Thinking Anglicans

A major case about clergy employment vs. office holding

Gavin Drake has written twice for the Church Times about the employment tribunal hearing last week in Birmingham.

First, last week’s report: QC: ‘Spirit of Trollope is alive’

A LEADING ecclesiastical lawyer has suggested that “the spirit of Trollope is alive and well in the Church of England.” Geoffrey Tattersall QC made the admission on the second day of a week-long preliminary hearing at an employ­ment tribunal in Birmingham.

The tribunal, chaired by A. J. McCarry, is being asked to decide whether the Revd Mark Sharpe, formerly Rector of Teme Valley South near Tenbury Wells, was an employee. If he was, he would be entitled to bring his claim for unfair dismissal to a full tribunal hearing.

On Tuesday, Mr Tattersall, who represents the Bishop and diocese of Worcester, told the tribunal that a priest with freehold status, such as Mr Sharpe, had absolute liberty within his parish, and the bishop had no power to direct the work he did or remove him from office…

And this week: Judge must decide on priests’ employment status

…In his closing submission, Geoffrey Tattersall QC, for the Bishop and the diocese, told the judge that he was dealing with a test case, and that whatever he decided “for this freehold incumbent in the diocese of Worcester would decide the status of all freehold incumbents in the Church of England”.

He said that the Church of England’s case rested on the lack of an expressed contract between the parties and the very high level of autonomy exercised by incumbents — as governed by Measures that had the same force of law as Acts of Parliament.

The judge replied that he had not been aware of the strength of the Measures at the beginning of this case.

John Benson QC, for Mr Sharpe, told the judge that “there has been a great deal of information that, at first hand, is very difficult to understand. A lot of the material is arcane and bedded in history. The Church of England is an organisation that doesn’t fall comfortably in the role of an employer; nor does an incumbent fall into the role of an employee.”

He said that the evidence heard during the hearing and the past case law meant that he was “ploughing a lonely furrow in arguing that Mr Sharpe is an employee, but that won’t deter me”…

And scroll down in the second link for a sidebar, giving a succinct summary of the previous cases that have relevance to this.

Judgement was reserved and appears unlikely to be given before February.

The original tribunal hearing was reported in 2008 as Worcestershire rector claims harassment.

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Civil Partnerships in Religious Premises and the Church of England

The Secretary General, William Fittall, has issued a paper on Civil Partnerships in Religious Premises to General Synod members today: GS Misc 1005 (pdf file). We have made an html version available.

The paper starts:

In view of the likely media interest in and possible controversy over a change in the law which comes into effect on 5 December this note and the attachment prepared by the Legal Office provide some background information and explanation for the benefit of Synod members.

and concludes

In short, the position under the new arrangements is that no Church of England religious premises may become “approved premises” for the registration of civil partnerships without there having been a formal decision by the General Synod to that effect.

An analysis by the Legal Office to justify this conclusion is attached to the paper.


Advent letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury

from Lambeth Palace

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has sent the following Advent letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches.

photographic copy of the letter as sent on paper (PDF)

Full text as a web page



Civil partnerships: CofE HoB review group membership announced

Church of England press release:

The House of Bishops has announced the membership of a Group established to advise it on reviewing its Pastoral Statement issued prior to the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005. The Group will be chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Rt Rev Robert Paterson. The other two members of the Group are the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, and the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Rev Colin Fletcher. The Group will start work in December and report to the House in time for the House to reach conclusions during 2012.

The preparation of the pastoral statement was the last occasion when the House of Bishops devoted substantial time to the issue of same sex relationships. The House undertook to keep that Pastoral Statement under review and announced in July, this year, , that the time had come for a review to take place.

The House of Bishops also announced in July further work on the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality more generally. The expectation is that the membership of that Group, whose work will be considered by the House during 2013, will be announced in the next few weeks.

The original 2005 Pastoral Statement is here.

As noted here earlier this week, the announcement of the review said:

“It is now nearly six years since the House issued its Pastoral Statement prior to the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005. The preparation of that document was the last occasion when the House devoted substantial time to the issue of same sex relationships. We undertook to keep that Pastoral Statement under review. We have decided that the time has come for a review to take place.

“Over the past five and half years there have been several developments. Consistent with the guidelines in the Pastoral Statement a number of clergy are now in civil partnerships. The General Synod decided to amend the clergy pension scheme to improve the provision for the surviving civil partners of clergy who have died. More recently Parliament has decided that civil partnerships may be registered on religious premises where the relevant religious authority has consented (the necessary regulations are expected this autumn).

“The review will need to take account of this changing scene…”