“The clergy oaths of allegiance & canonical obedience are…problematic in a society where we are adult citizens, not subjects, and collaborative ministers, not slaves. Why not oaths of loyalty, fidelity & accountability to those holding oversight?”
Michael Sadgrove, Dean Emeritus of Durham
As regular readers will be aware, Trevor Cooper of the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance and Frank, as members of the Places of Worship Forum, convened by Historic England, have long been arguing for clarification of the law on the powers of civil parish and town councils to grant aid local places of worship. The nub of the problem has been that s 8(1)(i) Local Government Act 1894 prohibits such financial support and that – unlike other aspects of that Act – there has been no subsequent legislation that has decisively overridden the prohibition. The full arguments for and against that proposition are here.
It now appears that the issue is to be resolved, at least so far as England is concerned. On 4 July, Baroness Scott of Bybrook, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DLUHC, wrote to all members of the Lords to say that the Government had tabled an amendment for the report stage of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill “to clarify that the Local Government Act 1894 does not prohibit parish councils from funding the maintenance and upkeep of churches and other religious buildings”, as follows:
“After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—
Powers of parish councils After section 19 of the Local Government Act 1894 (provisions as to small parishes), insert—
“19A Powers under other enactments
(1) Nothing in this Part affects any powers, duties or liabilities conferred on a parish council by or under any other enactment (whenever passed or made).
(2) This section does not apply in relation to community councils (see section 179(4) of the Local Government Act 1972).”
(Inserted subsection (2) refers to community councils in Wales, which are therefore excluded from the operation of the new section.)
The amendment was agreed to by the Lords on 14 July [scroll to the end]. It is unlikely to be resisted by the Commons. [With thanks to Christopher Whitmey for the update.]
Church of England General Synod
In a week in which the blog has inevitably taken a rather Anglican tone, several items stand out from the July meeting of General Synod.
On clergy discipline, Synod voted in favour of the first consideration stage of the draft Clergy Conduct Measure that will replace the existing (and much-criticised) Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. It includes “power for a bishop to depose a priest or deacon from holy orders following a finding of misconduct that does not involve a question of doctrine, ritual or ceremony”. A separate clause in the proposed Measure makes “equivalent provision for deposition from holy orders in respect of a bishop or archbishop”.
The new Measure specifies three levels of complaint. Grievances will be dealt with at a local level, allegations of behaviour amounting to “misconduct” will be investigated by regional assessors and claims of “serious misconduct” will be referred to an investigations and tribunal team. Final approval of the new Measure is expected in 2024.
Synod also agreed to a proposal by Blackburn Diocesan Synod for a time-limited regional trial to offer Church of England weddings free of statutory fees – though given the huge sums that some people spend on the secular aspects of their weddings, we cannot help wondering if the statutory fees are much of a disincentive to many of those seeking to marry in church. The original DSM was laid in June 2022 and was based upon diocesan data across the six Blackpool churches over the period 2010 and 2018.
In which connexion, the House of Bishops was asked in a written question what action was being taken to lobby the Government to support marriage according to the doctrine of the Church. In his reply, which was widely reported in the press, the Bishop of Durham said that the Church has been actively engaging with the Government about the recent Law Commission report on weddings but described it as “seriously deficient” because it failed to engage with the meaning of marriage. He told Synod that the Commission’s proposal to move from a premises-based system to a celebrant-based system was “clearly intended to open the ‘weddings market’ more widely to commercial celebrants operating for profit”.
Our coverage of safeguarding has been focused on issues related to the IICSA inquiries and certain specific issues; however, on 21 June we noted that the C of E had announced that the Independent Safeguarding Board was to be “reset” since “working relationships between two members of the Independent Safeguarding Board and the [Archbishops’] Council [had] broken down”.
The subsequent organizational issues have been covered by Thinking Anglicans in its series of posts of which the latest is ISB Controversy – Episode 10. A particularly fraught General Synod concluded with the resignation of the acting chair of the ISB, Meg Munn, who issued a statement in which she said that she
“felt a combination of astonishment, incredulity, and growing anger at what happened during the safeguarding débâcle at General Synod on Sunday. . . Quite what such a spectacle was meant to achieve I do not know, it certainly did nothing to help safeguarding in the Church of England. For me, it reinforced my concern that the Archbishops’ Council has been slow to listen to those with organisational and safeguarding expertise.”
On Wednesday, the Church of England issued its own statement in response:
“We want to thank Meg Munn for the professional scrutiny she has brought to the Church’s safeguarding work over the past five years both as independent chair of the National Safeguarding Panel (NSP) and her more recent work on wider independent scrutiny. Her contribution has been invaluable, and she has worked professionally at all times. We are very sorry that she has decided to leave her work with the Church but understand and absolutely respect her decision. We are aware there are lessons to be learnt as we move forward to the next steps in independent scrutiny and are sorry about events in the past few weeks that led her to feel unsupported. We wish Meg well and will build on the excellent work she has established through the NSP.”
Further to the judgments in Re King’s College Chapel Cambridge  ECC Ely 1 and  ECC Ely 2, which granted a faculty (subject to a series of conditions) for the installation of solar panels on the chapel roof, Synod agreed the Oxford Diocesan Synod motion laid in 2020 which, inter alia, calls on HM Government to review “the weight given to the environmental public benefit in planning regulations to facilitate the installation of renewable technologies, including for buildings that are listed or in conservation areas”. The photograph accompanying the Press Release depicts the temperature changes in Berkshire over the period 1863-2022: see #ShowYourStripes for this and additional quantified information. A comprehensive summary of the motion has been posted by the Oxford Diocese.
Fees for diocesan and provincial registrars
Synod approved the Legal Officers (Annual Fees) Order 2023, which sets out the remuneration of diocesan and provincial registrars from 1 January 2024. It will now be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
- Harriet Gray, Lexology: Balancing beliefs in the workplace: lessons from Higgs v. Farmor’s School.
- Helen Hall & Javier García Oliva, ViaMedia.News: Marriage Law in England and Wales – Some Reflections.
- Judith Maltby, ViaMedia.News: Equality, Parliament, and the Established Church: Some Recent Close Encounters.
- Iain McLean, ViaMedia.News: Can Parliament Permit Church of England Clergy to Marry Same-Sex Couples? Should it?
- Victoria Prentis KC MP, HM Attorney General: The Rule of Law and Effective Government: speech at the Institute for Government, in which she said, inter alia, that “While there is a conceptual debate about whether the rule of law includes compliance with international law … it is certainly clear that the UK must comply with its international obligations and an important part of my role is to ensure that we do so”: well worth reading.
In the week when General Synod approved the first consideration of the Clergy Conduct Measure, supra, we were reminded of the “148th anniversary of the birth [14 July] of destined-to-be-defrocked vicar Harold Davidson, self-styled Prostitute’s Padre, enthusiastic ‘helper’ of ‘fallen’ women, and (eventually) victim of a Skegness circus lion”. Whilst not the last priest to be defrocked, Davidson was certainly one of the more memorable ones; he was sentenced under the Clergy Discipline Act 1892 (55 & 56 Vict. Ch 32), “An Act for better enforcing Discipline in the Case of Crimes and other Offences against Morality committed by Clergymen”.
At L&RUK we do not write television reviews, but our post “Stowe & Maids Moreton parishes: Independent safeguarding report” will provide the ecclesiastical back-story to the BBC series The Sixth Commandment, the first episode of which will be broadcast tomorrow on BBC One and iPlayer.