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Canons most critical in response to cathedrals consultation

14 June 2018


Remembering: a soldier from the 5 Rifles Battalion places one of 1561 shrouded figures — one for each day of the First World War — in the Garth of Salisbury Cathedral, as part of the Shrouds Project, by Rob Heard

Remembering: a soldier from the 5 Rifles Battalion places one of 1561 shrouded figures — one for each day of the First World War — in the Garth ...

RESIDENTIARY canons have objected strongly to proposals about their position, status, and accountability, prompting the Cathedral Working Group to reiterate its view that it is “essential” that deans have oversight of their work.

The final report of the group, published this week, also contains a warning from the Church Commissioners that they cannot bail out cathedrals that find themselves in debt.

The working group was set up last year by the Archbishops’ Council after the episcopal Visitation of Peterborough Cathedral, where a cash-flow crisis led to the involvement of the Church Commissioners, forcing out the Dean and making several staff redundant (News, 13 April 2017).

Its draft report, published in January, celebrated cathedrals as “an attractive brand, often understood better by the wider community than by the Church”, but warned that “serious governance mistakes” had been made, and concluded that legislative change was needed to correct “inadequacies” in their regulation (News, 19 January).

The relationship between deans and residentiary canons came under scrutiny: the group expressed concern that the latter could “function with a degree of unhelpful independence from either the collegial vision of the Chapter or the line management of the dean”. One of the findings at the Visitation at Exeter Cathedral was “poor communication and divisions among and between the Dean and Residentiary Canons” (News, 23 September 2016).

The draft report recommended that residential canons should “report to the dean as their line manager” and be subject to an annual review by the dean. It also suggested that residentiary canon positions should be given as “a developmental opportunity at an early or mid-point in a clergyperson’s ministry”.

In the consultation that followed the publication of the report, residentiary canons were the most critical constituency, a summary of the response confirms. The group has accepted the criticism that canons were not consulted initially, but reaffirmed in its final report that it is “essential for the dean, on behalf of Chapter, to be able to oversee the work of the residentiary canons with cathedral duties”. It has accepted that the draft was “unhelpful” in appearing to suggest that residentiary canons should be appointed only to developmental posts.

In total, about 300 submissions were received in response to the consultation — the vast majority from cathedrals. A summary provided by the Group notes “considerable” support for most of the recommendations, alongside “a small minority vociferously opposed to some or all of what was proposed”.

Most of the responses concerned the proposals on governance. The draft report recommended that the dean continue to chair the Chapter, and that the vice-chair should be a senior independent lay member appointed by the diocesan bishop. Day-to-day cathedral operations should be managed by a senior executive team, including the dean, the chief operating officer, and the chief financial officer, it said.

The final report says that the vice-chair may be lay or ordained, but must have no part to play within the day-to-day management of the cathedral, and must not act under the direction of the bishop, or anyone else. It maintains that the Chapter should have a non-executive majority, and that at least two-thirds of the non-executives should be lay. But it has clarified that the majority of the non-executive members should be communicant Anglicans, or from Churches in communion with the C of E.

Among those who responded to the consultation was a restructuring specialist, who raised questions about the application of the statutory insolvency regime for cathedrals. In 2004, Bradford Cathedral was subject to a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA), after finding itself with debts of £4 million (News, 1 February, 2008). The final report says that legislation is need to clarify that the CVA regime will apply to all cathedrals.

The consultation summary notes that the Church Commissioners asked the group to re-emphasise “that they do not (and cannot) ‘underwrite’ cathedrals, and they cannot be considered in any way as a backstop if and when a cathedral gets into difficulties”.

A large number of cathedrals are under significant pressure, and the Group notes that the Commissioners’ intervention in Peterborough — they provided a loan — revealed “significant role conflicts and confusions” among the National Church Institutions and bishops, leaving “a broader legacy of uncertainty, and even mistrust”.

It also notes that the Commissioners offer loans “very occasionally”, and at “commercial interest rates”. A long list of recommendations concerning finance address governance, financial reporting, access to financial expertise, and changes to the grants provided by Commissioners.

It also recommends that the Third Church Estates Commissioner should convene and chair a Cathedrals Support Group to oversee the activities of the National Church Institutions in relation to cathedrals — this has now been established.

The group says that “more work must be done” to clarify how parish church cathedrals will be treated under a revised Cathedrals Measure, and agrees that they should retain their ability to elect some members of the congregation to Chapter, provided that those members have the required skills.

It notes that the Charity Commission has received the proposal that cathedrals come under their regulation with “considerable caution”, and requested further dialogue.

One entity subject to more radical treatment in the final report is the Cathedral Council. “The confused situation revealed by the consultation responses constitutes a clear case for the abolition of Councils in their entirety, leaving the way clear for cathedrals to find their own means of stakeholder engagement,” the Working Group has concluded. It envisages that members may cross over into non-executive Chapter positions.

The General Synod will now debate a motion from the House of Bishops calling for the endorsement of the report’s proposals. The majority of changes are expected to be implemented over the next three years. Legislative changes to the Cathedrals Measure are expected to be introduced in February 2019.

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