Peter Mullen is not in two minds as he outlines the end
to an ancient tradition of English parochial freedom
arrangement by which the clergy of the Church of England hold office will come
into force by law at the end of next year. This is called Common Tenure and it
will replace the historic Parsons' Freehold, which will be abolished.
This is only the latest and
most destructive bureaucratic swindle operated by the bishops and General Synod
in order to transfer power from the individual parson to the central
authorities. Parsons' Freehold is an arrangement of genius adopted by the CofE
in the Middle Ages, from a similar practice in Orleans and Lyon five hundred
years before that. So, of course, it has to be done away in the interests of the
centralising ecclesiastical apparatchiks, who have already almost abolished
private or lay patronage of parochial livings and secured maleficent instruments
by which parochial property can more easily be assignedtothe dioceses.
The Parsons' Freehold is not -
as its vicious opponents insist - a cumbrous and outmoded system which needs to
be 'modernised.' It is an arrangement proven by time and used to provide a
degree of independence and protection for the incumbent. Along with the equally
ancient office of churchwarden, it is one of the checks and balances which for a
thousand years have provided a decent foundation of autonomy for the parish.
There was, until the current
Measure, a four-fold principle of interdependence which involved the parson, the
churchwardens, the patron and the bishop. Authority was proportionate and shared
among these parties so that none could coerce or bully the others. There were
always procedures by which a criminal or negligent parson - or one who was an
open and notorious evil liver' - could be
removed. These procedures were
administered through the consistory court, presided over by the independent
judiciary, and provided a convenient and humane authority for the good order of
This has now been destroyed by
the very men who were appointed to preserve it - the bishops, aided and abetted
by the modernising General Synod which increasingly seeks to model its
procedures on the managerial methods of secular bureaucracy. To give them
credit, they admit as much, hence all their talk of grievance procedures' and
'job security But all those protections were already being met by Parsons'
Freehold. And so the only reason to change a fair and balanced system for one
that is partisan and despotic is in order to grab power for the secularising
Again, the secular structure
of the new form of governance is admitted by the innovators who say, 'Bishops'
human resources responsibilities will increase exponentially with the coming
into effect of this Measure.' Which, being interpreted, means a whole lot more
secular managers and administrators will be appointed, paid for by the parishes.
Astonishingly, the authorities
state: "Those of you with the Freehold will be invited to indicate whether
you are willing to move to Common Tenure.' This is to ask turkeys to vote for
Christmas. Since it is the parochial clergy who are already pressured
intolerably by central authorities to raise vast sums from their long-suffering
congregations to compensate for the colossal wreckage which the same authorities
have made of the church's finances, that 'invitation' to opt for Common Tenure
amounts not only to the turkeys being asked to vote for Christmas, but also to
contribute to the cost of their stuffing.
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