Comment: June 2000

It seems like only yesterday that phone and fax were hot with threats from the establishment lawyers for daring to expose the scandal of the Bishop's expenses. Yet, here we are again, another year, another set of accounts - the individual’s costs still shrouded in secrecy, protected by anonymity and benefiting from the traditional lack of accountability. As attendance remorselessly declines, the number of parish priests slides ever downwards, their security undermined by contract and their already pitiful pension prospects further reduced by a new investment scandal, one thing we can rely on is the expanding dignitary roll and their concomitant costs. The Church Commissioners annual report and accounts, published last month, reveals that Bishops’ expenses increased by nearly 10 per cent (over four times the rate of inflation). The increase of £800,000 was obviously regarded as significant by the Church Commissioners as they cancelled a press briefing, claiming there was nothing to discuss. The £9.3 million bill means that the running costs of each bishop comes in at around £82,000! In addition there is the bill for maintenance of the bishops’ palaces, a snip at only £3 million. By a curious coincidence the figure of £12 m was, only a week before, on the Church Commissioners’ lips in a rather different context. It is the annual shortfall in the clergy pension fund and they were appealing to the hard-pressed parishes to find an additional £12 per member in addition to rocketing quota in order to accept total responsibility for clergy pensions.

The black hole in the accounts which this magazine has long been predicting, coupled with a scandalous ignorance of actuarial bases for projection, is finally beginning to emerge. The establishment line is that clergy are living too long! Given the choice between ensuring a humble but decent retirement for those who have spent their lives in coalface parish ministry and continuing to prop up a dignitary system which bears no relation to the New Testament, the man in the pew may prefer a cull of the episcopate.

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"Changing Attitudes" is a group campaigning for "gay and lesbian affirmation within the Church of England". The plan is to develop "Diocesan resources and networks" over the next three years and, for this purpose, the National Lottery Charities Board Community Fund has awarded a grant of £120,000.

While Fr. Colin Coward, the co-ordinator, and his patron, the Bishop of Worcester, are at liberty to pursue their causes in the arena of public debate, the Lottery Fund is gravely exceeding its remit in seeking to alter the teaching of the Church and the doctrine of the faith. A spokesman for the Fund has said, "We don't take any line on the compatibility of homosexual activity and Christianity". That is, to put it mildly, economical with the truth. Would they, for example, fund similar lobby groups who were unhappy with the teachings of the Koran or who wished to make the Torah politically correct ?

No prizes for guessing the answer to that .

Old Catholic gains new appointment

The Internet is a strange thing, and threatening to some. Its free exchange of information and comment can easily undermine 'establishment' positions and opinions.

The appointment of Geoffrey Rowell as Bishop in Europe is a case in point. Readers of this magazine will applaud the elevation of a sound and scholarly bishop to a see which has an especial relationship with the great churches of East and West. It is just, reasonable and desirable. They will rejoice, moreover, that the Church of England can still be true to its own claims to be inclusive and comprehensive. It can still give merit its due. They will also note that this appointment means that they will be represented on the Rochester Working Party by a diocesan bishop.

But not everyone is happy. The chatlines of the Old Catholic Church have been buzzing with discontent. Once the darling of Catholic Anglicans, who ensured the 'validity' of their consecrations wherever possible by a pair of Old Catholic hands, the Union of Utrecht caught the Anglican disease a few years ago and is now into women priests, and 'provisionality' like there is no tomorrow (or rather, like there was no yesterday). Only the Polish National Catholic Church in the US has stood aloof.

Old Catholic chatterers on the Internet are vocal about the Rowell appointment, and angry that the CofE has let the side down by preferring an opponent of the innovation which they have so recently taken to heart. But they have a hope. One Markus Duenzkofer (a German priest in the Episcopal Church who is active in Episcopalian / Old Catholic relations) has reflected that the American Episcopalian "Convocation of European Churches" is itself to elect a new bishop in June or July. How appropriate, he reflects, if the Episcopal Church of the US were to choose a woman, thereby distancing the two Anglican groups.

We are bound to agree with him. Nothing could set Anglican / Roman Catholic and Anglican / Orthodox relationships on a sounder and more realistic footing than the requirement of the two great churches of East and West to relate to Anglican Bishops with overlapping jurisdictions who are not in communion with each other.

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