Bishop’s Visitation Charge: Peterborough Cathedral

The Church of England has issued the following statement on behalf of the Church Commissions in relation to the Visitation Charge to Peterborough Cathedral.

Statement on Visitation Charge to Peterborough Cathedral

06 January 2017

Following the visitation charge to Peterborough Cathedral issued by the Rt Revd Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough, a spokesperson for The Church Commissioners said:

“We were made aware of the financial difficulties at Peterborough Cathedral last year and have worked with both the cathedral and Bishop Donald to provide support.

The Commissioners have provided practical assistance to the cathedral, both in terms of direct financial support and providing consultancy advice and sought to support the Bishop in his visitation. The Commissioners and the Archbishops’ Council will consider carefully Bishop Donald’s reflections concerning the governance of cathedrals under the Cathedrals Measure. Any considerations would include consultation with the House of Bishops, dioceses and other cathedrals prior to deciding whether to bring forward any proposals for change.

Cathedrals offer spiritual sanctuary for millions of people each year and are the jewels in the nation’s heritage crown. The financial problems that have faced Peterborough Cathedral are being resolved. Together our 42 cathedrals will continue to serve their communities and prosper for the benefit of future generations.”



On 22 July 2016, the Bishop of Peterborough announced his intention to institute a formal Bishop’s Visitation of the Cathedral “to solve current problems and prevent future ones” since “the Cathedral is going through a cash flow crisis”. In an answer to Written Question 47672 on 12 October 2016, Dame Caroline Spelman explained:

“The Church Commissioners have made an emergency loan to help address the cash flow challenges at Peterbourough (sic) Cathedral. In addition to this financial assistance, they have also actively supported and continue to support the Cathedral and Chapter by giving practical assistance, for example helping the Chapter evaluate options for staff restructuring and its property sale programme.

The Bishop of Peterborough has launched a visitation which will include a review of financial management and overall governance of the cathedral. The Commissioners are assisting in this process and I am happy to say that governance is improving and Chapter is beginning to address its budget deficit.

The Visitation Charge issued on 6 January 2017 states:

“2. The problems clearly lie much deeper than simply managing the cash flow. There is a substantial operating deficit, most of the Cathedral’s properties are mortgaged, there are no free reserves, and there are serious levels of debt.

3. The purpose of this Charge is to help put the Cathedral’s governance and financial management on a more secure footing. This has begun already with the appointment of a suitably qualified and skilled Bursar, with some changes made to the leadership structure, and, sadly but necessarily, with some redundancies.”

Paragraphs 5 to 24 concern “Directions and Recommendations to the Cathedral Chapter“. Of equal importance are the “Reflections for the House of Bishops and the National Church Institutions” in paragraphs 25 to 30, which conclude [emphasis added]:

“30. I urge the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners, and the House of Bishops, to look at whether the current [1999] Cathedrals Measure is adequate, and to consider revising it. The Peterborough situation has convinced me that the high degree of independence currently enjoyed by Cathedrals poses serious risks to the reputation of the whole Church, and thus to our effectiveness in mission. A closer working relationship of Cathedrals with their Bishop and Diocese would be of benefit to all, both practically and spiritually.”


Norman Doe’s The Legal Architecture of English Cathedrals (Law and Religion) is expected to be available from 1 Jul 2017. In apparent anticipation of the charge, the pre-publication material states:

“This book explains and evaluates the regulatory framework applicable to cathedrals and considers how this regulatory framework is perceived and experienced. Using an interdisciplinary and socio-legal approach Norman Doe evaluates of how the regulations and norms governing cathedrals are experienced and whether they fulfil the needs of cathedral staff and users, as well as suggesting areas in law, theology, and practice which could be reformed”.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Bishop’s Visitation Charge: Peterborough Cathedral" in Law & Religion UK, 6 January 2017,

9 thoughts on “Bishop’s Visitation Charge: Peterborough Cathedral

  1. The request to AC etc signals the call for a significant change in the relation of Cathedrals to the wider Church, and we can be sure that the likely loss of independence will not be welcomed universally.

    • Indeed. We have now cross-posted Michael Sadgrove’s analysis of the Visitation Charge “Peterborough Cathedral: thoughts on the visitation report” in which he gives valuable insights into the operation of the Cathedrals Measure from his own extensive experience. I had started drafting a post on the Measure, but it soon became apparent that there were limitations to such a theoretical analysis. Fortunately Michael Sadgrove posted his piece yesterday, which he was happy for us to reproduce.

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