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Archbishops launch review of English cathedrals’ governance

Posted on: April 10, 2017 1:03 PM
Bishop Donald Allister’s Visitation Report into financial problems at Peterborough Cathedral has led the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to commission a working group to review the governance of English cathedrals.
Photo Credit: Hynek Moravec / Wikimedia

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have set up a working group to examine the governance of the Church of England’s cathedrals. The group has been established at a time when a number of English cathedrals are facing financial and other difficulties. One of its tasks will be to advise the Archbishops’ Council on whether the Cathedrals Measure – the 1999 legislation that sets out the regulations that cathedrals must follow in their administration – needs to be revised.

The review follows a request from the Bishop of Peterborough, Donald Allister, following an episcopal visitation he conducted on his own cathedral last year following what he described as a “cash flow crisis”. In January, Bishop Allister produced a report in which he said that “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.”

The Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Charles Taylor, stood down in October last year. He used his farewell sermon to hint that the decision to resign was not his own. In his farewell sermon, he said that some of his supporters “have alleged that the manner in which [his resignation] was effected was legally dubious, morally reprehensible, and pastorally disgraceful. Well, they might care to think that. I could not possibly comment.”

In his visitation report, Bishop Allister made 20 recommendations or directions regarding the cathedral’s management; and he offered “reflections” to the House of Bishops and the national church institutions.

“A hard case does not necessarily make good law,” he said, “but I believe that there are lessons to be learned from the Peterborough situation by the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops, the General Synod, and the Deans’ Conference.

“Peterborough Cathedral seems to have complied with the Cathedrals Measure 1999, but the accountability, scrutiny, and safeguards in that Measure were clearly insufficient to prevent the problems that occurred.

“The Cathedral Council and the College of Canons, both of which see the Cathedral accounts, do not necessarily have the expertise, and certainly do not have the specialist staff, to allow them to exercise real scrutiny; and they have no powers to mount an effective challenge to the Chapter.

“They can have great value in terms of advice, goodwill, and networking, but they cannot hold the Chapter accountable.”

He concluded: “I urge the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners, and the House of Bishops, to look at whether the current 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.”

Today, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, responded to the visitation report with the announcement that they are setting up a working group to review the future management and governance of the C of E’s cathedrals. The group has been asked to make a series of recommendations to the Archbishops in light of the Cathedrals Measure and will explore, in addition to governance issues, questions of training and development for cathedral deans and chapters, financial management issues, the procedure for Visitations, safeguarding matters, buildings and heritage and the role of Cathedrals in contributing to evangelism within their dioceses.

“Cathedrals contribute uniquely to the ecology of the Church of England, and we are a healthier, stronger church when they flourish,” the working group’s chair, Bishop of Stepney, Adrian Newman, and vice-chair, Dean of York, Vivienne Faull, said in a statement. “We are pleased to have this opportunity to review the structures that support their ministry, in order to enhance their role in church and society.

“Cathedrals are one of the success stories of the Church of England, with rising numbers of worshippers. They are a vital part of our heritage and make an incalculable contribution to the life of the communities that they serve. This is an exciting opportunity for the Working Group to look at the different aspects of how Cathedrals work, and to ensure that the legislation and procedures they use are fit for purpose for their mission in the 21st century.”

The new Cathedrals Working Group has been asked to produce its report to the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners and the C of E’s House of Bishops in December 2017.