IT IS understandable why a document that contemplates “pruning” clergy posts should be circulated to bishops and diocesan secretaries only, and marked “Restricted”. The C of E has, after all, embarked on an ambitious recruitment drive, acknowledging that full-time clergy are at the heart of its mission, most of whom will need to be paid. The discussion paper Perspectives on Money, People and Buildings acknowledges the consequences if, just as the new recruits come on stream, there are no posts to go to because the funding has dried up. First, the money spent training new clergy “may be perceived to have been wasted”; second, “the messaging/mood generated [may] deter candidates and lead to a shock contraction in the pipeline of new clergy.” The problem is thus presented as one of maintaining a decent PR front, hence the confidentiality.
Fortunately, this mistaken notion no longer pertains. The Archbishop of York, writing here, has dropped the “Nothing to see here” stance, and the Church as a whole, clergy and laity alike, is invited to debate the challenges that the pandemic has caused — as people have been in these columns for months. What Money, People and Buildings makes clear, however, is that the future reshaping of the Church is no longer a long-term, theoretical matter. The projected six- or seven-per-cent shortfall between income and expenditure nationally is an average: many dioceses will experience something far worse. Many diocesan synods and finance committees will this year have to confront the reality of a cashflow crisis. They deserved to know the true situation, as do ordinands and clergy who are likely to have to look harder for the next post. In our experience, church people across the board are mature enough to seek solutions together.
THE absurdity of the Bishop of Lincoln’s 20-month suspension, which ended this week, does not need to be pointed out by us. It failed even at the basic level of convincing victims of abuse that their complaints will be taken seriously. The message to any complainant is that they can expect to be caught for months in what Lord Carey called the Church’s “stutteringly slow, brutal and impersonal” safeguarding processes. In the case of Christ Church, Oxford, for example, it is hard to see how any possible outcome could compensate either party for the harm caused by the denigration and insults that each has been subjected to, especially given the ill health induced in the Dean, which means that the case is likely to drag on for months yet. It is, of course, a relief that groups in the Church are working on a disciplinary system to replace the present one. This will take time, however, especially if it is to work. Action must be taken now to halt the damage caused by the existing system, and minister to those damaged by it.