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…”


more about the Church of Ireland and civil partnerships

See earlier reports via this link.

The four evangelical organisations, Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine Ireland and Reform Ireland have issued another letter.

Dear Archbishops and Bishops,

Thank you for your most recent Pastoral Letter to clergy of the Church of Ireland. We welcome its publication and thank you for the time spent with one another wrestling with the issues involved. Further, we look forward to the planned Spring conference of 2012 and wish to assure you of our prayers throughout this process.

The Pastoral letter states that the purpose of the Conference will be threefold. First, to discuss the content of the letter itself. Second, to assist the church in becoming more fully informed. Third, to explore wider issues in relation to human sexuality. Further, the letter commends study in biblical, theological and legal issues before and after the Conference, confirms that members of Synod and ‘some others’ will be invited to attend, and envisages that the Conference will not be an end in itself. We wish to assist this process by addressing each of these areas in as constructive a manner as possible, making observations, suggestions, and raising some questions…

Read the full letter: Joint Evangelical response to Bishops’ Letter.


Archbishop gives evidence on House of Lords reform plan

Updated again Sunday 4 December

The Archbishop of Canterbury appeared yesterday evening before the Joint Committee on the House of Lords Reform Bill.

The draft bill, together with explanatory notes, is available here (PDF).

There is also a House of Lords Library research note on Religious Representation (PDF).

This Library Note provides background information on the role of Bishops in the second chamber, and in the context of the Government’s proposals for reform of the House, it examines arguments made both in favour and against their continued membership. The Note then considers further issues arising from the Government’s proposals, as well as arguments made regarding the formal representation of other denominations or faiths in Parliament.

The written evidence previously submitted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and York is over here (PDF).

Parliament TV has archived its video coverage of the session.

Update A transcript is now available as a PDF file: Draft House of Lords Reform Bill – uncorrected oral evidence from: The Archbishop of Canterbury, THEOS, and the British Humanist Association.

News reports concentrated on one aspect of his remarks:

Telegraph Martin Beckford Archbishop of Canterbury backs ‘fast-tracking’ women bishops to Lords

Guardian Riazat Butt Rowan Williams urges fast-tracking of women bishops to Lords

The same session also heard from Theos and the British Humanist Association. The former submitted this written evidence (.doc file). The latter has published this: Church and humanists clash over Bishops in parliament.

Nelson Jones at the New Statesman has written A very British anomaly.

…In what was perhaps his most audacious comment in favour of the status quo, Rowan Williams suggested that for him and his fellow prelates to be ejected from a reformed second chamber (something that doesn’t form part of the present reform proposals) “would be to send a signal that the voice of faith is not welcomed” in the legislative process. It would represent, in other words, not just a snub to the Church of England but for religion as a whole.

But that’s nonsense. In no other democracy would such a confusion of religious leadership and law-making even be imagined. Bishops, and other faith leaders, play a valuable and significant role in society. So do members of both houses of Parliament. But it is in no sense the same job. Taking bishops out of the House of Lords would free them to devote more time to their diocesan responsibilities; to become better bishops. Sometimes the only thing to do with an historical anomaly is to end it.


Bishop of South Carolina cleared by Disciplinary Board

Updated Tuesday evening

A Statement by the President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops
Regarding the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina
from here.

On November 22, the Disciplinary Board for Bishops met via conference call to consider whether, based on information previously submitted to the Board by lay communicants and a priest of the Diocese of South Carolina, the Bishop of that Diocese, the Right Rev’d Mark Lawrence, has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church.

Based on the information before it, the Board was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the Church. I have today communicated the Board’s action to Bishop Lawrence by telephone, to be followed by an e-mail copy of this statement.

The abandonment canon (Title IV, Canon16) is quite specific, designating only three courses of action by which a Bishop is to be found to have abandoned the church: first, “by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church”; second, “by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with” the Church; and, third, “by exercising Episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the Church or another church in communion with the Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as the Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in the Church….” Applied strictly to the information under study, none of these three provisions was deemed applicable by a majority of the Board.

A basic question the Board faced was whether actions by conventions of the Diocese of South Carolina, though they seem—I repeat, seem—to be pointing toward abandonment of the Church and its discipline by the diocese, and even though supported by the Bishop, constitute abandonment by the Bishop. A majority of the members of the Board was unable to conclude that they do.

It is also significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of The Episcopal Church—that he only seeks a safe place within the Church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it. I speak for myself only at this point, that I presently take the Bishop at his word, and hope that the safety he seeks for the apparent majority in his diocese within the larger Church will become the model for safety—a “safe place”—for those under his episcopal care who do not agree with the actions of South Carolina’s convention and/or his position on some of the issues of the Church.

The Right Rev’d Dorsey F. Henderson, Jr.
President, Disciplinary Board for Bishops

For extensive background on this case, see ENS Disciplinary Board dismisses abandonment complaint against South Carolina bishop by Mary Frances Schjonberg

…Lawrence told the diocese Oct. 5 that he was being investigated for abandonment. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the House of Bishops were not involved in making the claims, Henderson said at the time via a “fact sheet.”

The package of documents alleging his abandonment of the church that Lawrence said he received Sept. 29 from Henderson, is posted here on the diocese’s website. The documents contained 12 allegations of when Lawrence’s “actions and inactions” sought to abandon the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church…

And an earlier ENS report is: South Carolina bishop investigated on charges he has abandoned the Episcopal Church.

Doug LeBlanc recently interviewed Bishop Lawrence for the Living Church, see ‘The Bishop Brings the Crozier’.

Update Tuesday evening
The following has been published on the diocesan website: Bishop Lawrence Writes to the Diocese About Disciplinary Board Decision.


Registering civil partnerships in CofE churches

Earlier, we reported on the outcome of the government consultation on allowing civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises. In particular we noted that a statement had been issued to the press (not a press release) which said:

“…The Church of England has no intention of allowing Civil Partnerships to be registered in its churches.”

In June, in evidence to the consultation, the Church of England had said:

“…In the case of the Church of England that would mean that its churches would not be able to become approved premises for the registration of civil partnerships until and unless the General Synod had first decided as a matter of policy that that should be possible.”

Changing Attitude has questioned the accuracy of that press statement Changing Attitude questions whether the C of E has made a decision not to opt in to CPs in church.

…William Fittall says the Church of England has no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered in our churches because it would be inconsistent with the 2005 statement from the House of Bishops.

He is of course right when he says that he and his colleagues are expected to have regard to official reports, resolutions and decisions of authoritative bodies within the Church. Therefore, the matter is not entirely open as we implied. He gently reprimands us for suggesting that anyone at Church House might turn their personal opinions into official statements, thus questioning the professionalism of the staff team.

His general point that different bodies exercise authority in different areas is true – they do. The question we raise is whether or not they should or if they have the authority to do so. The Archbishops’ Council has been given a great deal of executive authority but we are not sure they have the authority to determine policy issues like this. Mr Fittall’s basic premise is that the Church of England will not opt in to CPs in church as it would be inconsistent with the House of Bishops’ statement, 2005. As a prediction this may be accurate but we maintain it is for General Synod to decide, and the matter has not yet been put to Synod…

The House of Bishops Pastoral Statement in 2005 did not of course contemplate the possibility of registration of civil partnerships on religious premises since at the time that was forbidden by civil law. What it said was:

…the House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.

Much more recently the House of Bishops issued this statement, announcing a review of the pastoral statement.

“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…”


opinion on the eve of Advent

The Huffington Post has two articles for Advent.
Matthew L Skinner: Mark 13:24-37: Advent — One of Those Dangerous Religious Ideas
Cindi Love: Advent: Slippery Slope of Christendom

Adam Stadtmiller writes for Church Marketing Sucks about The Epic-Fail of Church Announcements.

Savitri Hensman writes for The Guardian about Worshipping money – the new faith sweeping England today.


Church Commissioners' Parliamentary Questions: 24/11/11

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, answered eight Oral and one Written Parliamentary Questions yesterday (24 November) covering civil partnerships, metal theft, Pakistan, tourism, foodbanks, the Olympics, women bishops, St Paul’s Cathedral and engaging local communities.

We have already quoted the question and answers on civil partnerships.

Another question was on Women and the Episcopacy

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What assessment the Church Commissioners made of the number of dioceses which have voted in favour of the proposed legislation on women and the episcopacy.

Tony Baldry: The result of the reference of the draft legislation to the dioceses was that out of a total of 44 dioceses, 42 approved of women and the episcopacy.

Diana Johnson: How will the exceptional level of support from both the laity and the clergy be reflected in the passage of the legislation through the House?

Tony Baldry: I think that it is clear that there is overwhelming support for women bishops. The outcome of the recent vote in the dioceses will be reported formally to the General Synod in February, following which it will be asked to approve any necessary final adjustments to the drafting of the legislation. I certainly hope that during the lifetime of this Parliament it will be possible for me to bring forward a Measure to the House so that we can approve women bishops in the Church of England.

All the questions are available in the House of Commons Hansard.
oral questions
oral questions – continued
written question


Danish church moves ahead with same-sex weddings

The Copenhagen Post reports: Church weddings for gays proposed.

Homosexual church marriages could become a reality by next summer if a bill giving them equal status with heterosexual unions passes parliament.
“It’s historic, it’s the biggest thing since female ministers were allowed in the Folkekirken,” Manu Sareen (Radikale), the church and equality minister, told the media today.

After years of opposition to granting homosexual unions the same status as heterosexual unions, Folkekirken bishops are developing a new wedding rite that will enable vicars to wed homosexuals.

“I think that most people in the Folkekirken are happy that there is finally a political decision on which way to proceed,” the bishop of Copenhagen, Peter Skov-Jakobsen, told Politiken.

“But I also think there are some people who will be disappointed that the distinction between marriage and partnership will disappear.”

An earlier newspaper report is here: Minister: Gay weddings by next year.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark has an English website. It signed the Porvoo Agreement in October 2010.


Green Pilgrimage Network launched

The Alliance of Religions and Conservation has announced the launch of the Green Pilgrimage Network.

See press release: Green Pilgrimage Network launches with joy, hope, faith and practical plans.

Founder members of the Green Pilgrimage Network include:

Amritsar, India (for Sikhs);
Assisi, Italy (Roman Catholic);
Etchmiadzin, Armenia (Armenian Orthodox);
Haifa, Israel (Bahà’ì);
Jerusalem (for Jews, Christians and Muslims);
Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto shrines in Japan;
Kano, Nigeria (Islam’s Qadiriyyah Sufi tradition);
Louguan in the People’s Republic of China (Daoists);
St Albans, England (Church of England);
Luss, Loch Lomond, Scotland (Church of Scotland);
St Pishoy Monastery, Wadi El Natroun, Egypt (the Coptic Orthodox Church);
Trondheim, Norway (Lutheran Church of Norway).

The involvement of St Albans was announced here: St Albans Cathedral and City become founder members of international Green Pilgrimage Network and also here: Green Pilgrimage Network launched in Assisi, Italy.

There are some interesting figures on the scale of religious pilgrimages here.


Civil partnerships on religious premises: developments

Updated Thursday evening

See earlier report here.

The draft regulations were laid before Parliament on 8 November:

The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 or available here as a PDF.

And there is an explanatory memorandum (PDF only).

Last weekend, the Independent reported Tory peers to rebel on civil partnerships in churches.

Conservative peers in the House of Lords are attempting to scupper plans to allow same-sex couples to hold civil partnerships in churches.

Under regulations drawn up by ministers, religious denominations would be allowed to open their doors to same-sex couples in the new year. But the move is now being opposed by Tory peers, led by Baroness O’Cathain, pictured,who argue that the new law would not properly protect faith groups from being “compelled” to register civil partnerships against their beliefs.

Government whips are confident that the measure will pass but Downing Street will be embarrassed at the sight of Tory peers rebelling against government equality legislation…

Today, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee published a report (also available as a PDF) which deals with these regulations. The substance of what it says is below the fold.

Several related documents are also published by the committee:

Opinion by Mark Hill QC

Evangelical Alliance submission

Christian Institute submission

‘CARE’ submission.

Thursday evening update

Also today, in the House of Commons the following exchange took place:

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Civil Partnerships
1. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the authority is for the policy of the Church of England that services of blessing should not be conducted in church premises for those who register civil partnerships. [82259]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): In its pastoral statement of July 2005, the House of Bishops affirmed that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership. The Church of England’s response to the Government’s consultation document on civil partnerships on religious premises, which was produced earlier this year, reflected that policy and was approved by the Archbishops Council and by the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops.

Mr Bradshaw: I am grateful for that reply. Given that when the law changes to allow civil partnerships to be conducted on religious premises many Church of England priests and parishes will want to conduct such ceremonies, would it not be better for the Church of England to do what it did when it first allowed the remarriage of divorcees in church, and allow individual priests and parishes to make the decision?

Tony Baldry: In fairness, I would contend that the Church of England, led by its bishops, has to be free to determine its own stance on matters of doctrine and ethics. The Government have said that the new option to register civil partnerships in places of worship must be entirely voluntary. That means that those who think that the Church of England should opt in need to win the argument within the Church.



WATCH comments on diocesan voting for women bishops

press release from Women and the Church (WATCH)

Women Bishops Legislation
Overwhelming support for the draft Measure:
“Follow on Motions” confirm the Dioceses’ desire for draft legislation to be passed unamended by General Synod in July

General Synod has just consulted the dioceses on new legislation (a Measure and amending Canon) which would allow women to become bishops for the first time in the Church of England. This legislation outlined a scheme of delegation so that people who could not accept the ministry of a female bishop would have alternative provision – any parish can request a male priest or the oversight of a male bishop.
Such a scheme is a major compromise for many who are in favour of consecrating women as bishops and has been supported by many of them as a way of keeping the Church together.

Overwhelming support for the draft Measure
Of the 44 Dioceses which considered this, 42 voted for it and just two against with the overall majority of votes exceeding three-quarters. Overall 85% bishops, 76% clergy and 77% laity have said ‘yes’.
This is significantly better than the Diocesan voting in 1992 for the legislation allowing women to become priests, and is well clear of the two thirds majority required in General Synod for the legislation to pass.

‘Follow On Motions’
Alongside the main legislation 42 of the 44 Dioceses considered motions which would request consideration of additional provision for those opposed to the ministry of women as bishops.
9 of the 42 Dioceses passed such motions, while 33 did not. The two dioceses where this was not tested were amongst the strongest in favour of the main legislation with majorities of over 90% in favour.
Fewer than 25% of the dioceses therefore made requests for further provision, and even if the figure of a quarter advanced by some commentators were true, it would be below the one third figure which would be required to block the legislation in General Synod.
The failure to meet even that one third threshhold (let alone a majority) is also indicated by the overall voting figures on the motions for alternative provision.

The overall picture is clear. The Measure and Amending Canon on which General Synod consulted the dioceses were supported in the vast majority of dioceses with large majorities.
The case for an alternative approach was extensively tested, and fell well short of a majority, passing in just 9 Dioceses out of 44.
The case for changing the legislation has been put, considered, and lost in the Dioceses. The current legislation with its clear scheme of provision by delegation should be taken forward and passed so that we can, at last, have women as bishops in our Church.

Hilary Cotton, Head of Campaign said,
“The clear message from the Dioceses is: this is the right way forward. It would be very puzzling for the House of Bishops to amend the legislation in the face of such overwhelming endorsement from the Church at large. It would also seem dismissive of the ordinary Church of England membership if General Synod members chose to vote against such large majority opinion next July”.


Catholic Group comments on diocesan voting for women bishops

press release from The Catholic Group in General Synod

Women Bishops Legislation

A quarter of Church of England Dioceses vote for proper provision for traditionalists

While Dioceses showed overall support for women bishops, a quarter of Dioceses voted for proper provision to be made for those who are unable in conscience to accept the oversight of women bishops. This figure is highly significant, given the need for a two-thirds majority for the legislation in all three Houses of General Synod; put bluntly, the legislation needs to be amended if its safe passage through the Synod is to be guaranteed.

The legislation as currently drafted provides neither for conservative Catholics in the Church of England, who need bishops and priests ordained by male bishops, nor for conservative Evangelicals who could not accept the oversight of a woman bishop on scriptural grounds. It relies on a Code of Practice to fill out its provisions – a draft of the Code will be discussed by the House of Bishops in December, and by the General Synod in February. General Synod members will want to scrutinise the draft Code carefully to see how the draft legislation is seen as working in practice, and whether it provides fairly and graciously for the significant minority of traditionalists.

It is likely that the February Synod will also debate a motion calling on the House of Bishops to exercise its powers to amend the Measure in the manner of the amendment jointly proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in July 2010 – an amendment which commanded an overall majority of the Synod at the time, and could have gone a long way to meeting the needs of traditionalists.

40% of the members of the current Synod are new; it is vital that they have the opportunity to consider these issues properly before the Synod comes to the Final Approval vote in July 2012. Members of the current Synod have already expressed their disquiet on legislation passed by the previous Synod, when they took the unprecedented step last July of refusing to approve a new Parochial Fees Order made under legislation passed by the previous Synod – effectively blocking implementation of that legislation.

Canon Simon Killwick, Chairman of the Catholic Group in General Synod, said, “Final Approval of the current draft Women Bishops legislation is not a foregone conclusion; the best way to secure its safe passage would be to amend it to provide properly for traditionalists; modest amendment of the legislation, together with a suitably drafted Code of Practice could yet enable the Church of England to move forward together on women bishops in 2012. Failure to amend the legislation could result in the failure of the legislation at Final Approval, which would delay the introduction of women bishops for many years to come.”

The Catholic Group in General Synod is the voice of conservative Catholic Anglicans on the General Synod. We include bishops, clergy and lay people among our members, and represent members of the Church of England, male and female, lay and ordained, who hold to the faith and order of the undivided Church, a conviction shared with many other Anglicans worldwide, and with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.


CofE body says 'no' to UK Bill of Rights proposals

The Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England has issued its Response to the Discussion Paper from the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights.

Press release.

Offering a clear “no” in answer to the question, “Do we need a UK Bill of Rights?”, the response goes on to argue that a UK Bill of Rights would either re-state the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, in which case it would be superfluous, or would add to them, in which case the additional rights and obligations would not be binding in the same sense as the Convention and their status in UK law would be unclear.

If on the other hand the Bill attempted to restrict or abolish Convention rights, it would be incompatible with the UK’s international obligations, the response argues; it is also unclear what specific additional rights would be included in a UK Bill.

The response comments that the parties in the coalition Government have diametrically opposed attitudes to human rights, and therefore the proposal does not offer a coherent basis for legislating on such an important subject.

Then the response offers five considerations in answer to the question “Having regard to our terms of reference, are there any other views which you would like to put forward at this stage?”. One point suggests that “some of the concerns driving the demand for a UK Bill of Rights would be met by appropriate reforms of the operation of the European Court of Human Rights”, the final point adding: “A better way forward might be increased use by the European Court of the ‘margin of appreciation’, whereby variations in the application of the Convention are allowed in view of the diverse history, traditions and institutions of different states.”

Full response (only four pages, but a PDF).

The Mission & Public Affairs Council of the Church of England is the body responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops’ Council.


18 CofE bishops criticise government welfare cuts

The following letter has been published in Sunday’s Observer newspaper:

The introduction of a cap on benefits, as suggested in the Welfare Reform Bill, could push some of the most vulnerable children in the country into severe poverty. While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children’s Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.

We are urging the government to consider some of the options offered by the Children’s Society before the bill is passed into legislation, such as removing child benefit from household income for the purposes of calculating the level of the cap and calculating the level of the cap based on earnings of families with children, rather than all households. The government could also consider removing certain vulnerable groups from the cap and the introduction of a significant “grace period” of exemption from the cap for households which have recently left employment.

The Bishops of Bath & Wells, Blackburn, Bristol, Chichester, Derby, Exeter, Gloucester, Guildford, Leicester, Lichfield, London, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford, Ripon and Leeds, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Wakefield and Truro

In the accompanying news story, Archbishop Rowan Williams backs revolt against coalition’s welfare cuts it is reported that:

…Eighteen Church of England bishops, backed by Williams and the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, are demanding that ministers rewrite their flagship plan to impose a £500-a-week benefit cap on families.

In an open letter in Observer, they say the Church of England has a “moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice”. Their message is that the cap could be “profoundly unjust” to the poorest children in society, especially those in larger families and those living in expensive major cities.

The high-profile intervention comes after the Church of England became embroiled in an embarrassing row over its attitude to anti-capitalist protests outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. One cleric resigned over plans to evict the protesters forcibly, arguing that the Church should have been more supportive of their cause.

The bishops are calling on ministers to back a series of amendments to the welfare reform bill – due to be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow – that have been tabled by the bishop of Leeds and Ripon, John Packer.

A spokesman at Lambeth Palace said Williams was fully behind the bishops’ initiative. “As a president of the Children’s Society the archbishop fully supports the proposed amendments to the welfare reform bill.”

Sentamu also threw his weight behind the changes. “I hope that the government will listen to the concerns being raised and ensure that children, especially the most vulnerable, are protected from cuts to family benefits.”

And the newspaper has published an editorial article in support: The welfare state: the social glue that binds us must be preserved.

Here’s the original analysis by the Children’s Society to the capping proposal: More than 200,000 children to be biggest “losers” of Benefit Cap.


Bishop of London issues pastoral letter to clergy

The Bishop of London has issued this pastoral letter: Do this in remembrance of me.

A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of London on the Eucharistic Life of the Church in London

A PDF version is available here.

His comments on the Ordinariate and the use of Roman liturgical texts by Anglicans in London are copied below the fold. The following excerpt is addressed primarily to other parts of the diocese:

Our liturgy is one which arises from the command of Jesus Christ, “Do this in remembrance of me” not in order to build a temple made with hands but to build his body which the gospel writers say has replaced the physical temple.

It follows from all this that obeying his command is an integral part of Christian discipleship. In this context there are a number of aspects of our own church life which deserve urgent consideration at the present time.

In some parts of our church it can appear that the service of Holy Communion is an appendix to services of the Word and not accorded the central significance which the express command of Jesus would seem to warrant. The reformers of our own church, Cranmer and Ridley [as Bishop of London] desired more frequent communion than was the practice in the late mediaeval Western church. Calvin also commends weekly eucharistic practice in his Institutes [IV: xvii. 46], “At least once in every week the table of the Lord ought to have been spread before each congregation of Christians.”

Despite the teaching of the early Reformers their intention was overtaken later in the 16th century by a near exclusive focus in some parts of the church on the ministry of the Word.

The recent conclusion of more than twenty years work has resulted in a wealth of provision for celebrating the liturgy. Styles will differ in tune with the culture of different parishes and communities and provision has been made for rich variety but there should be a common core and not least our celebrations of the Eucharist on Sunday, the Day of Resurrection.



Truro diocese rejects Anglican Covenant


The Diocese of Truro voted today on the Anglican Covenant, and rejected it.

According to our correspondent, the voting was over two-thirds against it in both houses. We will report the actual figures as soon as we can.

Update (very belatedly)

Bishops: For: 0 Against: 1 Abstentions: 0
Clergy: For: 5 Against: 18 Abstentions: 3
Laity: For: 8 Against: 28 Abstentions: 3


Birmingham diocese rejects Anglican Covenant

The Diocese of Birmingham voted today on the Anglican Covenant, and rejected it.

According to our correspondent, the voting was:

Bishops 1 for. (Suffragan bishop absent).

Clergy 17 for, 17 against, 1 abstention.

Laity 12 for, 25 against, 1 abstention.