The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand seeks to ensure that the Church is a safe and nurturing environment for all. Rules and procedures have been developed to enable individuals and the Church to respond responsibly to any acts of inappropriate or unethical behaviour by a Church office-bearer or member.
Where to start
Each presbytery/UDC has appointed Contact people to support and advise anyone thinking of making a complaint regarding an officer of member of the Church. To find a Contact person, look for the Complaints notice on your parish noticeboard, or contact your presbytery clerk.
How to make a complaint
In order for a complaint to be investigated it needs to be:
- clear what the nature of the complaint is
- specific (including, where possible, names of individuals, places, dates etc) in writing.
The Contact person can assist you with this.
Assessing a complaint
The Contact person forwards the confidential, written complaint to the Complaints Officer, who calls an Assessors Panel to hear the complaint. The Assessors Panel will forward a copy of the complaint to the respondent (the subject of the complaint). The respondent has 21 working days to make a written response to the Assessors Panel. You, as complainant, will then be given a further 21 working days to comment on the respondent’s report. The Assessors Panel then has 20 working days to consider the complaint and the responses, and to determine the appropriate course of action to be taken. Actions may include:
- dismissing the complaint
- referring it to presbytery for mediation
- referring it back to the Complaints Officer to appoint a Disciplinary Commission
- referring it to the New Zealand Police.
If the complaint is referred to a Disciplinary Commission, the Commission will set out the procedure to hear the charge and communicate this to you, and to the respondent. Both parties will be given the right to appear before the Disciplinary Commission, and may choose to appoint legal counsel and/or a support person to attend. The Disciplinary Commission has the power to decide whether the hearing will be conducted in private or public, whether any witnesses are to be called and to rule on the types of evidence to be admitted for the purposes of the hearing. Where the charge is upheld, the Disciplinary Commission has the power to make an order for (among other things) mediation, a restorative justice programme, censure of the respondent, a rehabilitative programme for the respondent, suspension or removal from office and/or compensation. For a full summary of the Presbyterian Church’s processes and the powers of its courts, please refer to chapter 15 of the Book of Order.
Referral to the Police
Complaints of a serious sexual nature or those involving children will always be referred to the Police. It is the policy of the Presbyterian Church to suspend any internal investigations until a Police investigation has been completed. Anyone who becomes aware of offending of this nature is urged to contact the Police immediately. Where an officer or member of the Church is found guilty in a court of law, they may still be charged under the Church’s process. Where this happens, the intent of Church proceedings is to determine an appropriate order (e.g. removal from office) and not to ‘re-hear’ the original charges.