The constitutions of English cathedrals are now regulated principally by the Cathedrals Measure 1999. The 1999 Measure is the most recent of a succession of Cathedrals Measures. The Cathedrals Measure should be distinguished from the Care of Cathedrals Measures which, as their titles imply, are mostly concerned with cathedral buildings and their contents.
The 1999 Measure effected two reforms of cathedral governance:
(1) reform of the chapter. Every cathedral chapter must now include at least two lay members (s.4(2)). Chapters were formerly exclusively clerical bodies. The cathedral’s constitution may also provide for the appointment of committees by the chapter, and such committees may include persons (including laypeople) who are not members of the chapter (s.10).
(2) the creation of two new authorities for each cathedral. These are
(1) the college of canons and
(2) the cathedral council.
The college of canons is really an extended version of the chapter. It comprises the dean and canons, also the assistant bishops and archdeacons of the diocese, but not the diocesan bishop himself (s.5(2)).
The novelty of the college of canons is limited. It resembles a body known as the greater chapter, an ancient feature of the governance of many cathedrals. Its purpose is not altogether clear. The chapter’s historic function of electing a new diocesan bishop is now exercised by the college of canons (s.5(3)). It is hard to see the point of this reform, as the election of the bishop under the Act of 1533 is the merest formality.
The cathedral council is regulated by s.3 of the 1999 Measure. Its membership is more widely drawn than that of the college of canons. The chairman must be a layperson who is not a member of the chapter. The bishop appoints the chairman, after consulting the chapter. The chapter is represented on the council by the dean and between two and five other chapter members. Two representatives of the college of canons must also be appointed.
There must also be two and four lay representatives of those who work and worship regularly at the cathedral. The ‘cathedral community’ is defined at s.35(1) of the Measure. The election of these representatives is a matter for the cathedral’s constitution.
Lastly, there must be 5 to 10 other persons chosen, again in a manner prescribed by the constitution, for their connection with the cathedral. The nature of this connection is not very clearly stated in s.3. The additional members must be
‘persons having experience in connection with the work of the cathedral, or the ability to reflect local, diocesan, ecumenical or national interests in that connection’.
This wording suggests that the additional members of the cathedral council should either be
(1) experienced in cathedral administration generally, or else
(2) connected with the particular cathedral, either through residence in the diocese or in some other context.
The cathedral council, as constituted under s.3, will have a maximum membership of 23, and a minimum membership of 13. The diocesan bishop may not be a member of the council, just as he may not be a member of the chapter or the college of canons. However, the bishop may attend and speak, but not vote, at meetings of the council.
The council is the legislative authority of the cathedral. S.28 of the 1999 Measure provides that the council may promulgate a new constitution and statutes, or revise existing ones.
Any legislative activity of the council requires the bishop’s consent. However, cathedral legislation is promulgated by a written instrument sealed by ‘the common seal’ of the cathedral. It is not promulgated by the bishop’s assent in the manner of the royal assent to Acts of Parliament.
No legislative proceedings can be started until the chapter has been consulted. The general public must also be consulted in accordance with a procedure laid down by s.29 and s.30 of the 1999 Measure. Draft legislation must be advertised in the vicinity of the cathedral and made available for public inspection, with opportunity for written representations to be made. Draft revisions of the constitution, though not of statutes, must also be advertised in at least one local newspaper (s.29(1)(a)).
The cathedral council must have regard both to the views of the chapter and any written representations received from the public. Following advertisement of the draft legislation, the council may amend it ‘as it thinks expedient’ (s.29(3)), after which the instrument is sealed.
While the council is the legislative authority for the cathedral, the chapter remains the executive authority, with power ‘to direct and oversee the administration of the affairs of the cathedral’ (s.4(8)). Thus the chapter is sometimes described as the ‘administrative chapter’ or ‘administrative body’ of the cathedral (s.36(1)).
The 1999 Measure was passed in response to concerns about the lack of accountability of cathedral chapters. However, our account has shown that the Measure has done little to alter the mediaeval character of cathedral governance. Cathedrals remain self-governing, with their own particular laws.
The provisions of the 1999 Measure were influenced by a Church of England report entitled Heritage and Renewal (1994). This report was the work of a commission a large proportion of whose members were themselves cathedral officeholders, and therefore perhaps not naturally supportive of radical reform of cathedral governance. Cathedral foundations have always been a powerful interest group, hence they have changed little from the middle ages to the 21st century.
The establishment of the cathedral council is a reform of limited value. The council has legislative power, but little ability to control the chapter’s governance of the cathedral. As we have seen, the dean and some canons are themselves members of the cathedral council. This may undermine the council’s independence of the chapter. The 1999 Measure does not require the council’s approval of the cathedral’s annual budget, or of any property transactions made by the chapter. The council certainly cannot remove chapter members from office, in the way that a company’s shareholders can dismiss its board of directors. It is therefore somewhat toothless.
The 1999 Measure scarcely addresses the function of cathedrals within the wider Church. This reveals its conservative character. Phillimore’s Ecclesiastical Law (2nd ed, 1895) suggests that ‘Every cathedral in its first institution was as the Temple to the whole diocese’ (p.124, citing Coke). In other words, the cathedral is the parish church of the diocese.
The Measure provides, rather vaguely, that the cathedral is ‘a centre of worship and mission’ (s.1) and affirms the duty of the chapter to ‘order the worship and promote the mission of the cathedral’ (s.4(8)(a)). It makes no other reference to the cathedral’s status as parish church of the diocese.
The cathedral council itself is not very representative of the diocese. It is composed mainly of persons chosen for their connection to the cathedral rather than to the diocese. The diocesan synod has no right of representation on the council. The continuation of particular laws for cathedrals also tend to isolate them from the wider Church.
With few exceptions, English cathedrals still do not have parishes of their own. The original reason for this may have been that ‘the bishop would not hold it consistent with his dignity to place a parish priest over his own head’ (Braithwaite v Hook (1862) 7 Law Times 254).
It is arguable that, with no parish of its own but several clergy, the cathedral is a unjustifiable burden to the Church’s ministry in the diocese. Phillimore wrote that the dean’s cure of souls is limited to the chapter (possibly other cathedral officeholders as well), while the chapter have no cure of souls ‘in any respect’ (pp.130 and 140). It is true that cathedrals resemble parish churches in having congregations of regular worshippers. The 1999 Measure acknowledges this by extending the dean’s cure of souls to include ‘the pastoral care of all members of the cathedral community’ (s.7(2)). The dean is now effectively the ‘vicar’ of the cathedral community. However, nothing is said about the pastoral function of the chapter as a whole. It has been suggested that the chapters of the more famous cathedrals exercise some kind of ‘ministry’ to tourists, but this is hard to reconcile with compulsory admission fees.
It is argued that, if the cathedral is the parish church of the diocese, it should be fully integrated into the diocese. The governance of the cathedral ought to be the responsibility of the diocesan synod. Management of the cathedral could be entrusted to the diocesan board of finance, or to some specially constituted diocesan committee.