After Chrism Masses, Benefice Appointments – CofE Independent Reviewer’s Second Report

Second report of the Church of England’s Independent Reviewer, Sir Philip Mawer

As part of the settlement by which the Church of England agreed to the ordination of women as bishops in 2014, it agreed to an ombudsman-style procedure by which those with concerns about the operation of the new arrangements could appeal to an Independent Reviewer. On 31 July, Sir Philip Mawer, the Independent Reviewer appointed by the Archbishops in relation to resolving disputes arising from the operation of the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (GS Misc 1076), issued his first report, on a complaint by Hilary Cotton, Chair of Women and the Church (‘WATCH’) about the fact that a number of chrism masses were to be held in 2015 at which bishops of the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda would preside. Sir Philip concluded that the masses are not in themselves a breach of the principles set out in the House of Bishops’ Declaration.

“Rather they are a consequence of the underlying division and of the pastoral arrangements the Church has thought it right to make for those who hold the minority view. Provided the masses continue themselves to be conducted within the spirit of the Five Principles, with due sensitivity to the feeling of others, and with full regard to the lawful authority of the relevant diocesan bishop” [42].

On 10 August 2015, Sir Philip issued his second report following a letter from Dr Colin Podmore, Director of Forward in Faith, enclosing an expression of concern about the operation of the House of Bishops’ Declaration in respect of the Parish of All Saints, Cheltenham in the Diocese of Gloucester. He states

“[t]he nub of the concern … was the licensing of the Revd Angela Smith as an “Associate Priest in the North Cheltenham Team” despite the fact that the Team Benefice included the Parish of All Saints where, by virtue of paragraph 43 of the House of Bishops’ Declaration, the PCC was to be treated as having passed a Resolution under paragraph 20 of the Declaration”.

The report includes a copy of Dr Podmore’s letter and an accompanying, Appendix A.

Jurisdiction

Both this, and the matter considered in Sir Philip’s first report raise the question of the jurisdiction of the Independent Reviewer; Regulation 27 of the Declaration provides:

“Any person may raise a concern, in writing, with the Independent Reviewer in relation to any aspect of the operation of the House of Bishops’ Declaration. Any such concern may relate to more than one act or omission under the House of Bishops’ Declaration and to more than one parish or diocese.”

He notes [3] that it was the intention of the Regulations that a grievance relating to an individual parish would normally be raised following the passing of an appropriate resolution by the PCC of the parish concerned. Although no such resolution had been passed by the PCC of All Saints, as with the earlier concerns raised by WATCH addressed in the first report, he considered that the letter did raise an issue that might be properly considered under Regulation 27, [4]

“Although it arose in the particular circumstances of All Saints, Cheltenham, it was clear that the issue Dr Podmore had raised was one of general application, raising not only legal issues about the authorization of assistant clergy in multi-parish benefices but potentially also an important question of principle concerning the need for clarity in relation to how such authorizations are granted.”

Conclusions

Paragraph 23 of the Declaration states:

“Anyone involved in making appointments to ordained parochial roles, whether of incumbents, priests in charge or assistant curates, or in exercising the power conferred by Canon C 8.2(a) to allow occasional ministry in a parish, should do everything possible to achieve an outcome that does not conflict with the nature of the conviction on this issue underlying the PCC’s resolution.”

Sir Philip notes that the whole tenor of the Declaration is that appointments to parishes which on grounds of theological conviction cannot accept the ministry of women should take account, in ways appropriate to their particular circumstances, of that conviction, which was the intention of Bishop Martyn Snow, [31]. When, very late in the day, concerns were raised with the bishop about the wording of the licence, he considered whether to recast it so as to exclude Mrs Smith from exercising priestly ministry in the parish of All Saints, but felt that this would be undesirable because it would simply highlight Mrs Smith’s exclusion from presiding at Holy Communion or pronouncing the Absolution at All Saints and because “all of those involved were fully aware of the limitations on her ministry in respect of All Saints”, [32].

Sir Philip continues,

“He also seems to have believed, as I have set out in paragraph 19 above, that the effect of Resolutions A and B was to limit the scope of Mrs Smith’s ministry by law.

33. In fact, as we have seen, there was no such legal limitation. The only way one could have been introduced was for the bishop to have expressly restricted the scope of Mrs Smith’s priestly ministry in the terms of the licence he issued. I do not doubt that, in deciding not to take that course, the bishop was acting from the best of motives and in what he perceived to be the best interests both of Mrs Smith and of the whole benefice. But in failing to spell out the precise scope of Mrs Smith’s intended ministry as an Associate Priest in the Benefice of North Cheltenham, Bishop Martyn failed to make the appropriate pastoral and sacramental provision for the Parish of All Saints, which it was entitled to expect under the House of Bishops’ Declaration (principle 5 and paragraphs 20 and 43 of the Declaration).

34. In reaching this conclusion, I have in mind a very important general principle. This is that both an assistant curate serving (otherwise than as a member of the team) in a multi-parish benefice where one of the parishes has or is deemed to have passed the resolution under paragraph 20 of the Declaration and everyone else in that benefice is entitled to clarity about precisely what the assistant curate is being authorized to do and where within the benefice. It does not help the priest or anyone else concerned for there to be a lack of clarity on this matter. And unless the scope of their permitted ministry is spelt out in a legally binding instrument – their licence – there is room for doubt to emerge (if not at the time of their appointment, then later) about what was intended.

35. In this respect, and this respect only, I accept the argument of Dr Podmore on behalf of Forward in Faith that the licence issued to the Revd Angela Smith (and by extension, that issued to the Revd Liz Palin) was deficient and I invite the Bishop of Tewkesbury to reconsider the form in which the two licences were issued and, following discussion with Mrs Smith and Ms Palin, to issue fresh licences making clear that the authorizations they give does not extend to undertaking priestly ministry in the parish of All Saints.

Given that Bishop Martyn has conceded that the particular wording of the licences previously issued was not discussed with the churchwardens and PCC of All Saints and that, with the benefit of hindsight, this matter should have been discussed with them well before the date of Mrs Smith’s licensing, it would also seem wise for the question of the scope of the ministry of Mrs Smith and Ms Palin in the Parish of All Saints to be discussed now, before fresh licences are issued.”

The second report concluded with the recommendation

37 … Where it is the intention to:

(a) the PCCs of the parishes in the benefice should be consulted, before a licence is issued, about the nature and extent of the ministry she is to be licensed to exercise; and

(b) the licence which is then issued to her should specify the nature and extent of the ministry she is authorized to undertake in the parish or parishes which have passed the resolution (as well as in the other parishes of the benefice).

Comment

This second report is useful in that it clarifies the position in relation to Resolutions A and B, and outlines a procedure in relation to the appointment of a woman to minister otherwise than as a member of the team in a multi-parish benefice, in which one or more parishes has, or is deemed to have, passed the resolution set out in paragraph 20 of the House of Bishops’ Declaration.

Links to CofE papers updated 14th December 2014. Links to the work of the Independent Reviewer are to be found on the CofE web page House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Independent Reviewer)

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "After Chrism Masses, Benefice Appointments – CofE Independent Reviewer’s Second Report" in Law & Religion UK, 10 August 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/08/10/after-chrism-masses-benefice-appointments-cofe-independent-reviewers-second-report/

6 thoughts on “After Chrism Masses, Benefice Appointments – CofE Independent Reviewer’s Second Report

  1. Pingback: All Saints, Cheltenham: Report of the Independent Reviewer

  2. This raises the inevitable situation, where a woman diocesan bishop is appointed to a diocese with F.i.F. PARISHES! Will that bishop’s licence have to be offially endorsed as ‘non-effective’ in such places? After all, if such invalidities have to be officially recognised for clergy, they cannot be ignored for the jurisdiction of a bishop.

    • … When first we practice to deceive? Sir Philip’s report does not suggest that there was any deception. dp

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  4. Pingback: Seven Bishops and a PCC: St George’s, Headstone | Law & Religion UK

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