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Synod: cathedral governance put on a new footing

24 November 2020

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Peterborough Cathedral

Peterborough Cathedral

A SWEEPING reform of cathedral governance has been given its final approval by the General Synod.

The Cathedrals Measure, a long piece of legislation which overhauls cathedral administration, financial controls, and regulation, was carried overwhelmingly in all three Houses of the Synod during its online meeting on Tuesday morning.

Robert Hammond, a member of the Measure’s steering committee, introduced a number of last-minute amendments, all of which were technical issues dealing with historic quirks and adjusting some of the timetable for reform, given delays caused by the pandemic.

All the amendments were agreed, before a final vote by houses to pass the Measure to Parliament for its ratification. “It puts cathedrals on a firm governance footing which is fit for the 21st century,” Mr Hammond explained in his summing up.

The reforms grew out of the Cathedrals Working Group, which was set up in 2017 in the wake of a cash-flow crisis at Peterborough Cathedral (News, 13 April 2017). The main change was for each cathedral to become a charity under English law, and thus be jointly regulated by the Charity Commission as well as the Church Commissioners.

Although it initially received a cool reception (News, 14 June 2018), years of consultation and refining led to a Measure that was welcomed by all sides.

The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, told the Synod that cathedral deans were supportive of the reforms, and were keen on their swift implementation, despite the additional stresses from the coronavirus.

The legislation was even more timely now, as it simplified things and allowed cathedrals to act more imaginatively, he said. “Do support us going forward, and vote enthusiastically for this Measure.”

Earlier in the debate, the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull — who spent many years as a dean before joining the episcopate — had recapped the context of the reforms, noting the change that cathedrals had undergone since the last Measure in the 1990s.

Decades of growth in mission meant that the time was right for an overhaul of their constitutional structure to ensure that they were fit for the 21st century, she said. In addition, she went on, cathedrals such as Peterborough, “which provoked this report because of their then dysfunctionality, are now in a much better place”.

Other parts of the Measure incorporate modern safeguarding practice into the structure of cathedrals and their Chapters — a fact highlighted by the prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler. The Cathedrals Measure was the first piece of legislation to be examined by the Synod since the report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), he noted.

One of IICSA’s criticisms of the Church of England concerned the phrase about having “due regard” to safeguarding guidance, deemed to be vague and unclear. This phrase still crops up in the Cathedrals Measure, Canon Butler said; would it not be important to “lay down a marker” and consider if it should be retired in favour of something clearer?

In response, the Revd Neil Patterson explained that there was provision embedded in the Measure to exchange the language of “due regard” in the future, along with other safeguarding legislation.

After a brief debate and the carrying of the amendments, the Synod voted overwhelmingly to give the Measure final approval in a vote by Houses. In the House of Bishops, 32 voted in favour; there were none against, and no abstentions. In the House of Clergy: 125 votes in favour, none against, and two abstentions. In the House of Laity, 151 in favour, none against, and three abstentions.

The legislation will go to Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee; once approved there and given Royal Assent, it will be phased in gradually over the following three years.

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