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Archbishop Welby under fire for comments about ongoing consistory-court case

18 February 2022

Wellcome Collection/public domain

An engraving of Tobias Rustat (1608-94)

An engraving of Tobias Rustat (1608-94)

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has been reprimanded for his remarks in the General Synod about an ongoing consistory-court case: whether to remove the Tobias Rustat Memorial from the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge. Rustat (1608-94) was a significant benefactor of the college who had financial links with a slave-trading company.

Speaking during an impassioned debate on racial justice last week (News, 11 February), Archbishop Welby asked: “Why is it so much agony to remove a memorial to slavery that sits in front of the Dean of a college — Jesus College, Cambridge – who has to look at it every time she sits in her stall?” He said that the Church needed to change its practices on faculty jurisdiction.

The case is currently being considered by the Chancellor of Oxford and Blackburn dioceses, the Worshipful David Hodge QC, who heard evidence and gathered submissions from representatives of the college and objectors in the week before the Synod met.

In a letter to the Church Times this week, a former Dean of the Arches and Auditor, Charles George QC, and a former Chancellor of Derby and Blackburn, John W. Bullimore, write that Judge Hodge “was, and is, preparing his judgment, in which he will give detailed reasons for his decision. His Grace’s clear indication that the result should allow the relocation is a breach of the sub judice rule that forbids discussion of matters under active consideration in the courts.

“Such comments would not have been allowed in the Houses of Parliament (Erskine May para 25.74); nor should they be in the General Synod.”

The letter asks: “We are confident that the experienced Deputy Chancellor will not be influenced by such remarks, but if his decision were to favour the college, will not those opposing the application be inclined to believe and say that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments swayed the outcome?”

It recognises that the Archbishop’s words “came during an emotional and sensitive debate”, but cautions: “Restraint in commenting on any case under active consideration by a court needs to be maintained by members of the General Synod, however senior.”

Members of the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice (News, 8 October 2021) were present at the hearing.

In a broadcast service to mark Racial Justice Sunday, the Vicar of St Nicholas’s, Durham, Canon Arun Arora, who co-chairs the Archbishops’ Racial-justice Taskforce, said: “Jesus speaks of a God of Justice. . . It’s a message of hope for those who have experienced the degradation of racial injustice and a call to action for all who would fight against the pernicious evil of racism in our society.”

Read the full letter here

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