Ecclesiastical law

Category: The Church in Wales: Governance

Aga Saga: The Case of Llandaff Cathedral

It has been reported in the Western Mail (‘national newspaper of Wales’) that the Dean of Llandaff appeared before the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Church in Wales (or a committee thereof), to answer a complaint of financial misconduct made by his own Cathedral Chapter.

The Disciplinary Tribunal cleared the Dean of any wrongdoing. Indeed it found that he had no case to answer.

The Western Mail also noted that the Cathedral’s auditors had had no concerns, happily signing off the annual accounts year after year.

But the Chapter, like Wellington’s soldiers, did not know when it was beaten. It appointed a QC (not an accountant) to investigate the Cathedral’s finances.

The QC reported that, between 2016 and 2020, the Dean ‘apparently’ authorised expenditure of over £35,000 (‘at least’) from Cathedral funds without the Chapter’s approval, ‘as required in law’.

Most of the alleged expenditure benefited the Dean personally. Nearly two-thirds (£22,000-odd) went on work done to the deanery (his official residence), including the installation of an aga (‘a type of large cooking stove or range’, according to the dictionary) and wood-burning stove. Further sums were disbursed on furniture and artwork, travel and entertainment. And on a payment of £3,264 to a favoured member of the Cathedral staff, over and above his salary.

The Chapter published these embarrassing allegations on the Cathedral’s website (though it has not as yet published the report on which they were based). It is now seeking ‘restitution’, i.e repayment, of the money.

The Dean has denied his brethren’s claim against him, denouncing it as ‘unfounded’, ‘malicious’ (because of the apparent refusal to accept the Disciplinary Tribunal’s decision) and ‘defamatory’ (because of the publication).

This blog expresses no opinion on the substance of the allegations. However, if the QC’s report is correct, this carries the dramatic implication that both the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Cathedral auditors either

(1) failed to detect the unauthorised expenditure, or

(2) failed to appreciate the impropriety of it.

The Chapter’s claim is based on secular charities law, a large and complex subject that is quite outwith the scope of this blog. Instead we discuss how the Church in Wales’s own rules may apply to this case.

Llandaff Cathedral, like the other cathedrals of England and Wales, is governed by its own constitution. That constitution is itself part of the Constitution of the Church in Wales.

The present Cathedral constitution firmly states that ‘The responsibilities of the [Chapter] … shall include … control of all the Cathedral finances …’ (4(a)). However, that constitution was only approved in 2019. The alleged unauthorised expenditure began in 2016, 3 years earlier. The only published version of the Cathedral constitution at that time dates from 2001.

This 2001 version makes no direct reference to Cathedral finances at all. It describes the Dean as ‘the principal member of the Chapter … first in the number thereof’ (4(1)). The Dean chairs the Chapter, and has a casting vote if the Chapter is deadlocked (4(4)). He may ‘instruct, advise or admonish’ colleagues and staff, but ‘shall not take further proceedings [against them] without the consent of the Chapter’ (4(5)).

However, the constitution makes clear that the Cathedral ‘shall be governed, as heretofore, by the Cathedral Chapter‘, not by the Dean alone (2(1)). The Dean is primus inter pares, first among equals, but no more. The Chapter is ‘a college or society, the decision of the majority … shall be accepted as being the decision of the whole and shall bind all’ (6(7)). A Chapter meeting does not require the attendance of every member, but a meeting attended by only a minority of members ‘shall not conclude any business for which the consent of the majority is required’ (6(3)).

These provisions may suggest that the Dean could not authorise expenditure from Cathedral funds without the knowledge and consent of a majority of the Chapter. However, the constitutional position is not as simple as that. The Cathedral is not governed by its constitution alone. The published constitution is the principal instrument of governance, but it is very far from being the only one.

The 2001 preface makes clear that the Cathedral is governed by ‘statutes, ordinances and [unwritten] customs’, as well as by its published constitution. The only limitation is that the statutes etc may not be ‘contrary to, or inconsistent with’ the constitution.

The Bishop and the Chapter may jointly make or alter these secondary rules (3(8)). Not only that, but the Chapter may make ‘orders, regulations and byelaws’ (6(6) – tertiary rules?!) without reference to the Bishop.

Statutes, ordinances, customs, orders, regulations, byelaws … It is not impossible that, somewhere in this veritable jungle of unpublished self-regulation and unwritten custom, an authority may be found entitling the Dean, in a particular case, to expend Cathedral funds without the authority of the full Chapter, or even unilaterally.

Perhaps the Disciplinary Tribunal was alluding to this possibility when it reportedly referred to a ‘somewhat antiquated accounting system which oversaw a lack of a proper framework for the claim and payment of expenses’. (The full text of its decision, like the QC’s report, is yet unpublished.)

Whatever the truth of the Chapter’s allegations, this case illustrates the besetting weakness of all cathedral governance. Recent reforms promise to impose ever more rigorous ‘accountability’ on deans and chapters, but they complacently accept the fundamental obstacle to such accountability – the anachronistic mediaeval independence of cathedral authorities of the wider Church. Parishes are not allowed to make up their own little private rules and customs, only cathedrals.

As is well known, the cathedral is both

(1) the seat or cathedra of the bishop (hence its name) and

(2) the parish church, or ‘mother church’, of the diocese.

Yet it remains constitutionally independent of both the bishop and the diocese, like a little Vatican. (See other posts on this blog, filed under the category of ‘Cathedrals’.)

The Chapter governs the Cathedral but not the deanery. The deanery comes under the jurisdiction of the diocesan parsonage board. The Constitution of the Church in Wales provides that the parsonage board has ‘the general oversight and management of parsonages’ (4A, 26). Deaneries are expressly included in the definition of ‘parsonage’ (7, 1(d)).

The Dean would not need the board’s permission merely to introduce movable furniture and paintings into the deanery (though the Constitution provides that ‘sales by auction of furniture in a parsonage shall not be permitted’ (7, 23(7)).

However, he certainly would need the board’s permission for work of a structural nature. The Constitution provides that an incumbent (i.e the Dean) ‘shall not make any structural alteration or addition to the [deanery] or to the permanent fittings thereof, without the consent of the Board’ (7, 23(4)).

Moreover, the board’s function of oversight and management obliges it to ensure that ‘work duly authorised to be done to … parsonage [is] properly carried out’ (4A, 26). So the work would require the board’s supervision, not just its consent.

However, the board would be under no obligation to ask where the money was coming from, or report to the Chapter. (Thus the constitutional independence of the Cathedral works both ways – just as the Chapter is unaccountable to the diocese, so the diocesan authority is unaccountable to the Chapter.)

The Llandaff Cathedral case involves not only the Chapter’s claim against the Dean, but the Dean’s claim against the Chapter, whose publication cannot but cause grave reputational damage. Defamation, like restitution, is a matter for the secular courts. But does the Dean have any recourse to the Constitution?

The Constitution empowers the diocesan court ‘to hear and determine … any dispute between a member of the Church in Wales and the diocesan … board[s], deanery conference or chapter, vestry or parochial church council …’ (9, 22(d)). An appeal lies to the Provincial Court (9, 32(1)). This is presumably a sort of grievance procedure.

However, the diocesan court has no jurisdiction to determine a grievance against the Cathedral Chapter – because, of course, the Chapter is independent of the diocese. (A deanery chapter is not the same as a cathedral chapter.)

Any grievance against the Chapter therefore has to be addressed to the Bishop, who is ex officio the Visitor of the Cathedral. The present Llandaff constitution confirms that ‘the existing powers of the Bishop as Visitor … shall continue as in times past [i.e since the middle ages]’ (1(a)).

If the Bishop-Visitor is unable to resolve the grievance, or is perceived to lack impartiality, then the Archbishop of Wales might intervene, under ‘the powers and functions inherent in the office of Metropolitan’ (cf 2, 37). The Church of England offers a fairly recent precedent for this. In 1996 the Archbishop of Canterbury held a metropolitical visitation of Lincoln Cathedral which, like the present case, concerned a rancorous dispute over expenditure.

Electing the Bishop of Llandaff: Propriety and Privacy

The informative Thinking Anglicans website has drawn attention to a potential legal dispute concerning the election of the new Bishop of Llandaff, in the Church in Wales.

Legal objections to the election of bishops are raised from time to time, of course (though they invariably fail).  But the novelty of the Llandaff case is that an objection has been made even though no bishop has been elected.  The objection concerns the conduct of the Electoral College that failed to elect one.

The Constitution of the Church in Wales provides that

‘If, at the close of the [Electoral College], which shall not extend beyond 3 consecutive days, no person shall have received two-thirds of the votes of those present and voting, the right to fill the vacancy shall pass to the Bench of Bishops, unless and until the Governing Body shall have otherwise determined’ (Chapter 5, Reg 23).

It is not disputed that the Llandaff Electoral College met for 3 days, nor that it failed to elect a candidate by a two-thirds majority.  However, the objectors claim that the proceedings of the College during those 3 days were conducted so improperly as to render them invalid.

The invalidating impropriety consisted of ‘the raising … of the matter of sexuality or civil partnership status, in direct contravention of the Church in Wales’s own policy that sexuality or civil partnership status is not a bar to appointment as a Bishop’.  (It is thought that raising this matter at the Electoral College meeting deterred some electors from voting for an openly gay candidate, and thereby caused him to fall short of the required two-thirds majority.)

There are difficulties with this objection.  If accepted, it would render decisions of the Electoral College very vulnerable to external challenge in the future.  It might take only 1 elector to raise an ‘inappropriate and prejudicial’ matter to invalidate the entire proceeding.

The assertion of the Church’s ‘policy’ is also questionable.  Chapter 5 of the Constitution regulates ‘The Archbishop and the Diocesan Bishops’, and the Electoral College procedure.  There is nothing in Chapter 5 to the effect that sexuality and civil partnership are not a bar to election as a bishop.  A policy made only by means of a collective statement from the Bishops is not part of the Constitution, and therefore cannot bind the Electoral College.

(And even if sexuality etc is not a ‘bar’ to election as a bishop, that does not mean that it is irrelevant, or that any discussion is forbidden.)

Allegations of procedural irregularity will be difficult, even impossible, to prove satisfactorily, because the Constitution provides that any meeting of the Electoral College ‘shall be private‘ (Reg 21.1).  This is mandatory legal language: ‘shall be private’ means ‘must be private’.  There is no discretion to waive privacy.

However, let us assume (for the sake of argument) that the electoral procedure was indeed tainted with grave impropriety.  Who has power to declare it invalid?

Perhaps it does not matter in this case.  Suppose the Electoral College had elected a new Bishop by some improper procedure.  If the election was invalid, this would mean that the Bishop-Elect had not really been elected at all.

The Constitution provides that an election is confirmed when the Bishop-Elect is notified to the Bench of Bishops and ‘if they or a majority of them … are satisfied of his fitness‘ (Reg 26.1).  But if, unfortunately, they ‘are not so satisfied, another election shall be held in similar manner …’ (Reg 26.2).

The word ‘fitness’ seems to refer to the candidate’s personal qualities rather than his election.  It suggests that the Bishops could reject a candidate for some personal fault or limitation, but not for any flaw in the procedure by which he was elected.

But of course it is unnecessary to decide the point here, because no candidate was elected or notified to the Bishops.  Thus the constitutional provisions as to ‘fitness’ are not engaged.

Hence any impropriety by the Electoral College is arguably irrelevant, because

(1) it did not purport to elect a candidate, and

(2) it has now lost the right to elect.

Its procedure may have been invalid, but this did not result in an invalid election.  The procedural impropriety may have caused the loss of the right to elect, because it caused the Electoral College to fail to elect a candidate by a two-thirds majority within 3 days.  But that is the Electoral College’s own fault for acting improperly.  The loss of the Electoral College’s constitutional right is therefore self-inflicted.

(Of course, the gay candidate may well be disappointed, but he has not been deprived of any constitutional right, only of a personal ambition.  Indeed the constitutional rule of privacy suggests that a candidate has no right even to know that he is a candidate, unless and until the Electoral College elects him by the required majority.)

However, the objectors would presumably not have bothered to object in the first place if they had taken this view.  They may argue that the procedural impropriety was such that the Electoral College never really met at all.  This means that the College has not lost the right to elect, since it has not yet had the opportunity of exercising that right, and the right has not passed to the Bishops.  The Electoral College must therefore meet and deliberate again, and properly this time.  (And hopefully the preferred candidate will at last achieve the majority that has hitherto eluded him.)

Chapter 5, Reg 23 (quoted above) suggests that only the Governing Body of the Church in Wales has power to reconvene the Electoral College after it has failed to make an election.  As it says, the lapse of the right of election to the Bishops is not unconditional after the Electoral College’s failure to elect, but only if ‘the Governing Body shall [not] have otherwise determined’ (see also Reg 24).

The Thinking Anglicans website relates that the objection ‘has now been referred to the Legal Sub-Committee, which is a body in the Church in Wales assembled to consider legal and governance matters’.

However, it is difficult to see what this Sub-Committee can achieve, however legally learned its members.  Absent proper authority from the Governing Body, it has no power under the Constitution to investigate the deliberations of the Electoral College.  And to be effective in practice, any investigation of the objection is bound to contravene the constitutional rule of privacy concerning the Electoral College meeting.  One procedural impropriety is remedied by committing another.

Holy Communion and the Constitution of the Church in Wales

‘And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed’ (Book of Common Prayer 1662, rubric)

The bishops of the Church in Wales have just issued a radical Pastoral Letter concerning admission to Holy Communion (September 2016, accessed on the Diocese of St. Davids website on 17th September).  This announces that the bishops ‘are giving permission for all those who are baptised … to receive Holy Communion’.  Confirmation, and even readiness for confirmation, will no longer be required.  As the Pastoral Letter says, this decision means that ‘even the youngest of children [will] be entitled to receive Holy Communion’.

The Pastoral Letter asserts that baptism is the only ‘gateway’ to the Eucharist, so ‘no [further] barrier should be erected to prevent all the baptised from making their communion …’.  Removing the ‘barrier’ of confirmation will ‘readopt the practice of the Early Church with respect to admission to Holy Communion’.

It is not for this blog to comment on the theological merits of the bishops’ decision.  We question only the legal authority for the decision.

The Pastoral Letter says that the bishops have ‘taken [legal] advice … and have been given the assurance that such a step does not require any change in the present Canon Law or Constitution of the Church in Wales’.

This is surprising.  A major and radical change is being made to the administration of the Church’s principal act of worship.  Surely this must require some amendment of the Church’s Constitution?  And what about the 1662 rubric, quoted above?

In the Church of England, Canon B15A(1) provides that ‘There shall be admitted to the Holy Communion … baptised persons who are communicant members of other Churches … and who are in good standing in their own Church’, as well as those referred to in the 1662 rubric.  The intention is that practising members of non-conformist Churches, which lack episcopal structure and confirmation, can still receive the Anglican Sacrament.  Canon B15A was promulged under the Admission to Holy Communion Measure 1972.

That is the English law.  The Church in Wales was constitutionally separated from the Church of England in 1920, as a result of Disestablishment.  Since then it has been governed, as the Pastoral Letter indicates, by its own Constitution.

The Constitution does not seem to contain an equivalent of Canon B15A.  It incorporates a number of ecumenical Declarations of ‘intercommunion’, or ‘full communion’, according to which ‘Each Communion agrees to admit members of the other Communion to participate in the Sacraments’ (September 1966), but such Declarations seem to be restricted to overseas Churches which possess episcopal structures (e.g the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church).  They do not extend to local non-conformists.

However, the Church in Wales Prayer Book 1984 makes a critical amendment of the 1662 rubric:

‘Except with the permission of the Bishop, no one shall receive Holy Communion until he is confirmed, or is ready and desirous to be confirmed.’

The permission of the Bishop.  In the Pastoral Letter, the bishops are jointly giving a general permission to baptised but unconfirmed persons to receive Holy Communion.  The 1984 rubric makes clear that bishops already have a constitutional power to permit unconfirmed persons to be admitted to the Sacrament.  So maybe the legal advice referred to in the Pastoral Letter is correct, and the Constitution does not require amendment after all.

However, it is suggested that there are constitutional difficulties with the Pastoral Letter, whatever its good intentions, as follows:

(1) On its wording, the 1984 rubric indicates that confirmation remains the general rule for receiving Holy Communion.  The Bishop is empowered to dispense from the general rule, i.e allow exceptions in particular cases, but that is all.  He cannot abolish the general rule altogether.  Yet that is exactly what the Pastoral Letter is seeking to do, abolish the general rule of confirmation.  This arguably exceeds, or at least misuses, the bishops’ power, which is merely to permit exceptions.

(2) Canon B15A gives practising non-conformists the legal right to receive Holy Communion.  The 1984 rubric, by contrast, does not confer any legal right on an unconfirmed person.  It provides only for the possibility of permission from the Bishop.  The grant of permission is a matter for the Bishop’s discretion.

The effect of the Pastoral Letter is that any person wishing to receive Holy Communion in future must have either

(1) episcopal confirmation or

(2) episcopal permission under the Pastoral Letter.

Yet there is an important difference between (1) and (2).  Confirmation founds a right to Holy Communion, episcopal permission merely grants a favour.  Confirmation cannot be withdrawn, but permission can be.  If the bishops can grant permission at their own discretion, they can also withdraw it at their discretion.  The ‘barrier’ of confirmation has been lowered for now, but it could be raised again just as easily.  The Pastoral Letter is arbitrary as well as permissive.

It is also doubtful that a mere permission, unsupported by a constitutional right or duty, is sufficient to bind the clergy.  A vicar who disagrees with the Pastoral Letter could not be compelled to give Holy Communion to unconfirmed persons.  Hence different parishes might adopt different policies on the matter.

In short, the constitutional position of unconfirmed communicants will be different, and inferior, to that of confirmed communicants.

Perhaps this will not matter in practice, if the bishops’ decision proves uncontroversial.  However, it is arguable that

(1) the importance of the substantive issue and

(2) the constitutional difficulties discussed here

both demand that admission to Holy Communion be regulated by the Constitution of the Church in Wales, and not merely by Pastoral Letter.

Jones v Archbishop of Wales

(2013) Church in Wales Provincial Court, unreported.

A Welsh parish held its annual vestry meeting as usual, chaired by the Vicar.  There were 34 candidates for election to the parochial church council (‘the PCC’).  The Constitution of the Church in Wales limits the number of elected PCC members to a maximum of 25:  Chapter 4C, Regulation 13(2).

This meant, of course, that a vote should have been taken to decide which of the 34 candidates should be elected to the PCC.  However, the Vicar, for whatever reason, declined to take a vote.  Instead he simply declared all 34 candidates elected.  He retired shortly afterwards.

The Archbishop, who was also the local diocesan bishop, was informed of the constitutional irregularity.  He decided to replace the 34 PCC members with 15 new PCC members appointed by himself (10 fewer than the permitted maximum of 25).  He did, however, permit the parish electors to nominate the 15 new members to him.  He therefore convened a special vestry meeting.  The special vestry meeting was held, a vote was taken and the 15 candidates with the most votes were nominated to the Archbishop, who then appointed them to the PCC.

Mr Jones was a parishioner (though not one of the 34 PCC members).  He objected that the Archbishop had no right to replace the PCC members in such a fashion.  He accepted that a constitutional irregularity had occurred at the annual vestry meeting (though it did not seem to him a very serious one).  He maintained, however, that two wrongs do not make a right.  If the annual vestry meeting or the Vicar had acted unconstitutionally, that did not entitle the Archbishop to act unconstitutionally as well.

Chapter 9, s.22 of the Constitution of the Church in Wales provides that the Church court

‘shall have power to hear and determine … (b) complaints against Churchwardens and lay [PCC members] in their role as such, and disputes with regard to their election’.

Mr Jones argued that, if the Archbishop was unhappy about the irregularity in the election of the 34 PCC members, he should have taken the matter to the Church court under Chapter 9, s.22 , and awaited the court’s determination.  He had not done this.  Instead he had taken direct action without any reference to the Church court.  Moreover, the action was draconian and therefore required clear authority.  The Archbishop had effectively sacked 34 people.

In justifying his action, the Archbishop relied on another provision of the Constitution: Chapter 4C, Regulation 5.  Regulation 5 provides that

‘If it is brought to the notice of the Diocesan Bishop that:

5.1 the Annual Vestry Meeting has not been held; or

5.2 Churchwardens, [PCC members], or the parochial representatives on the Diocesan Conference or the Deanery Conference have not been elected or appointed

the Bishop may appoint Churchwardens, [PCC members] or parochial representatives as the case may require …’.

The Archbishop’s view was that Regulation 5 was engaged because ‘elected or appointed’ meant ‘elected or appointed in accordance with the constitution’.  Elected PCC members must be elected ‘in accordance with the provisions of the [Constitution]’: Chapter 4C, s.9.  In this case, of course, they had not been.  This meant that they had not really been elected at all.

Mr Jones did not accept this interpretation of Regulation 5.  He argued that Regulation 5 was in the nature of a default power (or ‘lapse’ power).  If a moribund parish cannot be bothered to hold an Annual Vestry Meeting or elect a PCC, then the Archbishop can act in its place.  That was not the case here.  The annual vestry meeting had been held, and the PCC had been elected.  The large number of candidates indicated that the parish was far from being moribund.  There had been an irregularity in the PCC elections, but Regulation 5 did not empower the Archbishop to correct constitutional irregularities.  That was the function of the Church court.

Thus Mr Jones argued that the Archbishop’s interpretation of Regulation 5 took no account of Chapter 9, s.22.  If Regulation 5 permits the bishop to intervene directly to correct an irregular PCC election, then what is the purpose of the jurisdiction conferred on the Church court to determine disputes over PCC elections?  The jurisdiction would be superfluous.

However, the Provincial Court agreed with the Archbishop.  It flatly rejected Mr Jones’s interpretation of Regulation 5:

‘We do not agree that the Regulation is to be construed in such a limited way.  The words of the Regulation contain no such express limitation … Regulation 5 confers remedial powers upon the Diocesan Bishop where a parish has failed to fulfil its obligations, in this case with regard to the election of lay members of the PCC … a purposive construction of Regulation 5 lends no support to the restricted interpretation of the Regulation for which [Mr Jones] contends.’ (para 17).

The 34 PCC members had therefore not been sacked by the Archbishop, because they had not been appointed in the first place:

‘The purported appointment of [the] 34 members of the PCC … was unconstitutional and its effect was that there were no lay members of the PCC able to take part and vote in its decisions without being liable to challenge on the ground that the PCC was not a properly constituted body.’ (para 18).

But what about Chapter 9, s.22 and the jurisdiction of the Church court?  The Provincial Court accepted that ‘it would have been open for the [Archbishop] to bring a case in [the Church] court had he thought fit to do so’ (para 14).  However, the Archbishop was not obliged to take this course, because

‘it was not necessary.  He was empowered by Regulation 5 … to remedy the defective election.  That being so it is unnecessary to consider what the result of an application to the [Church] court under Chapter 9, s.22 might have been’ (para 22).

On this view, the Constitution of the Church in Wales provides not just one remedy for parochial indiscipline, but two alternative remedies.  The Church court and the bishop each has a separate power to remedy an irregular PCC election.

This in turn raises the question of what would happen if the Church court and the bishop were both to exercise their separate powers in respect of the same PCC election.  What if one parishioner complained to the Church court under Chapter 9, s.22, while another asked the bishop to exercise his supposed power under Regulation 5?  Which remedy would prevail over the other, the court’s or the bishop’s?  What would happen if the court and the bishop disagreed over whether there had been an irregularity at all?  The Constitution provides no answer to these questions.  A strange omission, if the Provincial Court’s interpretation is correct.

Having held that the Archbishop possessed the necessary power under Regulation 5, the Provincial Court had no difficulty in concluding that he had acted reasonably in exercising it.  In particular, there was nothing unreasonable about the Archbishop limiting the number of elected PCC members to 15.  Mr Jones’s objection was therefore dismissed.

Mr Jones is the author of this blog.  His account of the case should, of course, be read with this caveat in mind.  The complete text of the Constitution of the Church in Wales may be found on the Church’s internet website.

The Church in Wales Review

Published in July 2012.  The full text is available on the internet website of the Church in Wales.  It contains some thought-provoking  recommendations concerning ecclesiastical ministry and governance.


The Review observes that the traditional parochial structure (one incumbent of one parish) has been eroded in recent decades by the formation of team and group ministries, and by the amalgamation of parishes (p.6).  It goes a step further than these recent changes, and proposes the abolition of the old parochial structure altogether, or at least ‘moving away from the idea of the parish as the basic unit of ministry’.

The old structure, which is territorial in character, should be replaced by a more congregation-based structure.  The Church will be organized on the basis of congregations rather than parishes (p.7).  Congregations will still exist within a ‘natural geographical unit’, but this will be much larger than a traditional parish.  This new super-parish will be called a ministry area (p.8).  Deaneries, like traditional parishes, will be abolished.

A super-parish or ministry area might contain circa 25 congregations (p.7).  Each congregation will have a leader, who is likely to be either a lay minister or a non-stipendiary minister (p.13).  Perhaps three ministers in the area will be full time (p.7).  The congregation leaders will form a team with responsibility for the whole ministry area, under a team leader.

The change from traditional parish to ministry area would, however, be without prejudice to the legal rights of ‘parishioners’ to be married and buried in their local church and churchyard (p.8).

The abolition of the traditional parochial structure would significantly affect the ancient duty of residence.  Clergy would be obliged only to live within ‘easy access’ of their ministry area (p.23), not actually in it.  Moreover, clergy would cease to be provided with official residences, though their stipends would be increased to take account of this loss.

A single integrated training programme would be provided for all ministers, ordained and lay (p.13).  The programme would cover both pre-ordination and post-ordination training (p.15).  The regime created by the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009 does not seem to have achieved a completely integrated training programme for Church of England ministers.

The ministry team and its team leader (who might be the former area dean) would be subject to the oversight of the archdeacon, and thence the bishop.  An archdeacon would be responsible for the oversight of 10 to 12 teams (p.8).

The Review does not propose the abolition of dioceses as well as parishes, but recommends that they share or ‘pool’ their administration in three centres, one in North Wales and two in South Wales (p.17).  (In the Church of England, regular interdiocesan administration was first permitted by the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007, s.19.)  The six dioceses of the Church in Wales might eventually be reduced to three, but with no reduction in the number of bishops (p.18).


The Review makes two criticisms of the diocesan and provincial structure of the Church in Wales:

(1) it is cumbersome and top-heavy and

(2) it does not provide adequate channels of information and communication.

It therefore argues for

(1) better systems of communication within the Church and

(2) fewer, and smaller, decision-taking authorities.

This suggests that participants in Welsh ecclesiastical governance will be better informed, but also fewer in number.

The Constitution of the Church in Wales is criticised generally as ‘large, complex and unwieldy … an inhibitor of necessary change’ (p.33) but this rather begs the questions

(1) what is necessary change? and

(2) who decides what is or is not necessary?

There are two specific criticisms relating to information and communication

(1) the deliberative processes in the Church: ‘there is no proper flow of ideas and resolutions from parish or deanery to diocese, and from there to the Governing Body and the Representative Body’ (p.4)

(2) the election of diocesan bishops (and the Archbishop): ‘the present system … is … unable to offer the electors adequate information about potential candidates’ (p.32).

The Review recommends that diocesan conferences should be renamed diocesan synods, in order to improve the deliberative process, and that candidates for election to the Governing Body should be required to produce a ‘short manifesto’, so that electors can be better informed’ (p.5).

However, even with the benefit of election manifestos, the Governing Body and the Representative Body are deemed unsuitable for ‘comprehensive leadership’ (p.34).  Instead the Review proposes the smaller Standing Committee as the principal engine of the Church’s governance.  The size of the Electoral College (which elects the diocesan bishops and the Archbishop) should also be significantly reduced (p.32).

Ecclesiastical Discipline: the Williams case

R v Provincial Court of the Church in Wales ex parte Williams (1998) EWHC Admin 998

The High Court rejected the Rev Mr Williams’ application to ‘quash’ a decision of the Church’s Provincial Court finding him guilty of misconduct.

Mr Williams’ principal complaint was that the Church in Wales Court had found him guilty according to the civil standard of proof, even though it was agreed that the criminal standard of proof applied in English ecclesiastical law.  (This was before the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.)

The High Court replied that the constitution of the Church in Wales entitled the Provincial Court to apply the civil standard of proof.  It noted two provisions of the constitution:

(1)  a provision which expressly disapplied the Clergy Discipline Act 1892 to the Church in Wales after Disestablishment.  The High Court held that this Act ‘forms the basis of the principle that the criminal standard …applies’ (para 21)

(2) a provision that Church in Wales courts are not bound by decisions of the English courts in matters of ‘discipline’.

However, the Clergy Discipline Act (now repealed) did not make express provision for the standard of proof to be applied to disciplinary proceedings against clergy.  It merely assumed the pre-existing, common law standard of proof.  Therefore it does not form the ‘basis’ for the criminal standard in ecclesiastical law.  It did not impose the criminal standard, it merely applied that standard to the proceedings that it regulated.

There are also difficulties with point (2).  The word ‘discipline’ admits of different meanings.  It is an old word for ‘governance’.  In the Church of Scotland, ‘discipline’ apparently refers to the entire constitutional structure of the Church (The Constitution and Laws of the Church of Scotland, ed James L Weatherhead, Edinburgh, 1997, p.62).

However, the use of the word in the constitution of the Church in Wales must be understood according to its context.  The relevant section of the constitution states that

‘The [English] ecclesiastical law [pre-Disestablishment] … with the exception of [certain statutes, including the Clergy Discipline Act 1892] shall be binding on the members (including any body of members) of the Church in Wales and shall be applied to the determination of any question or dispute between them … insofar as it does not conflict with anything contained in the constitution …’ (now found in Chapter 1, s.5).

The effect of this provision is that English ecclesiastical law, with the exception of the named statutes, is incorporated into the constitution, subject to any contrary provision in the constitution.

Then comes the proviso:

‘the Courts of the Church in Wales shall not be bound by any decision of the English courts in relation to matters of faith, discipline or ceremonial’.

Thus the proviso must be understood in the context of the general rule that immediately precedes it.  The general rule is that English ecclesiastical law is incorporated into the constitution, and is to be applied to any question or dispute between Church members and authorities.

If too broad a meaning is given to the proviso this will have the effect of overriding or ignoring the general rule.  If ‘discipline’ is understood in the Scottish sense, to refer to any constitutional matter whatsoever, English ecclesiastical law would not have the binding force accorded to it by the general rule, since any question or dispute is likely to involve some issue of governance.  Too broad a meaning would also have the absurd consequence that ecclesiastical law should bind all members and governing authorities of the Church in Wales, but not its courts.

The general rule is concerned with ecclesiastical law, the proviso with ecclesiastical courts.  Their wording indicates that ‘discipline’ refers to something which, according to ecclesiastical law, is the subject of judicial decision.

Moreover, two of the statutes exempted from incorporation into the constitution were the Church Discipline Act 1840 and the aforementioned Clergy Discipline Act 1892.  The ‘discipline’ that was the subject of these Acts was the professional discipline of clergy.  This indicates that the word ‘discipline’ in the proviso refers to clergy discipline.

The phrase ‘faith, discipline or ceremonial’ suggests that the proviso was primarily intended to liberate public worship from unpopular and impractical judicial decisions taken in the 19th century to forbid ‘ritualism’, certain liturgical practices which had, nevertheless, become widespread by the early 20th century.

(The phrase ‘English courts’ in the proviso may be somewhat careless, since the most important decisions were taken by the Privy Council, which is not strictly a court.)

‘Discipline’ therefore refers to the personal or official conduct of the clergy.  The effect of the proviso is that Church in Wales courts are not bound by what the English courts consider to be misconduct or indiscipline by clergy.  Likewise, in faculty case, the Church in Wales courts may permit an ornament which English courts have held to be illegal.  The intention was probably to protect ‘ritualist’ clergy and discourage petty liturgical disputes.

However, the proviso does not refer to the standard of proof to be applied in disciplinary cases (or in faculty cases).  It refers only to ‘faith, discipline or ceremonial’, not to ‘faith, discipline, ceremonial or evidence’.  It entitles the Church in Wales courts to decide for themselves whether the proven facts of a case amount to misconduct or indiscipline by the accused person.  It does not entitle them to decide how the facts shall be proved in the first place.  The High Court understood the word ‘discipline’ to include ‘evidence’, but the wording and context of the proviso do not admit of such a broad, loose interpretation.

The constitution of the Church in Wales provides for the appointment of a rule committee, composed of ecclesiastical judges, which has power to issue rules ‘for regulating … the administration, practice and procedure’ of the Chruch courts (now found in Chapter 9, s.38).  Any rule concerning the standard of proof should be sought either in the constitution or in the procedural rules made under the authority of the constitution.  If both constitution and rules are silent, the standard of proof must be determined by the English ecclesiastical law as at the date of Disestablishment.  This law will bind the courts of the Church in Wales, unless and until overridden by the constitution or by procedural rules made by the rule committee.

If the proviso concerning ‘discipline’ entitled the Church in Wales courts to disregard the standard of proof laid down by English law, this would allow the possibility that different Church courts, or even different constitutions of the same court, might apply different standards of proof in different cases.  One clergyman’s guilt might be decided according to the criminal standard, another’s according to the civil standard.