ecclesiasticallaw

Ecclesiastical law

Month: June, 2016

The Burden of Legislative Reform

The Legislative Reform Measure 2017, aka The Enabling Measure

According to the Church of England’s website, the General Synod is due to consider the first draft of the above Measure this coming weekend, just before the ‘Shared Conversations’ on human sexuality.

The procedural flaws in the Measure have been discussed in a separate post, which is filed below (‘The Proposed Enabling Measure: A Complex Process of Simplification’).

However, the fundamental misconception of the Measure is that it is modelled on a piece of secular legislation that has no application to the Church.  The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 makes provision for ‘removing or reducing any burden … resulting directly or indirectly for any person from any legislation’ (s.1).

This provision appears in the draft Measure.  However, the Measure indicates a failure to appreciate the significance of another provision of the 2006 Act.  A burden-reducing order ‘may not be made … in relation to any burden which affects only a Minister of the Crown or government department …’ (s.1(4)).  The 2006 Act defines a ‘burden’ as that ‘which affects the carrying on of any lawful activity’ (s.1(3)).

The 2006 Act was intended to benefit private citizens, not public officials and public authorities.  Its purpose was to cut red tape, to enable ordinary people to go about their business without unnecessary official interference.

In the Measure, by contrast, the definition of  ‘burden’ makes no reference to ‘any lawful activity’ by private citizens.  This is because ecclesiastical legislation does not regulate such activity in the first place.  Instead, the Measure refers to burdens ‘resulting … from ecclesiastical legislation’ (s.1(1)).  However, with the exception of weddings and funerals (particularly the fees involved), ecclesiastical legislation does not impose any burdens on private citizens.

Thus the only burdens that the Measure will relieve, or can relieve, are the burdens attached to ecclesiastical office and governance, because these are the only burdens imposed by ecclesiastical legislation.  This is a quite different, indeed opposite, purpose to that of the 2006 Act.  The 2006 Act was intended to reduce official interference.  The Measure is intended to make the officials’ work easier.

Legislation that promises to reduce burdens always sounds attractive.  However, reducing burdens is not as simple as it sounds.  One person’s burden is another person’s benefit.  One person’s benefit may be another person’s unemployment.  One person’s burden may be reduced merely by increasing another person’s burden, or by appointing an extra person.

The Measure makes clear that burden-reducing may involve

[1] ‘abolishing, conferring or transferring, or …. delegat[ing] … functions of any description …’ (s.1(5))

[2] ‘creating a [new] body or office’

[3] ‘abolish[ing] a body or office’  if abolition is consequential on burden-reducing (s.1(6))

[4] considering ‘the interests of any person adversely affected’ by burden-reducing (s.2(c))

The purpose of the Measure is therefore a little more nuanced than merely ‘reducing burdens’.  It rearranges red tape more than cutting it.  It seeks to reorganise official functions with a view to improving the quality of ecclesiastical governance, by making it simpler, more efficient and less expensive.

This is an admirable purpose, of course.  But it does not justify a new legislative procedure.  It can, and should, be effected by ordinary legislation.  The whole point of all ecclesiastical legislation is to improve the quality of ecclesiastical governance.  The Measure will throw a spanner into the legislative works.  It adds a new legislative procedure that serves essentially the same purpose as the existing one, with the two procedures operating side by side.

The Measure may not receive very close attention in the General Synod, if the members are preoccupied with the more sensational matters to follow.  It may prove insignificant in practice, if it is used only to make minor and uncontroversial administrative changes.  But a more confused attempt at ecclesiastical law reform is hard to imagine.

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The Clerical Declaration of Assent

Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC, article in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal (2016) vol 18(2), May 2016, p.165.

This is an interesting account of the history and content of the Declaration contained in Canon C15(1) that clergy are required to make.  However, there are difficulties with its speculations about the disciplinary consequences of a ‘breach’ of the Declaration by an officeholder.

The learned author suggests that any disciplinary case involving the Declaration is likely to constitute a ‘reserved matter’, i.e an offence against doctrine, ritual and ceremonial (p.185).  Reserved matters are still regulated by the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, not the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.

To date, no prosecution has ever been brought under the 1963 procedure for reserved matters.  There seems to be no reported case either under the 1963 Measure or the 2003 Measure concerning a breach of the Canon C15(1) Declaration.

Although described as ‘The Declaration of Assent‘, the word ‘assent’ does not appear in the text of the Declaration.  The Declaration is in the following terms:

‘I, A.B …

[1] declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic Creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness and

[2] in public prayer and the administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon’.

It will be apparent from this wording that ‘the Declaration’ is actually two declarations, as to (1) religious belief and (2) compliance with the Church’s law of worship.

The two declarations are significantly different in character.  Only Declaration (2) is concerned with conduct.  Declaration (1) concerns state of mind.  Declaration (1) is expressed in the present tense.  It affirms the clergyman’s religious belief as at the time it is made.  It contains no guarantee of what the clergyman may or may not believe in the future.  Declaration (2), by contrast, is an undertaking as to future conduct.

It is difficult to see how Declaration (1) could give rise to disciplinary action, as it refers only to a state of mind.  As Dr Johnson observed, ‘Every man has a physical right to think as he pleases, for it cannot be discovered how he thinks’.  Perhaps disciplinary action would be possible if there was evidence that an officeholder had knowingly made a false declaration (e.g ‘I only made the Declaration to get the job’), though such a case might be hard to prove.

The ‘forms of service’ which are the subject of Declaration (2) are now ‘authorised or approved’ under the authority of the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974, which was, of course, passed some years after the 1963 Measure.  The reserved jurisdiction over ritual and ceremonial in the 1963 Measure applied to the old 1662 regime of public worship.  The 1662 regime was abolished by the Worship and Doctrine Measure.  It might therefore have been appropriate to abolish the reserved jurisdiction over ritual and ceremonial at the same time, but this was not done.

Canon B2 now provides that ‘Every minister shall use only the forms of service authorised by this Canon, except so far as he may exercise the discretion permitted by Canon B5′.

Thus if an officeholder breaks the rule laid down by Canon B2, or exceeds the discretion permitted by Canon B5, this will clearly constitute disobedience, ‘doing [an] act in contravention of the laws ecclesiastical’, which is misconduct under s.8(1) of the Clergy Discipline Measure.  There will be no need to invoke the 1963 reserved jurisdiction, even if such misconduct is cognisable under this jurisdiction.

The learned author asserts that ‘Once made, the Declaration is binding unless and until a cleric formally renounces his or her orders’ i.e by exercising a deed of relinquishment (p.183).  He makes this assertion not just once but twice (at p.183 and p.187).  (It must be important to him, for some reason.)

Canon C15(1)(6) is cited as authority.  This provides that

‘Where any bishop, priest or deacon ceases to hold office in the Church of England or otherwise ceases to serve in any place, the Declaration made under this Canon shall continue to have effect insofar as he continues to minister in the Church’.

On this wording, Canon C15(1)(6) does not provide that the Declaration continues until a clergyman formally renounces his orders.  It provides only that the Declaration continues as long as the clergyman continues to officiate.  It makes no reference to renunciation of orders.

Canon C15(1)(6) means in effect that a retired bishop or vicar (or a vicar on a career break) who helps out by taking services, as retired clergy do, will not have to take the Declaration again after retirement, but will be expected to honour the Declaration made while still in ‘active’ ministry.  It simply does not apply to clergy who do not officiate at all.  And clergy who do not officiate in the Church will have no opportunity to act in breach of the Declaration, regardless of whether they have executed a deed of relinquishment.

What did the Ornaments Rubric Mean?

‘Provided always … that such ornaments of [1] a church, and [2] the ministers thereof,

shall be retained and be in use as was [in use] in this Church of England by the authority of Parliament in [1549] until other order shall be taken by the authority of the Queen’s Majesty or of the Metropolitan of this realm [i.e the Archbishop of Canterbury] …’ (Act of Uniformity 1558)

‘the Minister, at the time of the Communion, and at all other times in his ministration, shall use ornaments in the church, as were in use by the authority of Parliament in [1549] according to the Act of Parliament [of 1558, above]’ (1558 rubric)

‘such ornaments of the church, and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in the Church of England, by the authority of Parliament [in 1549]’ (1662 rubric).

This question is phrased in the past tense advisedly.  The Ornaments Rubric no longer means anything to the English law of public worship.  The statutory authority that the Prayer Book rubrics once enjoyed was abolished by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974, except in respect of banns of marriage.  This is discussed in a separate post, filed below.

However, the Ornaments Rubric was discussed at length by the Court of the Arches and by the Privy Council in two celebrated 19th century ritual cases

(1) Liddell v Westerton (1857) and

(2) Elphinstone v Purchas, later Hebbert v Purchas (1870-1)

Liddell concerned the ornaments of the church.  A faculty was sought for the removal of various items associated with ritualism, such as cross and lights on the altar and colourful altar coverings.

Purchas concerned the ornaments of the minister.  The Rev Mr Purchas was charged with ‘wearing … whilst officiating in the communion service … a vestment called a chasuble … [and] a certain vestment called an alb, instead of a surplice’ (p.167), i.e the catholic eucharistic vestments.  Mr Elphinstone, the original prosecutor, died before the case reached the Privy Council, so Mr Hebbert had to be substituted.  (Death was not allowed to frustrate the continued pursuit of Mr Purchas, such was the gravity of the case.)

The erudite Sir Robert Phillimore, Dean of the Arches and original author of the famous commentary on ecclesiastical law, had no difficulty with the Ornaments Rubric: ‘the construction of this Rubric according to general principles of legal interpretation … appear[s] to me as plain and simple as any which is to be found in any statutory enactment’ (Phillimore’s Ecclesiastical Judgments, p.162).  He saw the irony of the Rubric being used to oppose ritualism when its original purpose was to protect the ornaments of church and minister from iconoclastic radical protestants who wished to get rid of them.

Phillimore also understood that the Rubric is expressed in mandatory, not prohibitive, terms.  It provides that the identified ornaments must be used.  It does not provide that only those ornaments may be used and no other.

Unfortunately the Privy Council interpreted the Rubric differently.  It observed in Liddell that, upon the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, ‘a great controversy arose between the more violent and the more moderate reformers as to the Church service which should be re-established’ (Six Privy Council Judgments (1872) ed W.G Brooke, p.52).  This controversy dated back to the reign of the Queen’s half-brother, the boy King Edward VI.  During his short reign, two Prayer Books (or two different versions of the same Prayer Book) were published.  The first Prayer Book, in 1549, was conservative and ‘catholic’ in character.  As the political balance of power shifted in favour of the radical reformers, the second Prayer Book, published in 1552, was more avowedly protestant.

The Elizabethan settlement of 1558 was therefore a compromise between the two parties.  Elizabethan public worship would use the forms of service in the ‘protestant’ 1552 Book, but retain the ornaments mentioned in the ‘catholic’ 1549 Book.  Protestant services with catholic ornaments.  That was the deal.

The Privy Council reasoned that ‘the word ‘ornaments’ applies, and in this Rubric [i.e the Ornaments Rubric] is confined to, those articles the use of which … is [positively] prescribed by [the 1549 Book]’ (p.52).  Ornaments not prescribed by the 1549 Book could therefore not be permitted.

Thus the apparent conclusion was that the Elizabethan compromise still bound the Church of England, and the courts, 300 years later.  If extra ornaments were permitted, this would be a breach of the compromise.  The violent reformers would be short-changed.

The Privy Council was careful to state that the phrase ‘ornaments of the church’ did not refer to all physical items within Victorian churches.  The Ornaments Rubric did not mean that all articles not expressly referred to in the 1549 Book are illegal.  The ‘ornaments’ referred to in the Rubric comprised ‘All the several articles used in the performance of the services and rites of the Church’ (p.51).  Items used to decorate the church rather than to perform liturgical actions were outside the scope of the Rubric, and so might be permitted.  Therefore ‘crosses … when used as mere emblems of the Christian faith, and not as objects of superstitious reverence … may still lawfully be erected as architectural decorations …’, even though not referred to in the 1549 Book (p.65).

So much for the ornaments of the church.  In Purchas, the Privy Council proceeded to examine the ornaments of the minister.

Prima facie the ritualists were on stronger ground here.  The 1549 Book provided that, at the holy communion, ‘commonly called the masse’, the officiating priest ‘shall put upon him … a white alb … with a [eucharistic] vestment or cope’.  Any clergy assisting him were required to wear ‘albs with tunicles’.

The Act of 1558, as quoted above, suggests that the Ornaments Rubric was intended to be a temporary provision only.  It was to apply only ‘until other order shall be taken’.  Yet the 1662 rubric, which was authorized over 100 years later, is almost exactly the same wording as the 1558 rubric.  This may suggest that no such ‘other order’ was ever taken, and that the compromise of 1558 was revived in 1662 without alteration.

This was Phillimore’s view.  Certain ‘Advertisements’ concerning public worship were published in the 1560s, but Phillimore held that ‘the Queen never gave her official or legal sanction to these’ (p.169).  The canons of 1603 make no reference to eucharistic vestments, and provide that ‘Every minister saying the public prayers, or ministering the sacraments [including holy communion] or other rites of the Church, shall wear a decent and comely surplice’ (canon 58).  At holy communion in cathedrals, likewise, the officiating clergyman was required to wear ‘a decent cope’, but again no eucharistic vestments (canon 24).

However, as Phillimore pointed out, the canons of 1603 were promulgated under the Submission of the Clergy Act 1533, a quite different statute from the 1558 Act of Uniformity.  Moreover, they did not have the sanction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the 1558 Act required, because the See of Canterbury was vacant at the time they were promulgated.  The Bishop of London had presided instead of the Archbishop.

Thus, while the canons of 1603 might permit clergy to officiate at holy communion in a surplice, they could not forbid clergy from wearing eucharistic vestments.  The canons of 1603 could not replace or override the 1558 Act.

Once again, the Privy Council disagreed.  It held that the Advertisements of the 1560s did have royal authority, and so did constitute ‘other order’ under the 1558 Act.  Moreover, they were enforced by royal commissioners.  The practical effect of this was ‘that within a few years after the Advertisements were issued the [eucharistic] vestments … entirely disappeared’ (p.170).  There was no attempt to revive them before 1662.  The canons of 1603 ‘ordered surplice only to be used in parish churches’ (p.176).

Although the wording of the 1662 rubric may seem almost identical to the 1558 wording, the Privy Council detected a critical difference.  The 1558 rubric contains a specific reference to holy communion.  It distinguishes between the ornaments of the minister ‘at the time of the communion, and at all other times’.  The 1662 rubric, by contrast, makes no separate reference to holy communion.

This means, or so the Privy Council reasoned, that in 1558 clergy were expected to wear different ‘ornaments’ when officiating at holy communion and when officiating at other acts of worship.  In 1662, by contrast, clergy were expected to wear the same vestments (i.e surplice only, or surplice and cope) at all acts of worship, including holy communion.

The Privy Council therefore held, with ruthless logic, that ‘If the minister is ordered to wear a surplice at all times of his ministration, he cannot wear an alb and tunicle … if he is celebrating holy communion in a chasuble, he cannot celebrate in a surplice’ (pp.178-9).

Chancellor Bursell described this interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric as ‘rigorist’.  It was unjust to Mr Purchas.  It may well be true that Eucharistic vestments were officially discouraged and fell into disuse in Elizabethan times, and that there was no wish to revive them in 1662.  It may also be true that the 1662 rubric envisages that clergy will officiate at holy communion in surplices.

However, the 1662 rubric does not forbid clergy from wearing eucharistic vestments.  The Rev Mr Purchas had been charged with an ecclesiastical offence.  In deciding his case, the Privy Council was exercising a disciplinary, indeed a ‘criminal’, jurisdiction.  He should not have been convicted of using Eucharistic vestments without a clearly worded rule positively forbidding such use.  The wording of the 1662 rubric is not nearly clear enough.

The Privy Council’s treatment of the canons of 1603 was also anachronistic.  The canons did not positively forbid Eucharistic vestments, any more than the rubric.  On their wording they do not order surplice only.  They were not directed against 19th century ritualists, but to upholding minimum liturgical standards against a radical Protestantism that wished to do away with all ecclesiastical vestments.

While the original Elizabethan provision for ornaments may have effected a stable compromise, the Privy Council’s interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric merely resulted in anarchy.  Its judgments were ignored by the Church of England, and the study and reputation of ecclesiastical law never recovered.