PRIESTS or lay people are perfectly entitled to become Roman Catholics, but they do not have the right to take church property with them, the Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, said on Saturday
The Bishop told his diocesan synod that he had sought clarification from lawyers. There had always been movement between the denominations, he said, and Southwark had benefited from the ministry of several former Roman Catholic priests. He also suggested that the Vatican’s initiative was “more aimed at ex-Anglicans in the United States than members of the Church of England”.
Legal advice was that the diocese held property in trust for the mission and ministry of the Church of England. That duty of care would continue, the Bishop said.
He told the synod that the papal initiative had “put the cat among the pigeons. As is well known, the Archbishop of Canterbury was not consulted and had very little notice of the initiative. Was this discourteous of the Vatican? Of course it was, although we are also told that the Roman Catholic Bishops and Archbishops had just as little notice, and so there is embarrassment all round.”
Dr Butler said: “I don’t myself see how a parish could legally ‘take’ the parish church and other assets without specific statutory authority. In the case of the parish church, it would presumably mean a scheme under the Pastoral Measure, or specific legislation enacted for the purpose, and this could only be done with the goodwill of the diocese.
“In the case of assets such as the church hall or other parish property, appropriation to another denomination would certainly be a breach of trust and would not be possible without the co-operation of the Diocesan Board of Finance as Custodian Trustee and probably also the involvement of the Charity Commission.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury told the congregation at All Saints’, Margaret Street, on its 150th anniversary, that “within our Anglican family we need to go on telling a few stories about those who have shown that it is possible to lead lives of Catholic holiness even within the see of Canterbury. . .
“God knows what the future holds for any of us, for any of our ecclesiastical institutions, but we can at least begin with what we can be sure of; that God has graced us with the lives of saints; that God has been credible in his fellowship with these people.”
In giving thanks for All Saints’, he remarked: “At times when the future seems more than usually chaotic and uncertain, it doesn’t hurt simply to give thanks.”
The former Primate of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, last week described the Pope’s offer as “a grave indictment of the Instruments of Communion”.