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Clergy accuse diocese of ‘blackmail’

23 April 2009

by Bill Bowder

Clergy in the diocese of London are accusing the diocese of “black­mailing” them into accepting that they may not get a promised four-per-cent rise in stipend this year, if they cannot squeeze the money out of their parishioners.

In a message from John Butler, the diocese’s Director of Finance, which was sent out under the imprint of the diocese’s four archdeacons, clerics have been told that they will get their full rise only if the Common Fund — which is paid by the parishes — increases by five per cent. Parishes made a pledge to raise this last year, before the financial crisis heightened.

But clergy are “appalled” at the way their stipends and the Common Fund have been linked, Prebendary David Houlding, who chairs the House of Clergy, said on Thursday of last week. A number of clerics had contacted him to say the way the link between the two had been made was “as if it amounted to some sort of blackmail, with only the clergy to blame if the money is not forthcoming”.

Last month, the Bishop’s Council agreed to stand by its commitment to pay the four-per-cent stipend increase, “but this can only be achieved if parishes are also able to stand by their commitments to give what they pledged, so that we receive the overall five per cent diocesan increase in Common Fund in 2009 as pledged in 2008.”

As a result, the Bishop’s Council decided on 12 March, in the context of “this relationship of mutual trust”, that it would pay a two-per-cent increase in stipends this month and the further two per cent in December, backdated to April.

The Archdeacons’ letter continues: “It . . . will pay the full four per cent in stipends as and when the Common Fund to pay it is assured of being received.”

Each of the 400 or so parishes offered to give more to the Common Fund, when they were asked to pay for a jump from £18.2 million last year to £19.1 million this.

The Archdeacon of Hampstead, the Ven. Michael Lawson, said that the second half of the payment would be made, “if the Common Fund comes in adequately”.

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