John Sentamu 4.JPG

Safeguarding is a very important matter, but it does not trump Church law’ (Lord Sentamu).

No Church law excuses the responsibility of individuals not to act on matters of a safeguarding nature’(J Humphreys, Independent Learning Lessons Review, 11th May 2023, para 16.3.16).

Baron Sentamu of Lindisfarne and Masooli was Archbishop of York and Primate of England from 2005 to 2020.  Before entering holy orders he had a distinguished legal career in the High Court of Uganda – a dangerous occupation under the despotic regime of Idi Amin.  The future Archbishop was imprisoned and tortured.  It was not the last time that he would suffer for bearing witness to the rule of law.

One must keep a sense of perspective, of course.  As the late Thomas Cromwell might have said, this is not Uganda, this is England!  Archbishop Sentamu was granted the customary life peerage on his retirement.  He still holds this at the time of writing.  He was also granted the customary permission to officiate (‘PTO’) from his local bishop.  The PTO enables retired clergy to pray and preach in church without holding a specific ecclesiastical office.

Lord Sentamu’s PTO has now been revoked by his local bishop.  This means that the erstwhile Primate of England can no longer perform even the humblest ecclesiastical duty in his own diocese of residence.

The reason given for this degradation was a ‘safeguarding matter’ that arose in another diocese within the Province of York when Lord Sentamu was Archbishop, and which was the subject of the review cited above.  Archbishop Sentamu had declined to intervene in the safeguarding matter.  He later rejected the reviewer’s criticism of his non-intervention and declined to apologise.

The common law jurisdiction of an Archbishop is stated by canon C17(2)

‘The Archbishop has throughout his Province at all times metropolitical jurisdiction, as superintendent of all ecclesiastical matters therein, to correct and supply the defects of other bishops, and, during the time of his metropolitical visitation,  jurisdiction as ordinary …’.

This makes clear that common law metropolitical jurisdiction is not the same thing as ordinary authority.  The Archbishop’s jurisdiction over the Province is not analogous to the authority of the bishop (and archdeacons) within the diocese.  The Archbishop is primate, i.e  the first bishop of the Province, primus inter pares, first among equals, but no more.

Thus the Archbishop may not intervene in another diocese on a routine or discretionary basis.  To do so would be to exceed his jurisdiction.  Metropolitical jurisdiction is limited.  ‘To correct and supply the defects of other bishops’ means that the Archbishop should intervene only when the diocesan bishop cannot cope, or cannot be trusted.  It is a jurisdiction of last resort.

Canon C17(2) is a civil jurisdiction.  A bishop’s alleged ‘defects’ may form the basis of a disciplinary complaint, a quasi-criminal and penal matter.

The Archbishop’s disciplinary jurisdiction over other bishops is now conferred by the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.  This statutory jurisdiction, it is true, much more nearly resembles that of a diocesan bishop over his clergy.  S.10(3) provides that ‘references in … this Measure to the bishop … shall, in the case of proceedings against a bishop … be construed as a reference to the Archbishop …’.

Read it all in Ecclesiastical Law