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Conscience payouts to priests top £26m

02 November 2006

FINANCIAL provision for the clergy who resigned over women priests is expected to cost the Church Commissioners £26 million.

The announcement was made in General Synod only a week before the cut-off date for applications under the Ordination of Women (Financial Provisions) Measure. Priests who resign after 21 February will not be eligible for payment.

But the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd John Broadhurst, a Provincial Episcopal Visitor, warned this week that the Church Commissioners could face an even bigger financial burden, if the Act of Synod, which provides extended episcopal oversight for those opposed to women priests, was withdrawn.

Figures released in 2001 showed that 423 stipendiary priests had resigned over the issue and claimed the financial provision. A further 64 resigned, but later came back to work in the Church of England (Statistics of Licensed Ministers, 2001). Current figures show that a total of 430 have resigned, with another 67 returning after resigning.

View from Fulham
Bishop Broadhurst, who is the international chairman of Forward in Faith, said that it had at least 600 priests on its database who had resigned, but not all of these had claimed compensation, because they were retired or non-stipendiary. “This current figure of 430 seems about right. I originally predicted 500, but there would have been thousands had it not been for the Act of Synod.”

The Revd Peter Geldard, a former Anglican, is one priest who left over the issue and claimed compensation under the Measure. He spoke during the debate on the ordination of women to the priesthood in November 1992, and then immediately resigned from the General Synod, on which he had served for 20 years. But he said it was a much bigger decision to leave his parish in Davington, Kent.

He sent every member of the parish a letter explaining the options, and at Easter 1994 finally left the Church of England to join the local Roman Catholic Church, along with members of his congregation. When measures were taken to allow married men to work as priests in the Roman Catholic Church, he was invited to become an RC chaplain at the University of Kent.

View from GRAS
Campaigners for women bishops are calling for the Act to be withdrawn, and for efforts to establish a third province within the Church of England to be blocked. Earlier this month, the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod (GRAS) took out a half-page advert in the Church Times (6 February). It stated that the Act was “institutionally sexist”.

GRAS argues that members of Forward in Faith have campaigned for women bishops in the hope that they will get a third province as a pay-off. Bishop Broadhurst has described the whole GRAS campaign as “scurrilous”.

In a letter to the Church Times in response to criticisms last week of the GRAS advert (Letters, 13 February), Dr Rachel Carr and the Revd Mary Robins of GRAS said that the decision in 1992 to ordain women had been taken “after lengthy debate in parishes, diocese and General Synod”.

In contrast, the Act of Synod was “hastily conceived” and “created entirely new structures that undermined the Church’s catholicity” and “made a mockery” of the relationship between priest and episcopate.

In another letter, Margaret Brown, who chairs the Third Province Movement, said that the House of Bishops had reassured the Synod in November 2000 that it remained “committed to continuing to work the Act”.


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