From the Revd Peter Hobson
Sir, - The recent judgment concerning the Revd Mark Sharpe's
case against the Bishop of Worcester (News, 8
May) clearly concludes his attempt to obtain justice through
our normative legal system.
The Court of Appeal has decided that Church of England clergy
are not able to seek an independent review of ways in which they
have suffered when working for the Church. We believe that the
clarity of this judgment and the presuppositions that lie behind it
allow us to know where ministers of the Church of England - and
indeed many other religious organisations - find themselves before
The assumption of our society - reflected in legislation by
Parliament - is that people who have suffered racial discrimination
can complain to a court and seek redress; but ministers of the
Church of England cannot complain to secular courts, and there is
no church redress.
People should not be compelled to retire at a particular age
without consideration of their physical or intellectual capability;
but ministers of the Church of England cannot complain to a secular
court about this, and are obliged to retire by church law at a set
People should not face persecution or detriment because of their
sex or sexuality; but ministers of the Church of England cannot
complain to a secular court, and there is no church redress.
Instead, the Appeal Judges in their wisdom have decreed, by
appeal to Magna Carta, no less, that the historic parallel legal
systems still apply to clergy, and are different from those
available to the rest of the nation. Indeed, in a pronouncement
even more astounding, they have accepted evidence that the Canons
of the Church and, indeed, the very oaths of canonical obedience
which are intended to make them effective, while being the "law of
the land", are in effect toothless and unenforceable.
We cannot help feeling that, in securing this ruling, the
Church's lawyers may have landed their paymasters with more than
was initially intended.
Ministers, by and large, work very hard to serve the communities
to which they are appointed, and the hierarchies of the Church of
England, by and large, do their very best to provide good
leadership. But all ministers, bishops included, are human and can
make mistakes. We deeply regret that there are no simple and just
procedures within the law of our nation to support and defend the
leaders and ministers of its Established Church.
Chair, Church of England Clergy Advocates Unite
128 Theobald's Road
London WC1X 8TN