The Bishop and the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986

by Philip Jones

The 1986 Measure retained the ancient system of private patronage of benefices, though with significant modifications.  It also provided that the parish, through its churchwardens or other representatives, must be consulted in the appointment of a new incumbent. 

The appointment of a new incumbent is therefore effected by tripartite negotiation between (1) the patron (2) the bishop and (3) the parish, as regulated by the 1986 Measure.  However, diocesan bishop are themselves ex officio patrons of a significant number of benefices.

It may be helpful to divide the rights and responsibilities of the bishop under the 1986 Measure into three categories, as follows:

(1)  The Bishop and the Patron

Although the bishop may restrict the exercise of rights of patronage in certain circumstances, he cannot control who shall exercise those rights (subject to one exception, discussed in (3) below).  The diocesan register of patrons is, in effect, the responsibility of the diocesan (consistory) court, not the bishop.  The register is maintained and, if necessary, rectified by the registrar, though subject to a right of appeal to the chancellor (ss1 and 4, also schedule 1).

Rights of patronage may only be exercised by communicant Anglicans (s.8).  When a benefice falls vacant, non-Anglican individual patrons, and institutional patrons, must appoint communicant Anglicans to represent them.  Again, the bishop has no say in the choice of representatives, and does not decide if they satisfy the religious qualification.

When a vacancy arises, the bishop inaugurates the process of presentation to the benefice by notifying the vacancy to the diocesan ‘designated officer’, who will usually be the secretary of the diocesan pastoral committee (s.7).

If the bishop is not himself the benefice patron, any offer of presentation made by the patron or his Anglican representative must be approved by the bishop (also by the parish representatives) (s.13).  If the bishop refuses to approve the offer he must give written reasons for this.  The bishop’s and parish representatives’ approval is not required if the Crown is the patron making the offer (s.35).

If the patron neglects to make the required declaration of communicant status, or to appoint a representative who has done so, the bishop may make an offer of presentation to priest of his own choice, though subject to the approval of the parish representatives (s.14).  A clerical patron or representative is not required to declare that he is a communicant, but he is required to inform the designated officer that he is in holy orders (s.9(5)).

As well as the right to refuse an offer of presentation by the patron, the bishop retains the right to refuse to institute or admit a candidate who has been presented with his approval.  This means in effect that the bishop may change his mind about the candidate’s suitability (s.17).

(2)  The Bishop and the Parish

The bishop may require a special joint meeting between himself, the patron and the parochial church council (‘the PCC’) of the vacant benefice, in order to ‘exchange views’ on the ‘section 11 statement’ prepared by the PCC (s.12(1)).  This is the statement describing ‘the conditions, needs and traditions of the [vacant] parish’ required under s.11.  The patron and the PCC may each likewise request a joint meeting.

If such a meeting is held, the bishop must provide a statement ‘describing in relation to the [vacant] benefice the needs of the diocese and the wider interests of the Church’ (s.12(2)).  This is known as a ‘section 12 statement’.  The statement must also be given in writing, if either the patron or the PCC requests this.

The bishop is obliged to produce the statement if a joint meeting is convened, but he is not absolutely obliged to attend the meeting.  However, if he is ‘unable’ (as distinct from unwilling) to attend, he must appoint a representative to attend on his behalf (s.12(6)).

If the PCC fail to supply a section 11 statement or fail to request a joint meeting, the bishop may agree to the patron making an offer of presentation without waiting for the approval of the parish representatives.

Once the candidate for the benefice has been presented and admitted by the bishop, the bishop must send to the PCC secretary a prescribed notice of his intention to institute or, if the bishop is himself the patron, to collate the candidate (s.19).

(3)  The Bishop and the Church

A right of patronage that is vested in an ecclesiastical corporation (e.g a cathedral chapter or the incumbent of another benefice ex officio) may not be transferred to another patron without the bishop’s consent, unless the transfer is effected by statutory authority.  If the bishop is himself the transferor, the Archbishop must give consent (s.3(2)).  Where the bishop’s consent is required to a transfer of patronage, he must consider any representations made to him, and may require the transferor to confer with him (s.3(5)).

If the bishop (or a parish representative) refuses to approve an offer of presentation to a clergyman, the patron may refer the matter to the Archbishop for ‘review’ (s.13(5)).  The Archbishop may overrule the refusal and authorise the patron to make the offer.

If the bishop has not received a notice of presentation from the patron after 9 months, the right of presentation passes to the Archbishop (s.16).  The bishop is required to notify the Archbishop accordingly.  This is a change from the earlier law ‘under which patronage lapsed after 6 months from the patron to the bishop’ (see also s.31(1)).

The bishop acts as patron if the right of presentation to a vacant benefice vests in the incumbent of another benefice, and that other benefice is also vacant, or under sequestration, or the incumbent is suspended or inhibited from office (s.20).  This may repeal by implication a provision in the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, at s.76(1), which suggested that in these circumstances the patronage vests in the patron of the other benefice.

Two incumbents may agree to exchange their benefices, but this requires the agreement of their bishop, or bishops, also of the respective patrons and PCCs (s.22).