PROCESS IN CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN THE ARCHDIOCESE OF SINGAPORE
From time to time, complaints against priests or laity arrive at the Archbishop’s desk. Most complainants expect the Bishop to intervene directly and personally to effect justice. This is neither possible nor the most efficient or judicious way to resolve conflicts.
The Archbishop is the Shepherd of the flock that has been entrusted to him. As the head of the local Church, the Bishop has many responsibilities. He is to lead and govern them as their priest, prophet and king. He also has to pray for them, nourish them with the Word of God and respond to their different needs and demands. He therefore has to work in unison with the Holy Mother Church to ensure that the needs of the flock are met.
The Bible teaches that in the family, the father has the responsibility of preserving the unity, integrity and wellbeing of his family. The mother supports and shares in her husband’s responsibilities. Together they provide for the various needs of the family. In the same vein, the Church is called to model after the family.
Addressing these complaints fall under the Judicial and Executive office of the Archbishop. To ensure that there is timely intervention, transparency, objectivity and impartiality in ministering justice and that the values of unity, reconciliation and mutual understanding and forgiveness are assured, a process has thus been put in place involving the entire Church hierarchy.
PRINCIPLES OF THE PROCESS
- The basic principle of the Conflict Resolution Process takes a leaf from Scripture. Mt 18:15-17 directs the way we should go if there are differences, misunderstandings and wrong doings in our community: we are invited to bring the matter directly to the person concerned, and if this does not yield an amicable outcome, then we are to bring one or two others to assist in solving the impasse. When this fails, we are to then bring it up to the community, i.e, this process of escalating the appeal to the next higher level of authority until the Archbishop, who is the highest level of arbitration, should be the way.
- The Archbishop exercises his executive authority through the delegation of the investigation. This ensures that justice is tempered with charity and that it is not only carried out but also seen to be carried out. Throughout the process he maintains oversight of the complaints.
- As shepherd to all, he is both a father to the People of God and a brother to his fellow priests. Just like in any family, when the siblings have disagreements, parents should not take sides or show favouritism. So too, the Archbishop must remain neutral in every situation. His duty is to foster unity and reconciliation through mutual understanding.
- For this reason, competent persons are appointed to deal with the cases or complaints. This is to ensure objectivity and transparency. They will have to investigate, clarify and then mediate.
- This process is established so that complaints are attended to in a timely manner.
- When mediation fails, the Archbishop steps in as a last recourse for the conflicting parties. This provides for everyone a last court of appeal.
- In exceptional cases, because of the severity of the issue, he may intervene directly but never without having first consulted relevant advisors.
- Except for exceptional cases (Point 7 of Principles), those wishing the Archbishop to deal with their grievances must first have attempted mediation at the lower levels.
- They must also give him written permission to share the contents of the particular complaint with the accused and those whom he appoints to mediate so that transparency and objectivity is ensured. Without this permission, he will not be able to render justice, because justice must be rendered to both parties. There should be an opportunity for clarification and defence so that an amicable solution can be found.
- The Archbishop does not entertain anonymous letters of complaint. Likewise, complainants who do not respect the principle of transparency by allowing the archbishop to show evidence of the complaint to those accused, will also not be attended to.
- The process does not apply to complaints of a criminal nature, or of matters which come under the purview of the Professional Standards Office (PSO). The PSO deals with all sexual abuse cases. Such complaints will follow the set processes of the PSO.
- The manner in which a complaint is managed takes into account the situational context and nature of severity. Regardless, the first attempt at resolving a conflict must begin with the complainant approaching the person at the centre of the conflict. Only when that fails, does the process escalate up. Complaints may be grouped into the following 3 categories, according to levels of severity:
(a) Level 1: Parochial and Organisation Local Issues
These concern people, policies and day-to-day management issues that are not systemic, i.e they are parish or organisation-based practices which are not common to the archdiocese.
Resolution of such complaints should first be attempted at individual level with the persons concerned. If this fails, then an attempt should be made at the parish/organisation level by bringing them to the attention of the Spiritual Director/head of ministry or organisation, or to the PPC (Parish Pastoral Council)/Parish Priest. Only when these efforts fail, do they get escalated to the VGs (Vicars General) and above.
(b) Level 2: Clergy/Religious and Archdiocesan Systemic Issues
These concern people, policies and management issues that are systemic and affect the well-being of the entire archdiocese, such as matters relating to the conduct of priests and religious, financial and HR practices of the archdiocese, etc
Such complaints should be brought to the attention of the respective VGs who will escalate it to the Archbishop if the matter cannot be resolved at this level.
(c) Level 3: Curia and Crises Issues
Complaints against the VGs, Episcopal Vicar, Judicial Vicar and Chancellor in regard to their discharge of their respective offices may be addressed to the Archbishop, if they fail to be resolved directly with them.
Similarly, matters that are judged to have serious legal, political and reputational implications for the Church or clergy, such as human rights abuses, physical/sexual abuses and financial irregularities at parish/organisation or diocesan level, may be brought to the Archbishop’s attention.
- In all cases brought to the attention of the Archbishop for mediation through the hierarchy (ie having failed to be resolved at the lower levels), the Archbishop reserves the right to elect a forum to handle the complaint. The Archbishop further reserves the right to forward the letters of complaint to the determined forum. All cases involving physical/sexual abuses will be directed to the PSO to be dealt with according to their internal systems and processes.
- The competent forum takes over the inquiry with the necessary facts, documentation, etc. and conducts interviews with all relevant parties to the complaint as necessary.
- Having weighed all the evidence of the complaint, the Chair of the competent forum makes a written report to the Archbishop.
- When the Archbishop approves of the report, he directs it to be released to all interested parties to the complaint.
- Reconciliation, forgiveness and mutual understanding is the desired result of such a process.
- If there is an appeal, the Archbishop takes it upon himself and other advisors to review the process to ensure that justice and fairness have been served.
- The Archbishop reserves the right to call the whole process to a close with a decision which would be binding on all parties.
- All who make allegations that prove to be false or malicious must make the necessary restitution and restore the good name of the person(s) who have been accused.