Patronage and Integrity

by Philip Jones

It has been pointed out that the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986, which effectively regulates appointments to benefices, says little about how candidates are actually selected.  s.11(1)(c) of the Measure provides that the parochial church council (‘PCC’) may request the benefice patron to advertise a vacancy, but the PCC cannot insist on this.  The ‘headhunting’ process is evidently rather informal.  Bishops and institutional patrons apparently keep lists of potential candidates.  There may be an official at Church House Westminster who acts as a kind of recruitment agency.  But these practices are not referred to in the Measure.

A candidate for ecclesiastical office was formerly required to make a declaration against ‘the detestable sin of simony’: see canon 40 of 1603, as amended by the Clerical Subscription Act 1865.  Following the Miscellaneous Provisions Measure 1976, the General Synod has seen fit to abolish this requirement.

However, s.11 of the Patronage (Benefices) Measure contains provisions evidently intended to maintain the integrity of appointments to benefices.  If the patron of the vacant benefice is a clergyman, or the spouse of a clergyman, that clergyman is disqualified from presentation.  The outgoing incumbent and his spouse may not be involved in the preparation of the ‘section 11 statement’ that the PCC is required to prepare describing the conditions, needs and traditions of the parish.  Nor may they be involved in the selection of those who are to represent the parish in the appointment of the new incumbent.  If the patron or his appointed representative is himself a member of the PCC he may not attend meetings of the PCC which concern the vacancy.

There are other ‘integrity’ provisions.  S.28 of the 1986 Measure provides that where a benefice becomes vacant because a simoniacal presentation is ‘voided’, the next presentation shall be made by the diocesan patronage board, not the original patron.  The Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 provides that no person may hold benefices in plurality, except under the terms of a statutory scheme or order (s.104).  The dean or canon of a cathedral may not hold a benefice unless the cathedral’s constitution permits this.  If anyone holds office in contravention of this rule, he shall, on admission to the new office, be deemed to have vacated the previous office.  An ecclesiastical officeholder may serve additionally as vicar of a guild church in the City of London, but the bishop may prevent this if the two offices ‘cannot properly be combined’.

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1836 forbids an incumbent who is promoted to a bishopric to continue to hold his benefice in commendam (s.18).  S.76(1) of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 provides that, if a bishop is suspended from office, his ex officio rights of patronage vest in the Archbishop.  S.76(1) further provides that if an incumbent who is ex officio patron of another benefice has been suspended or inhibited under the disciplinary process, his right of patronage vests in the patron of his own benefice.  This may conflict with s.20 of the 1986 Measure, which provides that the bishop of the vacant benefice exercises the patronage in these circumstances.

In the (nowadays unlikely) event that a candidate for a beneficed or licensed office is himself the incumbent of a sequestrated benefice, he may not be appointed without the written consent of his bishop, and of the sequestrator of the benefice (Sequestration Act 1871, s.7).