Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by Professor G R Evans, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge

  1.  I hope the Committee will begin by considering the fundamental principles of division between the roles of Church and secular authority in the process which leads to the appointment of a vicar or rector to a parish.

  Only the Church can make a priest. The selection of a priest, once ordained, for a particular pastoral office has to meet two ecclesiological and theological requirements:

    —  The first is the willingness of the people of the parish to accept him or her.

    —  The second is the willingness of whoever has charge of the temporalities of the living to consent to the appointment.

  2.  It is not clear that "variety" is a good in the system of appointment. It rests on no theoretical justification. It has simply grown up through a series of historical accidents. These mainly concern control of the temporalities of the living.

  3.  The exercise of patronage, unless carried out according to published criteria and by a transparent process, is not compatible with the principles of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

  4.  To transfer the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage responsibilities to the Church would not be not a move towards disestablishment. It would merely add a further item to the long list of historical accidents which decide how the particular priests for whose selection the Lord Chancellor is at present formally responsible are appointed.

  5.  If the transfer is to be made to the Church it should not in my view go to the diocese. There are complex questions of the shifts that would create in the balance of power in the Church. There is, moreover, a likelihood that such a change would merely ensure that the Bishop's preferred candidate is usually appointed. There are reasons why that may not be a desirable outcome.

  6.  Dioceses have taken control of the endowments of parishes (1978). They are responsible for the payment of stipends. They are selling off parsonages. They are encouraging ministry by teams of laity in the smaller parishes. All this undermines the theology of a personal pastoral ministry. Traditionally, the incumbent serves the local people in a parish. For parishes which prefer to continue in that way the awarding of the advowson for its own incumbent to each Parish Church Council would afford the only protection against these trends. It would allow the present management changes in the Church to be tested against the pastoral preferences of the faithful. It would help to preserve a working balance between the two requirements noted above at (1).

G R Evans

  Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History and member of the Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England General Synod 1985-95

11 January 2004

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