When nothing can be said

Openness and transparency are values to which we aspire in the Diocese of Coventry; nevertheless, situations can arise where archdeacons or diocesan staff are unable to give a direct answer to a simple question.

We understand the frustration that this can cause, and we also recognise that a lack of factual information provides a vacuum in which rumours, speculation and untruths can spread. This can be hurtful and damaging to those involved, their families, the church and the local community. We are sorry if you, your church or your community finds itself in this situation.

The purpose of this article is to explain why there are occasions when we are unable to answer the questions that you ask us.

Why can nothing be said?

When nothing can be said, it is often because:

  • It's not our information to share; or,
  • There is a concern or allegation that is being investigated.

The most common reason why an archdeacon, or diocesan staff, is unable to say anything is simply because it's not their information to share (e.g. a health issue or a family crisis). An archdeacon might be aware of the situation, and the person might have been granted a period of leave. However, this information belongs to the individual, and they alone must choose how much (or how little) they want to share with others.  In such circumstances it would be wholly inappropriate for the archdeacon to share this information outside the established bounds of confidentiality. 

Less commonly, the reason is because there is a concern or allegation that might need to be investigated. The Diocese has an obligation to take all concerns or allegations seriously, and this can result in an investigation by the statutory authorities, diocesan staff or a third party. You will be aware that, when any organisation is asked about an investigation, the standard response is, "It would not be appropriate for us to comment while this matter is being investigated." In some cases it might also be a criminal offence for us to release any information that might interfere with a police investigation.

Although people will be curious about which reason applies to a particular situation, even that information can not always be shared without the relevant permission. Furthermore, in some situations, the reason might change or both might apply.

Why suspended?

In some situations a person might request, or be asked, to take leave. However, in other situations a person might be suspended. The person usually has a choice about the former, but not about the latter.

It must be stressed that suspension is an entirely neutral act; it is not a presumption of guilt. In some cases, suspension is a precautionary action to ensure that a case can be investigated in a dispassionate manner and to protect all parties involved (including the person who has been suspended).

How much longer?

Archdeacons and diocesan staff can spend a huge amount of time trying to resolve a situation; however, there are sometimes complex procedures that need to be followed. Furthermore, if an investigation is being conducted by statutory agencies, the time this takes is entirely beyond our control.

"How much longer?" is a very reasonable question, but one which is very difficult to answer. We recognise that this can be very frustrating for individuals and parishes; it can also be very frustrating for bishops, archdeacons and diocesan staff.  

What can we do?

Situations like this are difficult for everyone, but there are three ways in which you can help.

  1. Please pray for everyone involved.
    God knows the details of the situation, even if you don't. Please pray for those directly involved, their families, the church and the local community.
  2. Please support people who undertake additional responsibilities.
    When someone takes leave, or is suspended, other people need to fill the gap by taking on additional responsibilities. Please consider ways in which you can help, either directly or by supporting others.
  3. Please share any concerns with us.
    Although we might not be able to answer your questions, we are always willing to hear your concerns. Please don’t hesitate to call 024 7652 1345 if they relate to safeguarding, or contact Archdeacon Sue for any other matter.
  4. Please be mindful about what you say.
    Do your best not to gossip or to spread rumours. Instead, encourage others to refrain from speculation, and to wait patiently until the situation has been resolved.

Thank you for your prayers, support and patience.

Graeme Pringle
Director of Communications
Diocese of Coventry