DIOCESAN-SYNOD members meeting in Hereford next week are being asked to challenge their Bishop’s use of a £154,000 grant from the Church Commissioners.
The grant was earmarked “for mission and ministry support”, to be used “for the cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required”.
The diocese says that the money is “ring-fenced” and that the Bishop, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, has set aside the money for special projects, to be suggested by deaneries and approved by him and his staff.
The diocesan synod’s lay chairwoman, however, Diana George, says that it should be for the synod to decide how the money is used.
The money was part of a three-year £17.5-million nationwide package made available by the Church Commissioners to ease the effects on dioceses of the decision by the General Synod to increase diocesan contributions to clergy pensions.
The package, the Archbishops’ Council said in a letter to diocesan secretaries dated 3 October 2007, was “to ensure dioceses get most help as they make the immediate adjustment to the higher contribution rate on the funded [pension] scheme”.
The Hereford diocesan secretary, John Clarke, received the letter with the Hereford portion of that grant: £154,000, based on the number of pensionable stipendiary clergy in the diocese.
Mrs George said on Tuesday: “I am concerned that, as vice-president of the diocesan synod, a member of the policy and resources committee, and a member of the revenue advisory panel, I was not aware of the letter until 15 September.
“I have written to the diocesan secretary asking what has happened to the money. I want a discussion, and I want transparency and accountability.” The money had not shown up in the diocesan board of finance’s budget, although it was “a known amount of money”, she said. It does, however, appear in the diocesan accounts.
In August, she had become aware that “a rather large sum of money” had been given to the diocese’s partnership fund to administer. The Bishop had called it “special mission money”, and deaneries had been invited to apply for special projects, Mrs George said.
“The Bishop’s staff have decided how to use it, and I don’t think that is the proper place for this decision.”
A spokeswoman for the Bishop said on Wednesday that the Church Commissioners had given the money to the diocese for “extra mission and ministry support. We are planning to spend it on mission, and the decision has been ratified by the Bishop’s Council and the diocesan board of finance, and is now going to diocesan synod.”
Mr Clarke said that the money was “ring-fenced”, and that synod was being told about it only “for information”.
A spokesman for the Church Commissoners said on Wednesday: “It is up to the dioceses how to use that money.”