March 2012 - said that it was 15 years being prepared by current and former Deans of Jersey, consulting with Synod and approved by the former Bishop of Winchester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt. But here is the crucial point:
"The revised canons would block potential moves by the cash-strapped Diocese of Winchester to amalgamate the island's 12 historic parishes, or assign a single clergyman to multiple parishes."(3)
And the finally approved Canon Law states clearly:
"None, either Dean or Minister, shall hold two Rectorial Benefices together."(4)
It's just one small sentence, but Church of England Newspaper points out, it blocks what Bishop Tim Dakin may well want to do, to drastically cut the numbers of clergy, and combine Parishes together. In 2009, the Dean wrote to me, and noted that:
"The Constables insist, rightly in my view, that a separate Rector for each parish is Jersey's heritage and tradition. It is also built into the law of the land through the Canons of the Church of England in Jersey. "
The new Canons of 2012 confirm that ancient tradition, and while they remain in force, they limit the power of the Bishop to make changes. And the situation in Jersey is different from England in many respects - the Rector is involved with Parish matters on the Roads Committee, and the Parishes support the maintenance of the fabric of the ancient Parish Churches. An English Parish, though it bears the same name, is a much less defined district, and the two are not homologous. This is not something that England finds easy to understand, in much the same way that English people find Jersey politics, and the tradition of independent politicians rather than party machines, quite difficult to comprehend.
Whether this aspect of the Visitation will be considered in the meeting on Tuesday is another matter. It looks as if it might be looking in part at ecclesiastical law. But the most prudent action, in my opinion, would be to let the Visitation take place without fuss. After all, any change to the Canons would need approval by the States anyway; changes cannot be made by the Bishop alone.
But Sir Philip Bailhache has more of a reputation for being somewhat pugnacious, and in Jersey, he is a large fish in a small pond. He has been singularly unsuccessful so far either in changing the Bishop's mind or, for that matter, getting much response from the Archbishop of Canterbury to his letter. There may well be issues of Data Protection if it turns out that he has been in possession of confidential documents, and was displaying them opening, as alleged by an anonymous member of the public on a flight.
Meanwhile, while the Diocese have published the terms of reference for the Visitation, they have not published any terms of reference for Dame Steel's linked investigation, apart from saying that it "will now make further inquiries, find facts 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 Korris Review."
As Peter Ould notes: "I also find it curious that the Diocese of Winchester cannot release Dame Steel's Terms of Reference given that the whole investigation is based on safeguarding and the need for full transparency and accountability in these areas." There is clearly a degree of mistrust and suspicion on both sides. As an onlooker from outside, it seems like a wilful and defensive silence from Winchester, and angry posturing from some Church members in Jersey.
In these circumstances, the meeting at Grouville may well fan the flames rather than put them out. What is really needed is a peacemaker, seeking reconciliation and goodwill, and above all someone who can listen well. I'm not at all sure that Sir Philip, who has already been very critical of Bishop Tim Dakin, is the most appropriate person for that role. The meeting is "not intended to be confrontational", according to Sir Philip, but he hardly has a good track record for being non-confrontational.
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