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Lawyers explain how, post-Ordinariate, life goes on

by Glyn Paflin

THE General Synod’s Legal Office and the Provincial Registrars have published a document of questions and answers concerning the Roman Catholic Ordinariate (GS Misc 979).

“It is desirable that clergy leaving the Church of England should relinquish their Orders under the Clerical Disabilities Act 1870,” say the lawyers. If they do not, “they will . . . continue to be subject to the same jurisdiction as any other clerk in holy orders of the C of E and therefore subject to the discipline of the C of E (including the duty of obedience: see Canon C 1.4) as well as that of the RC Church.”

Buildings will not transfer. When an incumbent resigns, the benefice will be subject to sequestration. Any departures “will not change the fact that the trusts [under which parish halls and houses are held] are for C of E purposes”. Moreover, “It is a general principle of law that . . . where a charity is established for C of E purposes, only members of the C of E should act as its trustees.”

As for sharing agreements under the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969, “there are as yet unresolved legal questions about the precise application . . . in [this] context.”

Arrangements for Ordinariate members to use a building under a licence agreement or lease would require a faculty, and the agreement of the incumbent and PCC. The consistory court would also want to know of the bishop’s approval. “Infrequent” use might not require a faculty, but would require written approval from the bishop, PCC, and incumbent or team vicar.

Whatever the legal mechanism, “an assessment of the relevant pastoral issues” would take place, and division that had occurred would raise “particular issues”. Legal decisions would seek to minimise potential for disagreement and misunderstanding.

Churches are no longer declared “redundant”, but “closed for regular public worship”. “It does not follow that a church that has ceased to be used by a significant number of the current congregation’s members . . . would necessarily be considered for closure for regular public worship; in most cases the church building is likely to continue to be required for use as a parish church. . .”

Any closure proposals would need to be dealt with case by case, and on their merits: “the process could not be undertaken on the basis that disposal to the RC Church was the end in view.”

A priest intending to join the Ordinariate “will need to consider for how long, once his mind is made up, he can in conscience continue to hold office in the C of E” and act with integrity and properly carry out his duties for the cure of souls.

Unless and until PCC members resign, “they continue to be subject to the legal responsibilities imposed on them as members of the institu­tion charged with promoting the mission of the C of E in the parish. As such, they have no power to concern themselves as members of the PCC with matters relating to the membership or internal affairs of another Church. Thus any resolu­tion passed by the PCC purportedly committing it to exploring the membership of the Ordinariate can amount to no more than an ex­pression of intent on the part of its members as individuals.”

To be lawful, any PCC decisions “must be taken solely by reference to the interests of the PCC as an Anglican institution”. A PCC continues to exist even though for a time it may have no members. The annual meeting can be brought forward so that its work “can continue with as little disruption as possible”. A churchwarden must resign in writing to the bishop, and “it would be advisable” to elect a successor as soon as is practic-­able.

Trusts on which the sites of C of E schools are held “will generally require that education is given in accordance with the tenets of the C of E”. The tenure of office of foun­dation governors who join the Ordinariate does not end auto­matically, but nor does their duty to the C of E: they must decide whether they can still carry it out.

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