Key Sheldon documents

Emerging findings
June 2020

"I was handed over to the Dogs"
May 2021

Scope & Purpose
Feb 2021

Jan 2020

July 2021 post-Synod update

Something fairly major happened at Synod and the implications are still being digested. The GS2219 paper which comprises the deliberations of the Lambeth Working Group was presented by Bishop Tim Thornton and duly debated. The proposals had been vigorously opposed by Sheldon and CECA who both prefer the alternative proposals prepared by the ELS Working Party (which were not on the table). As expected the "Take Note" motion was passed with a large majority. This was a good thing in order to avoid further lengthy delays.  

However, the next thing was for Synod to debate Simon Talbott's "Following Motion" 

That this Synod:

Believing the proposal in GS 2219 to categorise complaints against clergy as either "complaints" or "misconduct" is likely to perpetuate existing trauma of clergy being subjected to serious formal process for some conduct which does not justify prohibition from ministry and the loss of home or livelihood.; and also believing that the proposed timetable for tabling new legislation will add yet further lengthy delay to remedying the manifest defects of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003;

a) urge the proposed implementation group to develop a system of initial assessment that distinguishes between (i) complaints not involving misconduct (ii) misconduct that is less than serious, and (iii) serious misconduct, with only serious misconduct being subject to investigation by a national agency and a formal tribunal process; and

b) encourage the business committee to enable the implementation group to present its initial proposals on a proposed approach to Synod in November 2021 so progress can be made with serious intent through the Synod sessions of 2022

The motion was carefully worded to strike right at the heart of the difference between the Lambeth and the ELS proposals. It added strong pressure for a brisk timetable for progress. The surprise win was that this motion was passed by an overwhelming majority of 238-32 in favour  (88%). With such a hefty majority there is no way the Implementation Group can ignore Synod's concerns. The other piece of good news announced during the debate was that Bishop Tim had invited Peter Collier, who chaired the ELS Working Party, to be a member of the Implementation Group. For those who read such matters, there were apparently also coded messages in the debate that the bishops may be bowing to the inevitable and pivoting away from the Lambeth proposals and towards the ELS ones. 

So although this may have looked like a rather dry bit of procedure it actually demonstrates some solid momentum building up behind change that Sheldon could potentially endorse. It's the first time we've dared to hope that there might be concrete positive change. The next thing to look out for is who else is appointed to the Implementation Group. 


General Synod July 2021 

Papers and resources for General Synod

Sheldon Hub online forums conversations (require login)

Documents (no login required)

The right hand side bar of this web page provides links to most of the working documents by the ELS, Lambeth Working Group, Sheldon and CECA over the last two years. 

News 25th May 2021:

Major research paper published
and Sheldon steps down from campaign to replace CDM

'I was handed over to the dogs': lived experience, clerical trauma and the handling of complaints against clergy in the Church of England

A devastating systematic analysis of data from the Sheldon/Aston research survey. This paper explores the deeply troubling territory around the edges of the CDM. The painful testimonies are a hard read but these are voices that need your ears. Anyone in ministry can get caught up in this, often through no fault of their own.

We hope it will impassion you to become part of an unstoppable movement for constructive change.

Link : "Handed over to the dogs"

That movement for change will no longer involve Sheldon's leadership.
We are stepping back now. We have given it heart and soul for several years and much has been achieved. Now we are in danger of over-stretching 'real world' Sheldon. Sheldon has generously funded this project in direct cash (£35,000), but in many ways the time and emotional energy has been much more costly. We don't put a monetary value on our time, but time spent on ProjectCDM is time not spent with people in need or on other necessary projects. We have attended many meetings, written papers, collaborated with researchers, contributed to consultations by others and built networks. There has probably been some vicarious trauma in the mix. Bringing to light such deep-rooted pain has generated significant additional correspondence and pastoral need from those directly harmed by the CDM. 

The church can look away but can no longer say it didn't know. A complaint against a caring professional in a public role should be treated as a pastoral emergency. Clergy urgently need a system for handling complaints and allegations of misconduct against them that is swift, proportionate, easy to understand, presumes innocence unless or until found guilty, and is applied without fear or favour. It needs to be rooted in gathering of robust factual evidence and prioritise restoring relationships wherever possible. The administration of the process must itself be properly accountable. Reputations of institutions matter, but those of individuals are far more vulnerable in this context. A year after the bishops agreed that CDM should be replaced we have no evidence that the NCIs have a handle on any of this. This press release was published on 17th May but we have no idea whether the proposals considered relate to the heavily criticised Lambeth proposals of December 2020 or have already pivoted towards the ELS model. The lack of transparency is itself deeply problematic.

Sheldon, along with CECA, is therefore now recommending
that the ELS proposals are urgently taken forward into legislation.

This is a necessary coalition of the willing to achieve this particular goal. There is still room for improving detail. We think the scope should be widened and the safeguards enhanced, but the overarching framework appears sound. Here is a brief introductory summary, and here are links to all the working party reports and the in-depth workings.  In the absence of an official one, this is Sheldon's own Scope and Purpose against which we think any new Measure may be assessed.

A reasonable target is approval by Synod by July 2022 and enacted into law by the end of the year, but this will only happen if there is overwhelming pressure from clergy. 

Here are a few suggestions for action

  • Use all channels feeding in to General Synod this July - this is when the course will be set and it will be harder to change later
  • Make it a live issue in the elections to General Synod in September - it is the new intake who will succeed or fail to replace CDM. This cuts across tribal lines and affects clergy of all stripes.
  • Your bishop needs to hear your voice - it is especially important that people who have not been CDMd act on this as those who have are often too vulnerable. 
  • Church and church-related media - newspapers, blogs, social media, etc - keep the subject visibly on the agenda
  • Make good use of the Sheldon Hub as a secure space for forum collaboration and resource repository. This page will continue to signpost current conversations and provide links to documents and other resources. Bookmark it. 
  • Get talking on this forum thread to generate momentum now.
  • Also a new Private Forum for those in a position to be actively involved in the processes to try and ensure the new Measure is as responsive to all our concerns as possible. It will be operated by colleagues from CECA and ELS. Apply to join the private forum.

Link : ELS proposals (summary)

When we started this project the subject of CDM was unspeakable, untouchable - a hot potato - and the fear was palpable. We hope our work has cut the CDM down to a size you can now handle more safely. There was no-one else to start this work because of our unique vantage point, trusted position, lay status and a healthy dose of sheer bloody-mindedness. We trust and pray that together you will go on and finish the task - together you will be unstoppable. We wish you well.

The Sheldon Community's "ProjectCDM" was started in 2017 in response to significant pastoral concerns around the effects of the Clergy Discipline Measure. We set ourselves the fourfold task of

  • Improving support for those going or been through CDM
  • Improving implementation of the existing Measure
  • Commissioning independent academic research into the workings of the Measure
  • Making evidence based recommendations for the repair or replacement of the Measure

Feb 21: Call for appointment of Lead Person to see through CDM replacement

With the forthcoming retirement of the Chair of the Lambeth Working Group the Rt Rev Tim Thornton Sheldon is urgently renewing its January 2020 call for the appointment of a Lead Person to see through the replacement of the CDM. The role should involve building consensus, shepherding legislation through General Synod, overseeing initial training and implementation, embedding feedback learning loops for safe future functioning and initiating restorative justice. 

Feb 21: Scope and Purpose of replacement to CDM

Sheldon remains very concerned that detailed proposals are being brought forward for the replacement of CDM without any published document on the Scope and Purpose of such a Measure. As no-one else appeared to have the appetite to produce one, Sheldon offers this document as a starting point

Link : Scope and Purpose

Jan 21: Lambeth Working Group and ELS Working Party

The working groups published their significantly different proposals for the replacement of CDM in December 2020.
Sheldon and CECA collaborated on a joint response to the ELS proposals, and separate ones for the Lambeth proposals.

Jul 20: Emerging academic research findings

In the autumn of 2019 the largest ever survey on CDM was undertaken among clergy across England. This was carried out by Sheldon in collaboration with Aston University. By July 2020 initial analysis of the research data gathered had been completed. The significant findings assisted the bishops in coming to the decision that the CDM should indeed be replaced.

Link : Research Findings

Jul 20: The decision to replace CDM

On 8th July the House of Bishops unanimously supported Bishop Tim Thornton's motion to work towards complete replacement of the CDM. This is a very significant milestone on the journey of restoring humanity to clergy discipline. We would like to extend our thanks to all the allies who have collaborated to achieve this result. Most especially we want to thank clergy who had been through CDM who took part in the research at significant personal cost - revisiting a highly traumatic experience in order that others might benefit.

The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 is a Church Measure, approved by Parliament and part of English law so there will now be a lengthy process to draft and legislate its replacement(s). There are pressures to achieve this quickly, but there are also significant risks of repeating the same mistakes if there is not a deep commitment to understand the cultural isues allowed such an abusive process to continue for so long. We also want to minimise the risks for the remaining clergy facing complaints under the old and now discredited system before it is finally consigned to the dustbin of history. 

Jul 20: The Sheldon/Aston University research project

In early 2019 we signed a £48,000 contract with Aston University to undertake independent academic research into the lived experience of CDM. No such research had ever been done before. At the time the subject was such a hot potato that we were only able to raise £5,000 in funding (St Boniface Trust - thank you) so our trustees underwrote the rest from Sheldon's own charity reserves. The research took the form of a highly detailed online survey which was distributed to Church of England clergy through every diocese in the autumn of 2019 gathering unprecendented data from 6,000 participants. Work had begun on assessing this in 2020 when the Covid-19 crisis hit. Under challenging circumstances the preliminary data analysis has been carried out and is presented in the link above. It has been described as a devastating critique of the structure and operation of CDM - all the more so for being based on such a wide-ranging survey.

In summer 2020 we withdrew from the Aston contract early. In the face of pandemic-related costs to Sheldon of over £100,000, and with the case for replacement having been successfully made, we felt that saving the final £15,000 of the contract was the best available option. We have since been continuing working on the following priorities

  1. To honour the trust of all who contributed to the research, especially those who have been injured by CDM
  2. To contribute our research findings and pastoral experience to the official process(es) of replacing the CDM
  3. Training for mitigating harms of CDMs active until the replacement(s) are legislated
  4. Supporting people going through CDM or living with the aftermath


(Some are public, others require login)

In or been through CDM?

Scope and Purpose?

Sheldon open letters

Ecclesiastical Law Society

Published documents

Lambeth Working Group

Published documents

How it began

Archive CDM pages

Church Times articles

Feb 2021

Feb 2021

Jul 2020

Oct 2018

Radio 4 Sunday

x 3 2020