Members of the General Synod are set to investigate whether bishops breached social media rules when openly criticising government adviser Dominic Cummings for his much-publicised lockdown breach. A number of questions are to be tabled on the issue during an online meeting of the synod this weekend.
Several bishops spoke out against Cummings after it emerged that he had travelled to Durham in April while the rest of the country was instructed by the government to remain at home.
At the time, Rt Rev Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, tweeted: "The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs? The moral question is not for Cummings - it is for PM and ministers/MPs who find this behaviour acceptable."
Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, the Bishop of Ripon, wrote: "Integrity, trust and leadership were never there; just a driven misguided ideology of power that has total disregard for the most weak and vulnerable, and those who work to protect and care for us with relatively low pay."
Rt Revd Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester added: "The PM's risible defence of Cummings is an insult to all those who have made such sacrifices to ensure the safety of others."
One of the questions due to be put to the bishops reads as follows:
"At a time when people's freedoms are constrained by law and Government guidance in the interests of public health, will the House remind archbishops, bishops and other clergy of the need to avoid giving the impression by their public statements that either: (a) they are partisan, or at least inconsistent, in the judgements they make about compliance with the law and Government guidance, whether by particular individuals (such as Dominic Cummings) or by particular sections of people (such those demonstrating against racism); or (b) they are encouraging or condoning behaviour which is inconsistent with that law and guidance, or with the law on public order more generally?"
In response to that question, Rt Rev David Walker, Bishop of Manchester himself critical of Cummings, is to reply:
"It is appropriate for the clergy to play a positive part in civic society and politics, promoting the kingdom values of justice, integrity and peace in public life. It is well established by the House that clergy should not encourage or condone behaviour which is inconsistent with the law and guidance, whether on public order or any other matter.
"The Church of England's Digital Charter, launched in 2019, sets out helpful principles which the House would encourage all church members to take into account when making decisions on how to engage with social media. We will continue to participate while emphasising the need to maintain civility and compassion in the face of hostility, underscoring the importance of considered and thoughtful debate."
Another question relates to the issuing of more specific guidance "in the light of the criticism made of Dominic Cummings on social media for his conduct during the 'lockdown', including by a number of bishops".
In response, Bishop David is again to refer to the CofE's Digital Charter and Social Media Guidelines which he says "sets out helpful principles which the House would encourage everyone across the Church and beyond to consider when using social media".