Diocese dispute is troubling

A SUGGESTION that Jersey and Guernsey might withdraw from the Diocese of Winchester might not affect most islanders – but the threat is hugely significant.

A SUGGESTION that Jersey and Guernsey might withdraw from the Diocese of Winchester might not affect most islanders – but the threat is hugely significant.

Historically, the Channel Islands were part of the Diocese of Coutances. However, Pope Alexander VI transferred them to Winchester in 1500. Despite that, the Bishops of Coutances continued to exercise de facto jurisdiction and it was not until an Order in Council of 11 March 1569 that the Channel Islands were finally placed under the Episcopal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester.

So whatever has triggered the latest talk of separation is clearly serious, given the centuries of tradition linking the islands with Winchester.

At the heart of it is the handling of an investigation into a sexual misconduct complaint and the gagging of a report into it which has led to the Bishop of Winchester parachuting two other bishops in on a fact-find mission with the full support of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This has been imposed and Church and insular authorities were merely informed of it.

Does that mean something is seriously wrong with the way the Church is run in the Channel

Islands or is the Bishop of Winchester a heavy-handed authoritarian?

For most onlookers, the blocking of the report by former High Court Judge Dame Heather Steel into the complaint in Jersey is unfortunate.

An independent third-party investigation into what happened by an eminent judicial figure would provide an element of closure.

However, for publication to be prevented as it has been by what the bishop calls ‘an interested party’ suggests that the Church in Jersey is

trying to draw a veil over its own acts and any omissions there might have been.

In a modern society, that is not helpful and it is certainly not how society expects things to be done. It certainly seems to have provoked the Bishop of Winchester.

In turn, there is reportedly widespread dissatisfaction in the islands with the bishop himself leading to the possibility of petitioning the Privy Council to break that link with Winchester.

While this might be a simple power struggle, the underlying cause gives it a darker aspect.