Thursday, 7 June 2007

Bishop Butler: whitewash or due process?

The problem regarding Bishop Tom Butler's situation is surely aggravated by the fact that there seem to have been two separate enquiries, each of which took into account different evidence.

Judge Rupert Bursell's enquiry, whose leaked report lies behind the current brouhaha in the news, came to the conclusion that there was "substantial evidence" that the bishop may have been drunk. At the same time, it recognised other explanations were possible, but it did not hear from the bishop himself.

A second enquiry, whose format and conclusions is unknown, apparently heard evidence from the bishop, including medical testimony which said that the events could have been explained by amnesia following a head injury. However, the reported statement of the owner of the car into which the bishop climbed that "This is a whitewash" suggests this second enquiry did not hear directly from the witnesses taken into account by first.

We thus have two sets of evidence - both of which are admitted to provide reasonable explanations of the bishop's behaviour. Yet we must presume from the current reporting of the situation that they have not been tested alongside one another. It is this which gives most cause for concern. "Substantial evidence" in one direction should surely be weighed against reasonable explanations in the other and conclusions reached on that basis.

What is most unsatisfactory is the apparent dismissal of the complaint by Mr Adams on the grounds that he lacks 'proper interest', which some are taking to mean 'enough weight'.

Some have taken the view that even to complain formally about the bishop's behaviour is itself unworthy. Damian Thompson has blamed the Evangelicals for mounting a campaign against the bishop - an accusation which itself surely ought to include some evidence to back it up. And certainly it is a matter of concern that a supposedly-confidential report has been leaked.

Nevertheless, the fact is that clergy lives can come under the spotlight, there are rules about clergy behaviour, and there is a disciplinary process by which to deal with these situations.

It is therefore perfectly legitimate to have concerns about the process itself, which in this case seems not to have operated as one might have thought it would, according to the normal rules of judicial procedure.

Revd John P Richardson
7 June 2007

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