‘Incapable’ clergy face the axe as freehold comes under review
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
THE ENDING of the 800-year-old system of clergy freehold will be debated by
the General Synod when it meets next month.
A report by a working party of the Archbishops’ Council proposed this week
that the freehold, which provides security of tenure to 5000 Church of England
priests, be replaced by a system of “common tenure”. It will be possible to
remove clergy, including bishops, from office if they show a “lack of
The property-ownership element of clergy freehold would transfer not to the
parish, but to the diocesan board of finance.
Representatives of the clergy trade union Amicus met Professor David
McClean, chairman of the working party, before the report’s launch on Monday.
Rachel Maskell, the union’s national officer, said: “We do not see why clergy
should have to give up the security of freehold in order to gain their
Under the new proposals, all new clergy would come under a “common tenure”
agreement. Existing clergy, including non-stipendiaries, will be encouraged to
opt into the new scheme. Otherwise, freeholds would be ended when they became
In return, clergy would gain employment rights under Section 23 of the
Employment Relations Act 1999, which covers people who are not employees. This
ensures rights such as a job description; maternity, paternity and
compassionate leave; the chance to appeal to an employment tribunal; and the
possibility of redress in the case of unfair dismissal.
An earlier report recommended extending these rights to the 4000 clergy who
do not have security of tenure under a freehold. The new report,
Review of Clergy Terms of Service: Part Two, argues that the ending of
freehold is essential because the present system treats certain clerics as
having property rights, “akin to ownership”. This placed legal obstacles to
giving them Section 23 rights, not least because of the principle that rights
ought to be balanced with accountability.
Clergy who hold common tenure may be subject to a “capability procedure” if
they are falling below “an accepted minimum standard”, the report says.
“The procedure is likely to apply to those clerics who are not competent, or
where the job is being done but pastoral relationships are breaking down
because of, say, an abrasive personality. . . Lack of capability implies a
mismatch between the requirements of the job and the person doing it.”
The procedure would involve an initial assessment by the archdeacon, who
might throw out the accusation or issue an informal warning. If no improvement
can be shown, two different panels must issue formal warnings before a final
capability panel meets to decide whether to remove the priest from office.
Appeals are possible at each stage; and the sacked priest would be able to
apply to a secular employment tribunal.
The working party reckons that a nationwide system would require an
additional 18 human-resources posts, costing up to an extra £1.5 million a
year. Bishops and their staff would need addi-tional human-resources training,
and all clergy would be required to participate in a regular ministerial review
Speaking on Monday, Professor McClean rejected the idea that the new
procedure would militate against unusual priests. “I rather like some
eccentrics in the Church,” he said. He also rejected the accusation that the
procedures could be misused. Many people, including outsiders, would be
involved in the process to ensure that it was fair.
Professor McClean also argued that that clergy “ownership” of the parochial
house had conferred only “very limited rights”. His committee’s proposals would
“restate, in real terms, what those rights were”. They were rights of
possession, but not of ownership, he said.
The Revd Tony Bell, chairman of the Amicus union’s clergy branch, said that
he had the impression that Professor McClean and the Church’s Ministry Division
were “more concerned with dismantling the parish control of property and the
freehold, than they are in Section 23 rights for clergy. The rights are too
selective,” he said.
Review of Clergy Terms of Service: Part Two (Church House Publishing, £6;
Should the Church disband clergy freehold? Vote here