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Ministry Standard updates go online

The Anglican Church’s Ministry Standards Commission has published updated Canons on ministry standards and complaints processes for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Taonga News  |  22 Mar 2023  |

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia has published a full set of updated Ministry Standards canons on its official Ministry Standards Commission website.

These updated canons were installed by General Synod Te Hīnota Whānui in October 2022 to update the laws governing this Church’s official definitions and response to complaints of misconduct by its ministers or office holders. 

At the Nelson Synod that approved the changes, Archbishop Don Tamihere and Archbishop Philip Richardson moved Bill 12 that amended the canons of Title D. In their movers’ speeches, both Archbishops shared how learnings from the Ministry Standards Commission and from abuse survivors and their advocates had informed changes to Title D.

The changes passed in the Title D canons add new definitions of ‘Misconduct’ and extend the scope of complaints that can be considered under the canons.

When Provincial Chancellor Bruce Gray KC explained the law changes to Synod 2022, he shared how the one-day Zoom General Synod in 2020 had passed major Title D reforms with the members’ understanding that more changes would be likely as time went on. 

Back in 2020, Title D reforms had established the Ministry Standards Commission (MSC), which since then has received complaints from across the Church and responded to them using a consistent and thorough process. 

At Synod, Ministry Standards Commissioners lawyer Mele Taliai and clinical psychologist Dianne Cameron explained that many of the now-passed Title D amendments had come out of the Commission’s practical experience in dealing with complaints over the last two years.

For example, they had seen cases where misconduct had occurred that was not listed in Title D, leaving room for interpretation as to what was covered by the canons. In addition, the Ministry Standards Commission had taken on board complainants’ feedback as to how the Church’s process could better serve them.

At the same time, the Royal Commission into Abuse in State and Faith-Based Care has highlighted cases where institutions, including churches, failed to respond adequately to survivors’ disclosures of abuse. The amended Title D now removes two aspects of the canons that survivors’ advocates identified could stand in the way of people seeking a fair hearing: time limits and geographical limits.

In summary, Te Hīnota passed changes to: 

Clearly list forms of abuse that constitute Misconduct 

Title D Canon I now contains a list of behaviours under “Misconduct” identified as abuse.

While these forms of misconduct were intended to be covered by the canon, the canon had mainly listed good behaviours the Church expected, rather than listing potential abuses. The amendments now spell out more behaviours this Church defines as Misconduct. 

In summary, the Canon now states that Misconduct includes:

- physical abuse, reckless or intentional use of force or threats of physical abuse

- sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, sexual exploitation of power imbalance and sexual harassment

- any form of use of a child for sexual gratification, including use of child pornography 

Finally, a new clause on spiritual abuse passed with an amendment proposed by the Dean of Taranaki, Very Rev Jay Ruka, and reads:

“…spiritual abuse which is an inappropriate use of Church authority by referencing God, faith or religion, to control or mistreat individuals which causes, or is likely to cause, significant physical or mental harm, including self-harm. However, any decision or action by a Minister or Office Bearer in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities, if made reasonably and in good faith does not constitute spiritual abuse.” 

Independent oversight of processes

Te Hīnota Whānui amended Title D so that bodies which oversee this Church’s complaints processes will now include at least one person who is not a member of this Church. This aligns with international best practice for complaints oversight by an external assessor. The Ministry Standards Commission and any Tribunals dealing with ministry standards are now required to appoint at least one non-Anglican member.

Time limitations and stays

Synod passed Bill#12 which removes the time limits and geographical limits that risked leaving some complaints outside the scope of the Church’s canons.

The first change means the canons’ existing “zero time limit” on lodging complaints of sexual abuse has now been extended to cover all forms of abuse.

The second change drops national limits. The Ministry Standards Commission can now respond to cases of misconduct by a minister or office holder of this Church that occurred outside Aotearoa New Zealand.

Title D also includes new clauses that:

– encourage people to register complaints as soon as they reasonably can

– allow the MSC to recommend a complaint be dismissed – if due to the passage of time and lack of evidence the respondent would be seriously prejudiced from responding

The final change to the canons is the new power for a Tribunal to order a permanent stay on a Title D proceeding.

Click here to view the fully updated Title D Canons





Note: The updated canons have been available since soon after General Synod Te Hīnota Whānui as a number of downloadable Word documents on the General Synod Office website under ‘Title D of Standards’.