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Tag: Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963

In Defence of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003: Measure and Management

Ecclesiastical Law Society Working Party, Interim Report (September 2020)

Strong criticisms have recently been made of the disciplinary procedure provided by the 2003 Measure, both by accused clergy and their accusers.  The report cited above seeks to address these.

There seem to be 3 criticisms

(1)  delays in processing complaints

(2)  failure to communicate, i.e provide information, even about the particulars of a complaint and

(3)  lack of support for both accused and accuser.

Such treatment naturally causes distress.  It is, of course, a depressingly familiar feature of litigation and quasi-litigation.

The report observes that reform of clergy discipline has not been very successful in the past.  From 1840 to 2020 ‘a series of statutes and Measures introduced new offences and new [disciplinary] processes … a repeated pattern over 180 years: dissatisfaction with the then current system led to the introduction of a new one, only for that itself to be the subject of criticism not long after it was brought into effect’ (para 10).

Another commentator took an even longer view of history: ‘devising a thoroughly satisfactory system of ecclesiastical courts … [is] a problem which has baffled the best brains of Christendom for more than 1000 years’ (Crockford Prefaces, OUP 1947, p.18).

The Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 was the principal statute regulating clergy discipline prior to the 2003 Measure.  30 years later, Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law drily observed that the 1963 Measure ‘swept away a number of tribunals and procedures … The machinery which has gone was complicated and cumbersome.  The machinery which has taken its place is, unfortunately, no less so’ (3rd edition, 1993, pp119-120).

The protection afforded by the cumbersome 1963 Measure applied only to beneficed clergy.  Licensed clergy were at the mercy of their bishops.  Canon C12(5) originally provided that ‘Any bishop may revoke summarily and without further process, any licence … for any cause which shall appear to him to be good and reasonable …’.  The bishop was required to hear the licensee first, and the licensee had a right of appeal to the Archbishop.  However, the bishop did not have to prove misconduct, and the licensee had no right to an independent court or tribunal.

Sir Mark Hedley observed that ‘The Clergy Discipline Measure … whatever its defects … is at least better than what had gone before 2003’ (‘Practical Aspects of the Clergy Discipline Measure’ Lecture, October 2017).  The report does not deny that the 2003 Measure is indeed an improvement on the previous 1963 regime.  It provides a single disciplinary regime for both beneficed and licensed clergy (cf.s.8(2)).  Disputed complaints have to be tried and punished by a tribunal, not by the bishop.  As the report observes, ‘bishop’s disciplinary tribunals are, despite the nomenclature, truly independent bodies over whose decisions … the bishop has no control’ (para 9).

Not only the trial but also the prior investigation of the complaint is independent of the bishop.  It is carried out by the designated officer, a national official.  The holder of that office observed that the designated officer ‘is [not] counsel for the complainant … [but] is independent of the complainant … and the bishop … [like] counsel for the Crown in a criminal trial, [the designated officer] puts the case for the victim but … does not represent the victim, and … acts impartially throughout’ (Adrian Iles, ‘The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003’ (2007) 9 Ecclesiastical Law Journal 10, p.19)

Thus, by improving on its predecessor, the 2003 Measure has rather bucked the trend of the last 180 years (perhaps even the last 1000 years!).  A proposal for changing it should therefore be treated with especial caution.

Nevertheless the report makes 2 criticisms of the Measure

(1) the wide ambit of ecclesiastical offences / misconduct

(2) the absence of a procedure for dealing with minor complaints and grievances, ‘a major error’ (para 7).

In practice, it seems that almost all disciplinary complaints are concerned with the vicar’s behaviour, rather than specific breaches of duty or disobedience.  The Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 provided an offence of ‘conduct unbecoming the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders’ (s.14(1)).  The Clergy Discipline Measure broadened this offence to ‘conduct unbecoming or inappropriate … ‘ (s.8(1)).

It may be doubted whether the word ‘inappropriate’ really adds anything much to ‘unbecoming’.  However, the ambit of misconduct is undeniably very wide.  The slightest clerical faux pas could be described as ‘inappropriate conduct’.

Despite the apparent criticism, the report does not propose a narrowing of the ecclesiastical offence.  It wisely rejects a regime of ‘detailed rules and regulations and fleshing out of principles’ of what does or does not constitute inappropriate behaviour (para 42).  Such a regime would be ‘too interventionist in [clergy] personal lives and too restrictive of their practice of ministry’ (para 42).  It would create an undesirable bureaucracy or ‘industry’ of ‘professional expertise’ (para 46).

Hedley pointed out in his lecture that ‘standards of behaviour required of the clergy are necessarily high’.  But it is necessary to distinguish minor, though genuine, grievances about a vicar’s lapses of tact and courtesy from more serious matters.

Therefore, despite its professed caution about legislative reform (‘We are acutely aware of the risk …’ (para 10)), the report proposes 2 quite radical changes to the Clergy Discipline Measure:

(1) a new preliminary stage for assessing complaints when they are first made and

(2) the creation of 2 ‘tracks’ for processing misconduct case – 1 track for ‘lesser’ misconduct, another for ‘serious’ misconduct.

At present, the 2003 Measure provides that a complaint is referred to the registrar for preliminary scrutiny (s.11).  This scrutiny is limited to ‘forming a view as to whether or not …

[1] the [complainant] has a proper interest … and …

[2] there is sufficient substance in the complaint to justify proceeding with it’.

The report proposes that the complaint should instead be referred, not to the registrar, but to an assessor.  The assessor may be ‘a lay person who from their own secular work experience has [appropriate] skills’.  Or the bishop could appoint an archdeacon to be the assessor (para 91).

The assessor’s complaint handling function will be considerably greater in scope than the registrar’s preliminary scrutiny.  The assessor will not merely scrutinise the written complaint, but actually institute an enquiry on the basis of it.  He will speak to both the complainant and the accused clergyman (para 94).  Both parties ‘would be asked to provide the assessor with evidence in support of their respective contentions’ (para 95).

Having completed this enquiry, the assessor will report to the bishop.  The bishop may then proceed as follows

(1) attempting conciliation / resolution

(2) dismissing the complaint

(3) to ‘having concerns about the health of the cleric’

(4) or ‘having concerns about the capability of the cleric’ or

(5) finding misconduct.

Thus the enquiry will not necessarily be limited to the specific complaint.  It extends to the accused clergyman’s health and general capability for office.

(1) is evidently the preferred course.  The assessor will be expected to settle the dispute between the parties, as well as investigate it, if possible (para 98).

However, if misconduct is found (per (5)), the bishop will then have to decide ‘whether it is serious or lesser misconduct, and allocate it to the appropriate ‘track’ (para 111).

Serious cases will continue to be dealt with by reference to a tribunal.  However, lesser misconduct cases that cannot be settled by agreement will be decided by the bishop alone, on the basis of the assessor’s report (para 115).

The report proposes that ‘the bishop should have the power to impose penalties, without consent, penalties falling short of prohibition … principally rebuke and injunction, and might also include conditional deferment’ (para 116).  (At present, conditional deferment is only possible with consent.)  An administrative rather than a judicial procedure.  Inquisitorial not adversarial.  No tribunal and no lawyers.  The report candidly admits that ‘our proposal [is] to keep out lawyers’ (para 118).  However, the penalised clergyman would have a right of review or appeal (para 119).

These proposals are hardly favourable to accused clergy.  The assessor’s enquiry is bound to take longer than the registrar’s scrutiny.  The activism of the assessor’s function may result in additional complaints to the one which prompted the enquiry.  It may even start a bandwagon rolling, positively encouraging parishioners to complain.

Empowering the bishop to impose penalties unilaterally, without consent, is a major reversal of the policy of the Clergy Discipline Measure.  This proposal would repatriate powers from the tribunal to the bishop.  It is a chilling echo of the pre-2003 regime over licensed clergy.

It is true that the bishop could not actually remove an accused clergyman from office.  But an injunction is still an interference with the clergyman’s tenure.  Conditional deferment of a complaint will also prejudice tenure if a subsequent complaint is made.  The clergyman’s career and reputation will be damaged.

Hedley suggested in his lecture that, when processing complaints, ‘the question of threshold needs to be addressed’ i.e the ‘threshold’ from minor to serious misconduct.  It is not clear how a 2 track procedure will identify this threshold, any more than the present 1 track procedure.  As mentioned, the report eschews detailed definitions of misconduct.

But the procedure (as proposed) would certainly alter the threshold.  Under the 2003 Measure, serious misconduct is any misconduct that would attract any penalty.  Minor misconduct is conduct that would not attract a penalty.

According to the report’s penalties-based definition, ‘serious misconduct’ is misconduct that would justify a prohibition or loss of office.  ‘Minor misconduct’ is misconduct that may justify either a less serious penalty or no penalty.  There are 2 possible consequences of this definition

(1) an allegation of serious misconduct will be treated as if it was minor misconduct, with the accused being denied the protection currently provided by the 2003 Measure to defend the allegation and / or

(2) minor misconduct will be dealt with more severely than it is at present.

Admittedly the boundary between serious and minor misconduct is not absolute under the 2003 Measure.  The mildest penalty available to a tribunal is a rebuke.  The report Under Authority (1996), whose proposals formed the basis of the 2003 Measure, acknowledged that ‘a prosecution that leads only to a rebuke is probably a prosecution which should not have been brought’ (p.98).  However, it is certainly the policy of the Measure that any alleged misconduct that would attract a penalty more serious than rebuke should be dealt with by the tribunal.

Such proposals to reform the Clergy Discipline Measure are undesirable in themselves.  It is further argued that reform of the Measure is not necessary to distinguish between serious and minor cases.  Common sense and experience should suffice to determine whether a complaint is concerned with the vicar’s shortage of interpersonal skills or with something more serious.

Iles notes that ‘complaints based on disagreements and grievances, however genuine, are not disciplinary matters, and the [Clergy] Discipline Commission urges bishops to dismiss them, along with complaints alleging acts or omissions amounting to minor misconduct.  Bishops are encouraged to take a fairly robust approach … and to be alert to the possibility of resolving a complaint … by non-disciplinary means … where appropriate’ (‘The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003: A Progress Report’ Ecclesiastical Law Journal, January 2014, p.5.).  An eminently sensible policy.

There is nothing in the 2003 Measure to prevent the bishop from taking advice from others, in addition to the registrar, on what to do with a complaint.  Nor does the Measure prevent the bishops collectively from agreeing a common approach.

When disposing of a minor complaint, the bishop does not need statutory powers to rebuke a tactless incumbent, or to suggest, and facilitate, conciliation.  (Conciliation is, by definition, consensual, requiring the acquiescence of both parties to the dispute.)

A minor complaint may indeed give rise to concerns about a clergyman’s general capability, including his health.  But the report itself admits (para 105) that a statutory capability procedure already exists, under the Terms of Service Measure 2009 and the rules made thereunder.  The 2009 regime also provides for regular performance appraisal of clergy (‘ministerial development review’) and for continuing education.

It is likely that the silence of the 2003 Measure concerning minor misconduct was based on the assumption that this would be dealt with by what became the Terms of Service Measure 2009.  Serious misconduct to be dealt with by the 2003 Measure.  Minor misconduct by the 2009 Measure.

It is further argued that the Clergy Discipline Measure per se is not to blame for the current criticisms of the disciplinary procedure.  There is nothing in the 2003 Measure that necessitates delay or prevents communication with, and support for, the parties to a disciplinary case.  Reforming or repealing the Measure would therefore not cure these shortcomings.

The Measure actually includes provisions that are intended to avoid delay.  It prescribes time limits of 28 days for processing complaints, though allowing for extensions (ss11 and 12).  A busy registrar is expressly empowered to delegate ‘any or all of his functions [of preliminary scrutiny] to such person as he may delegate’ (s.11(6)).

The 2003 Measure makes provision for disciplinary cases that also involve the secular authorities – the police, the courts, ‘safeguarding’ authorities.  These authorities may well take a very long time to process a case, and this will inevitably place an accused person under great strain.  But of course secular procedures are outwith the scope of any ecclesiastical legislation.

So what should the Church do to address the admitted criticisms of its own procedures?  (The report evidently accepts that the criticisms are justified.)

It is argued that the correct response is, not legislative reform, but administrative or managerial reform.  It may be embarrassing to say so, but responsibility for the admitted shortcomings lies, not with the Clergy Discipline Measure per se, but with the persons whose duty it is to administer the Measure.  The solution therefore lies in the management of such persons.  This requires a company doctor, not a legislative draftsman.

The report obliquely refers to the difficulty.  It remarks, somewhat feebly, that ‘the current capability procedures [under the 2009 Measure] … are not well understood and appear to be rarely used’ (para 105).  The answer to that problem is effective managerial action to ensure that the procedures do become well understood and properly used, not to legislate for yet more procedures.

The report itself is interesting to read and provides welcome food for thought (after many hungry months for this blog).  But still, its conclusions are, with respect, on the wrong track.

Smells and Bells: Services and Ceremonies

The Abolition of the 1662 Regime

When studying ecclesiastical law for the first time, it comes as a surprise to learn that liturgical practices now widespread, even universal, in the Church of England, practices with which the student has been familiar since early childhood, were once considered illegal.  The reasons for this are discussed in 2 posts, on the Ornaments Rubric and the Lincoln Judgment, filed below.

Some liturgical practices have been accepted more readily than others.  The burning of incense has probably been the most consistently controversial practice.  (That and the ringing of a bell during the Prayer of Consecration in the Communion Service.)  ‘Smells and bells’ continued to inspire mild resentment until relatively recently, and were identified with a small clique of Anglo-Catholic ritualists.

In the case of Martin v Mackonochie (1868) Law Reports 2 Admiralty and Ecclesiastical 116, Sir Robert Phillimore, the Dean of the Arches, found that incense ‘is not directly ordered in any Prayer Book, canon, injunction, formulary or visitation article of the Church of England since the Reformation’ (p.215).  He therefore concluded, with obvious reluctance, that ‘although … it be an ancient, innocent and pleasing custom, I am constrained to pronounce that the use of it … is illegal’.

There is actually nothing Christian or ‘catholic’ about incense.  It is an inheritance from pagan antiquity (which may be a good reason for opposing its use in church services).  But the aesthetic charms which seduced Sir Robert have evidently prevailed at last.  Incense now seems to be uncontroversial and widely used in cathedrals and churches throughout England, by Archbishops and bishops as well as lesser clergy, its use no longer confined to a small clique.

Are the liturgical practices forbidden in Victorian times now legal?  Surely they must be, or they would not be so widespread?  But it still behoves ecclesiastical lawyers to explain how they are lawful, even if nobody else is interested.  General acceptance per se does not prove legality.

The full title of the Book of Common Prayer is ‘The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the Use of the Church of England’.  In Martin v Mackonochie, Phillimore defined rites as ‘services expressed in words’ and ceremonies as ‘gestures or acts’ (pp.135-6).  On this definition the burning of incense is a liturgical action, therefore a ceremony.

The Preface of the Book of the Common Prayer concerning ceremonies is subtitled ‘Why Some be Abolished, and Some Retained‘.  This was the basis of the Victorian case law.  All ceremonies not retained in the Prayer Book (either expressly or at least by necessary implication) had been abolished, including incense.  Their use was therefore illegal.

The authority for the Prayer Book, including the Preface, came from the Act of Uniformity 1662. just as previous versions of the Prayer Book, from 1549 onwards, depended on earlier Acts of Uniformity.

The Act of Uniformity was repealed by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974.  Schedule 2 of the Measure says of the 1662 Act ‘Extent of Repeal … The whole Act except ss.10 and 15′ (which sections provide that only episcopally ordained clergy may be appointed to benefices and officiate at Holy Communion, and that preachers or ‘lecturers’ must be licensed).

S.1 of the Worship and Doctrine Measure empowers the General Synod ‘to make provision by canon with respect to worship’, and that ‘any such canon shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith … in … the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer’.

S.5(2) of the 1974 Measure expressly includes the prefaces of the Prayer Book within its definition of ‘rubrics’.  The only 1662 rubric which continued to have the force of law after 1974 was that concerning the publication of banns of matrimony (s.1(1)(b)).

Commentaries on ecclesiastical law do not explain the effect of the 1974 Measure with anything like sufficient clarity.  The reader may be left with the impression that the 1974 Measure merely amended the 1662 regime, rather than replaced it.  The suggestion persists that the rubrics and prefaces of the Book of Common Prayer continue to have the force of law, and that the cases thereon are, or at least may be, still ‘good law’ (i.e current law).  (The confused cogitations of Chancellor Bursell QC, the leading commentator on the subject, are discussed in other posts, filed below in this category.)

Yet, subject to the narrow exceptions just mentioned, the 1662 regime of public worship is no more.  It has ceased to be.  The voluminous case law concerning liturgical ceremonies can therefore no longer be good law.  It may be true that the case law forms an important part of the context of the modern post-1974 law, explaining why and how the new law came to be what it is.  So it may still be relevant to the study of ecclesiastical law.  Nevertheless it is no longer part of the law itself.

The 1974 Regime

The repeal of the 1662 regime could not, of course, have the effect of reviving or reinstating the mediaeval liturgical practices abolished at the Reformation.  However, it does mean that liturgical practices not retained or referred to in the Book of Common Prayer are prima facie permitted, no longer forbidden – subject, of course, to the canons made by the General Synod under s.1 of the Worship and Doctrine Measure.

Public worship is now governed principally by canons B1 to B5 of the revised canons (‘the liturgical canons’), which were promulged under the authority of s.1.

Although the 1974 Measure provides greater diversity of worship than the 1662 regime, it is far from being a liturgical free-for-all.  Canon B1 is entitled ‘Conformity of Worship‘, and contains the strict injunction that ‘Every minister shall use only the forms of service authorised by this canon’ (B1(2)).

However, there are 2 exceptions to this rule, at canon B5

(1) an officiating minister may introduce ‘variations which are not of substantial importance’ into an official service and

(2) an incumbent (not just any officiating minister) may use or permit ‘forms of service considered suitable by him’, but only ‘on occasions for which no provision is made in [the official services]’.

The 1974 Measure specifically authorised the General Synod to allow these exceptions (s.1(5)).  However, the discretionary powers in canon B5 are not unfettered, but subject to the ‘pastoral guidance, advice or directions’ of the bishop (B5(4)).

If an official service contains a rubric or direction expressly permitting the use of incense (or some other ceremony considered illegal under the 1662 regime) then this ceremony will obviously be lawful for use in that service.  The legal position will be equally clear if an official service positively provides that incense shall not be used at the service.  But what if (as seems to be the case in practice) official forms of service are silent about such ceremonies?

To answer this question it is first necessary to answer another question: what is a ‘form of service’?

The Worship and Doctrine Measure defines a form of service as ‘any order, service, prayer, rite or ceremony’ (s.5(2)).  This reference to rites and ceremonies echoes the language of 1662.

The revised canons at first gave no definition of ‘form of service’.  Then in 1994, 20 years after the Worship and Doctrine Measure was passed, the liturgical canons were amended.  Canon B1(3) now provides that

form of service shall be construed as including

(i)   the prayers known as collects

(ii)  the lessons designated in any Table of Lessons

(iii) any other matter to be used as part of a service

(iv) any Table of Rules for regulating a service

(v)  any [approved] Table of Holy Days …’.

Thus the explicit reference to ceremonies in the 1974 Measure does not appear in the liturgical canons, either in canon B1(3) or elsewhere.  (The phrase ‘rites and ceremonies’ does appear in canon B3(1), but only as part of the definition of a church building, not in relation to a form of service.)

It is hard to believe that this omission was accidental.  There may have been a deliberate policy of silence on the subject, to avoid reviving old disputes, or from fear that the 1974 regime would prove just as ineffectual at regulating ceremonies as its predecessor.

However, although canon B1(3) does not expressly refer to ‘ceremonies’, it does define ‘form of service’ as ‘any other matter to be used as part of a service’.  Is this wording broad enough to include ceremonies?  Chancellor Bursell considered that the reference to ‘forms of service’ in the liturgical canons does indeed include ceremonies, and that therefore ceremonies are regulated by canons B1 to B5 (cf St John’s, Chopwell (1995) 3 Weekly Law Reports 606, p.611 and p.615).

If Bursell is right about this (and he may be) then prima facie the position will be similar to that which obtained in Victorian times.  Ceremonies will be just as illegal now as they were then, unless they are clearly permitted by the rubrics of an official service.

But now, of course, there are the 2 exceptions to the general rule that only official forms of service may be used.  The burning of incense and other ceremonies will be lawful if

(1) they can be accommodated within the canon B5 discretions, and

(2) the bishop is prepared to accept them.

However, the language of canon B5 may not be very apt to permit the use of incense and other ritualistic practices.  Exception (2) refers to forms of service for special occasions, not to ordinary Sunday and weekday worship.  Exception (1) clearly does apply to ordinary worship.  However, the word ‘variations’ suggests that the exception concerns the alteration of the liturgical text, its structure and wording.  It does not refer to the addition of ceremonies that are not referred to in that text.

Many years before the 1974 Measure was passed, the report The Canon Law of the Church of England (1947) proposed a draft canon which would have permitted ‘deviations (whether by way of addition, omission, alternative use or otherwise)’ from Prayer Book services (p.113), but this proposal was not followed.

In the view of the long and bitter controversy over ritualism, it may be hard to argue that ritualistic practices are ‘not of substantial importance’.  Clearly they were very important both to the ritualists and their Low Church opponents.  In the 19th century a few ritualist clergy were even prepared to go to prison rather than conform to the 1662 regime.  It is also unclear why a ceremony should be permitted if it is ‘not of substantial importance’, but forbidden if it is of substantial importance.

A Policy of Silence

It is therefore argued that, contrary to Bursell’s view, canons B1 to B5 do not attempt any general regulation of liturgical ceremonies.  The Worship and Doctrine Measure certainly empowers the General Synod to regulate ceremonies, but the General Synod has (thus far) not chosen to exercise the power.

This is the obvious explanation for the lack of explicit reference to ceremonies in the liturgical canons.  The enigmatic reference in canon B1(3) to ‘any other matter to be used as part of a service’ should be understood as a reference to the written texts of services, not to ceremonies.

If it is accepted that canons B1 to B5 do not refer to ceremonies in general, this avoids an overly strict, neo-Victorian interpretation of the principle of liturgical conformity.  It also avoids the awkwardness of accommodating ceremonies within the language of the canon B5 exceptions.

The principle of conformity means that

(1) clergy must only use official forms of service, not services devised by themselves, or services ‘borrowed’ from other sources, except for a special occasion for which no official form is provided, and

(2) when using an official form of service, the officiating minister must respect the structure and wording of the text, and not take liberties, except to the limited extent permitted by canon B5(1).

However, the liturgical canons do not forbid, or even restrict, ceremonial actions performed during official services, so long as such actions do not conflict with the structure and text of the service.

There may be an analogy between ceremonies and music. Music is obviously an important part of worship, but it has not been suggested that canons B1 to B5 regulate music.  Music is  regulated by canon B20.  Canon B20 entrusts the control of liturgical music to the officiating minister, though the minister is required to ‘pay due heed’ to the organist or choirmaster, and also to ensure that the music is ‘appropriate … to the solemn act of worship’, and ‘to banish all irreverence’.

It is argued that an officiating minister has a similar control of liturgical ceremonies as of music.  It may be anomalous that music is specifically regulated by the revised canons while ceremonies are not.  However, music has proved much less controversial in the past than ceremony, and is therefore easier to regulate.

The silence of the revised canons concerning ceremonies is consistent with a sensible policy of tolerance and avoiding controversy.  Moreover, the silence does not mean that ceremonies are entirely at the whim of the individual vicar.  There are 3 legal restrictions on ceremonies

(1) as mentioned earlier, a ceremony will be unlawful if used during a form of service which positively forbids it.  A vicar who performed such a forbidden ceremony, and ignored the bishop’s warning to desist, would be guilty of an ecclesiastical offence of disobedience under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, s.8.

(2) a ceremony which conflicts with the Church’s doctrine will be unlawful, even if it is not positively forbidden by official forms of service.  The Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure, s.10(1), continues to provide for disciplinary action to be taken in respect of offences against doctrine, though no such action has ever been taken.

(3) all ceremonies are subject to the requirement of reverence.  The revised canons repeatedly insist that public worship must be performed ‘reverently’ (canons B10, B11(1), B13(1), B14(1)).  Reverence may be a matter of cultural value judgement to some extent.  But a vicar who introduced some ceremonial action that was considered so grossly inappropriate (an example will not be attempted) as to contravene the requirement of reverence would also be liable to disciplinary action for disobedience under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

Holy Communion: Consecration and Consumption

The English law of Holy Communion may be conveniently studied under 3 headings

(1) Who may administer Holy Communion

(2) to whom and

(3) how, when and where?

However, to understand the relevant law, it is important not to confuse the Communion with the Eucharist.

Who?

Canon B12(1) of the revised canons provides that ‘No person shall consecrate and administer the Holy Sacrament … unless he shall been ordained priest by episcopal ordination’.  This echoes s.10 of the Act of Uniformity 1662 (now repealed).  The words ‘consecrate and administer’ may mean that the priest must not only consecrate the bread and wine, but must also control and preside over the whole Communion Service, including the distribution of the consecrated elements to the communicants.

The Prayer Book (Further Provisions) Measure 1968 permitted authorised laypeople to assist the priest by distributing Holy Communion to communicants.  This lay assistance is now regulated by canon B12(3) and the Admission to Holy Communion Regulations 2015.

Canon B44 allows that a minister of a non-episcopal Church may celebrate Holy Communion in a Church of England church where a local ecumenical partnership has been established ((1)(f)).  This provision makes clear that episcopal ordination is, as Paul Avis described it, merely the ‘house rule’ of the Church of England, a rule of discipline, not religious belief.  Article 19 confirms that one particular ministerial structure is not essential in the Church, just so long as ‘the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance’.  However, canon B44 requires that the Anglican faithful be warned of the officiating minister’s lack of episcopal ordination (cf 4(3)(a)(b)).

To Whom?

Baptism alone does not qualify a person to receive Holy Communion.  Reception requires

(1) commitment to Baptism

(2) instruction in the faith and

(3) repentance.

The Book of Common Prayer 1662 required that communicants should be ‘[episcopally] confirmed … or … ready and desirous to be so confirmed’ (rubric).  Confirmation candidates ‘being now come to the years of discretion, and having learned what their godfathers and godmothers promised for them in Baptism … with their own mouth and consent … ratify and confirm the same; and also promise that … they will evermore endeavour themselves faithfully to observe such things …’.

Confirmation is therefore

(1) confirmation by the candidate of his baptismal promises and

(2) the assurance of Divine Grace to support the candidate’s commitment to these promises ‘that he may continue Thine for ever; and daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more …’.

There is no reference to Holy Communion in the 1662 Confirmation rite itself, only in the rubric.  Confirmation is concerned with Baptism rather than Holy Communion.  The phrase ‘ready and desirous’ makes clear that Confirmation is not essential to Holy Communion.  (In the old days, bishops were often absent from their dioceses, indeed never even visited them, so a candidate might have to wait a long time to be confirmed.)

Canon B27(3), again echoing the 1662 rubrics, provides that ‘The minister shall present none to the bishop [for Confirmation] but such as are come to the years of discretion and can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, and can also render an account of their faith according to the … Catechism’.  Canon B27(2) requires the minister to use his best endeavour to instruct [Confirmation candidates] in the Christian faith and life’.

The modern canon B15A, which now regulates admission to Holy Communion, repeats the 1662 rubric about Confirmation, but allows that other persons may receive Holy Communion too, viz

(1) (b)  baptized persons who are communicant members of other Churches which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and who are in good standing in their own Church

(c)  any other baptized persons authorized to be admitted under regulations of the General Synod; and

(d)  any baptized person in immediate danger of death.

Thus practising Christians from Churches which lack episcopal ministry and Confirmation may now be admitted to the Anglican Sacrament.  This rule, like canon B44, is consistent with Article 19.  It is also consistent with Article 25, which teaches that Confirmation is not a Sacrament ‘ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel’.  ‘Good standing’ is not defined, but suggests an assumption that such persons will have received sufficient instruction in their own Churches.

The Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006 were made under the authority of Canon B15A(1)(c) above.  Young children who are not confirmed, or even ready to be confirmed, may now receive Holy Communion.  However, this is subject to the bishop’s discretion.  Regulation 5 provides that ‘the bishop must first satisfy himself … that the [child’s] parish … has made adequate provision for preparation and continuing nurture in the Christian life and will encourage any child admitted to Holy Communion … to be confirmed at the appropriate time’.  So commitment and instruction are still required.

Although canon B15A may have lowered the bar to Holy Communion somewhat, canon B15(2) requires that ‘The minister shall teach the people … that they come to this Holy Sacrament with such preparation as is required by the Book of Common Prayer’.

The 1662 Prayer Book does indeed insist on careful preparation to receive the Sacrament.  Prospective communicants are sternly exhorted ‘to consider the dignity of that holy mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof; and so to search and examine your own consciences … and that not lightly …’.

The minister must also invite a penitent prospective communicant ‘who … cannot quiet his own conscience … [to] come to me, or to some other … minister … and open his grief; that … he may receive the benefit of absolution …’.  Private confession and absolution are therefore at the option of the penitent, a concession to human weakness, not an obligation.

The Prayer Book rubric indicates that the invitation in the Communion Service to ‘make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees’ is specifically addressed ‘to them that come to receive the Holy Communion’, not to any other persons present.

Cathedral clergy are expected to set an example to everybody else, both fellow clergy and laypeople, by receiving the Sacrament ‘every Sunday at the least’ (canon B13(2)).  The lay faithful are expected to receive ‘regularly, and especially at … Christmas, Easter and Whitsun’ (canon B15(1)).  This rule follows the canons of 1603, which enjoined reception of the Sacrament ‘oftentimes’ (canon 21) and ‘at least thrice in a year’ (canon 23).

The bishop has power (virtually never used) to order the exclusion of ‘notorious offenders’ from Holy Communion (canon B16).  This power is discussed in a separate post, filed below.

How, When and Where?

The provision of bread and wine for Holy Communion is governed by canon B17.  The bread may be leavened or unleavened.  The vestments to be worn are prescribed by canon B8(2) and (3).  The ‘table of the Lord’ (i.e the altar) must be covered with ‘a fair white linen cloth’ (canon F2(2)).  The provision and cleaning of communion vessels and linen are dealt with by canons F3 and F4 respectively.

All incumbents, or ‘priests having a cure of souls’, must ‘celebrate, or cause to be celebrated, the Holy Communion on all Sundays and other greater Feast Days and on Ash Wednesday’ (canon C24(2)).  Canon B14 confirms that Holy Communion should be celebrated ‘at least’ on those days in parish churches.  However, canon B14A permits some variation of this general rule.  In cathedrals, Holy Communion should be celebrated ‘as often as may be convenient’ (canon B13(1)), which is usually every day.

Holy Communion must normally be administered in a consecrated or licensed place of worship.  It can be administered in any place where there is a sick person who cannot go to church.  Other venues require the bishop’s permission (canon B40).  Holy Communion may be administered in a private chapel, but ‘seldom upon Sundays and other greater Feast Days, so that the residents … may resort to their parish church and there attend divine service’ (canon B41).  This rule stresses the communal character of the Sacrament.

The Eucharist and the Communion

This survey indicates that the sole purpose of Holy Communion in English law is the reception of the consecrated bread and wine by the  communicants.  The terminology used (Communion, Lord’s Supper) also carries this implication.  The Sacrament is never described as the Eucharist.

In Anglican parlance the words ‘Eucharist’ and ‘Communion’ are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct liturgical rites. The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving.  The Eucharistic Prayer is the prayer of thanksgiving which includes the Words of Institution by which the bread and wine are consecrated.  The Communion rite comes later.  Thus, in English law, the purpose of the Eucharist is the Communion which follows it.

Canon 21 of 1603 suggests that some contemporary clergy failed to appreciate the connection between Eucharist and Communion.  It ordered that ‘no bread or wine … shall be used; but first the Words of Institution shall be rehearsed, when the said bread and wine be present upon the Communion-table’.  Evidently the bread and wine were sometimes administered without being consecrated first.

The modern canon B12 affirms that Eucharist and Communion, though distinct, are inseparable, by requiring the officiating priest always to receive Holy Communion himself.

The English and Roman Catholic laws concerning the administration of Holy Communion are on similar lines (though they are far from  identical).  However, there is virtually no English law concerning the Eucharist.  This is the great difference between the two laws.  The Roman Catholic law concerning Holy Communion is but a part of its law concerning the Eucharist: see the Code of Canon Law 1983, canons 897 to 958, entitled ‘The Most Holy Eucharist’.  In English law, it is the other way around.  The law concerning the Eucharist (such as it is) is part of the law of Holy Communion.

In the Church of England, canon B6 enjoins ‘attendance at Divine Service‘ every Sunday, but not specifically attendance at Holy Communion.  Attendance at Morning or Evening Prayer will do just as well.  For a long time in England, weekly attendance at Holy Communion was impossible for most people, because the Sacrament was only celebrated once a month (‘Sacrament Sunday’).

In the Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, the faithful are obliged to attend the Eucharist (Mass) every Sunday and on other important Holy Days (1983 Code, canon 1247).  Attendance at another act of worship will not fulfill this obligation.  However, the obligation to receive Holy Communion is limited to just once a year (canon 920.1).  The severe Eucharistic fast from midnight, without even a glass of water, which was only modified as recently as the 1950s, made frequent communion difficult.  (Sometimes Catholics would receive Communion at an early service before attending the Eucharist.)

The 1662 rubrics made clear that ‘there shall be no celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except there be convenient number to communicate with the priest … 4 communicants (or 3 at the least)’ are the absolute minimum required.

This requirement does not appear in the modern canons of the Church of England.  However, canon C24(2) makes clear that the duty to ‘celebrate, or cause to be celebrated’ the Holy Communion is owed to parishioner-communicants.  Priests without a cure of souls have no duty to celebrate the Eucharist / Holy Communion, nor indeed any right to do so.

This is another difference from the Roman Catholic law, which states that ‘priests [i.e all priests] are … earnestly invited to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice daily …’ (1983 Code, canon 276(1)).

The English legal emphasis on reception of Holy Communion has its basis in religious belief, of course.  The 1662 Catechism teaches that ‘the Lord hath commanded [the Sacrament] to be received‘.  Hence the emphasis on relatively frequent Communion.  Also that ‘The Body and Blood of Christ … are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper’.

Article 25 affirms that ‘in such only as worthily receive the [Sacraments] they have a whole effect or operation’.  Article 28 draws the Catechism and Article 25 together: ‘to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread … is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup … is a partaking of the Blood of Christ’.  It adds that ‘The Body of Christ is … eaten only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.  And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith’.

2 actions are therefore required for a communicant to receive the Body and Blood of Christ

(1) consecration of the bread and wine and

(2) worthy and faithful consumption thereof

The teaching in Article 29 is critical: ‘The wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth … the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ: yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing’.

This makes clear that the effect of consecration is that the bread and wine have ceased to be ordinary food.  They are now a sign and Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.  Any irreverent use of them will incur Divine condemnation.  (Hence the great importance of instruction and repentance prior to Communion.)  However, they are not the Body and Blood of Christ per se.  

This in turn means that, while irreverent use incurs condemnation, it is also wrong to venerate or worship the consecrated bread and wine, since they are a mere sign and Sacrament.  The communicant receives the Body and Blood of Christ only by worthy consumption.

This teaching on the Eucharist is in contrast to that of the Roman Catholic Church, which holds that

(1) consecration alone does constitute the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ.  ‘In [the Eucharist] Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest … [is] substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine’ (1983 Code, canon 899.1).

(2) reception of communion is not the only purpose of consecration.  Canon 901 affirms that ‘A priest is entitled to offer Mass for anyone, living or dead’.  Indeed bishops and pastors must apply the Eucharist pro populo, i.e for the people of their dioceses and parishes, every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation (canons 388(1) and 534(1)).

The 39 Articles oppose 2 purposes of the Eucharist affirmed by the Roman Catholic Church

(1) application of the Eucharist for a metaphysical purpose, known as an intention.  Article 31 strongly condemns ‘Masses in the which it was commonly said that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt’ as ‘blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits’.

(2) worship of the consecrated elements.  Article 28 provides that ‘the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped’.  Article 25 observes that ‘The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them’.

It will be noted that the condemnation of (1) is much stronger than (2) in the Articles.  Purported applications of the Eucharist other than for Communion are dangerous and blasphemous.  However, the Prayer Book rubric warns that ‘the sacramental [i.e consecrated] bread and wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored (for that were idolatry …)’.

The ceremonial of modern Communion Services is very similar to that of the modern Catholic Mass.  This may obscure the difference of Eucharistic action.  Canon B8 permits the ‘customary vestments’, i.e the Catholic Eucharistic vestments, but also makes clear that ‘the vesture worn by the minister … is not to be understood as implying any doctrines other than those now contained in the [historic] formularies’.

Intention

In the case of Bourne v Keane (1919) Appeal Cases 815, Lord Chancellor Birkenhead suggested that the application of the Eucharist for a metaphysical intention is the essential difference between the Catholic Mass and the Communion Service (cf p.837).  (Nothing to do with ‘smells and bells’ ritualism.)  Bl John Henry Newman (a Catholic convert, of course) suggested that ‘the doctrine of intention … viewed in all its parts, constitute[s] a new religion’ (Loss and Gain, 1848).

The belief that the Eucharist can be applied for a metaphysical purpose derives in turn from the belief that the Eucharist is a sacrifice (not just a sacrament) ‘in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is for ever perpetuated’ (1983 Code, canon 897).  This is discussed in another post ‘In Persona Christi: Eucharistic Sacrifices’, filed below.

As every schoolboy knows, the Protestant reformers complained (with some justice no doubt) that the metaphysical ministrations of the mediaeval Church, including Mass intentions, were exploited for material gain.  (The sale of indulgences etc.)

Modern Roman Catholic law addresses this concern by seeking to prevent ‘even the semblance of trafficking or trading’ in Eucharistic applications / intentions.  Multiple Masses are not allowed (canons 905, 953).  A priest should not celebrate the Eucharist without a congregation of at least 1 person (an altar-server), though solitary celebration is permitted for ‘a good and reasonable cause’.

Nevertheless the payment of a stipend or offering for a Eucharistic intention is not only lawful, but positively encouraged.  Such offerings ‘contribute to the good of the Church’ (canon 946).  ‘Any priest … may accept an offering to apply the Mass for a specific intention’ (canon 945(1)).  He may not demand a larger sum than that prescribed by local law, but may still accept ‘an offering voluntarily made’, even if it exceeds the local rate (canon 952(1)).  Intentions, and the offerings therefor, must be recorded (canons 955, 958).  The bishop must see to it that all Mass obligations are fulfilled (canon 957).

In Bourne v Keane, the House of Lords ecumenically held (by a majority) that a fund for the saying of Roman Catholic Masses was a valid and lawful trust in English law.  The Lord Chancellor traced the dichotomy between the mediaeval Mass and the reformed Communion Service to the ‘Protestant’ Prayer Book of 1552.  The first, ‘Catholic’ Prayer Book of 1549 did not make a complete break between the two, because ‘the name Mass was retained [in that Book]’ (p.836).

The 1552 Book was unambiguous, however.  There could be ‘no doubt that this [1552] service was a Communion Service pure and simple, and that Mass had disappeared … from the Book of Common Prayer’ (p.837).

The Elizabethan Act of Uniformity 1559 completed the work of 1552.  ‘[Its] effect was to render the celebration of Mass illegal’.  By a later Elizabethan statute ‘the saying or singing of Masses was expressly declared to be a criminal offence’ (p.838).  (A crime punished by death in some cases.)  The result of the 16th century legislation, of course, was that Mass trusts could not be lawful, because ‘such trusts were pernicious and dangerous to the state’ (p.846).

Mass was not decriminalised till the first Roman Catholic Relief Act 1778.  Then at last the Relief Act of 1829 was passed, as a result of which ‘the Roman Catholic religion was recognised as one which could be practised without any penal consequences or breach of the law’ (p.852).  Thus the law forbidding Mass trusts ‘perished as a consequence of [the Relief Acts]’ (p.857).

In the modern Church of England, ‘catholic’ vicars apply, or purport to apply, the Eucharist for particular intentions, and publicise this in parish newsletters etc, notwithstanding Article 31.  It could be argued that this constitutes a ‘reserved’ offence against doctrine under s.14(1) of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963: ‘maintaining doctrines repugnant to the 39 Articles’ (Halsbury’s Laws, vol 14, para 1354).

However, no prosecution for any reserved offence has ever been brought since 1963.  Mass intentions are evidently uncontroversial nowadays, no longer considered blasphemous and dangerous.

It would be a different case if a vicar considered the authorised Eucharistic Prayers inadequate vehicles for his intentions, and used a Roman Catholic prayer instead.  This would constitute misconduct rather than a doctrinal offence, cognisable under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, ‘doing [an] act in contravention of the laws ecclesiastical’ (s.8(1)(a)).  (It would also infringe the Catholic Church’s copyright).  Canon B1(2) is clear that ‘Every minister shall use only the forms of service authorised …’.  All clergy are required to make a Declaration ‘[to] use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by canon’ (canon C15.1(1)).  But again, there is no legally reported case of a vicar being disciplined for using the Roman rite.

A vicar who accepted or solicited payments for his intentions should also be liable to discipline, since he has no right to such payments, and his intentions are not recognised by law.  Any trust fund similar to that in Bourne v Keane, but for Anglican Eucharistic intentions instead, would arguably fail for the same reasons.

Reservation

It is argued that Article 28 need not preclude custody of the Sacrament where there is an unavoidable delay between consecration and communion, for example to bring the Sacrament to the sick, or to a congregation which lacks a priest.  Christ did not ordain the practice of reservation, but neither did He positively forbid it.  Nor, on its plain wording, does Article 28.  As discussed earlier, the religious difficulty is not reservation per se, but the danger that it may encourage ‘idolatrous’ adoration or worship of the Sacrament.

It is true, however, that the Book of Common Prayer allows no scope for reservation.  The post-Communion rubric provides that leftover consecrated elements ‘shall not be carried out of the church, but the priest and such other of the communicants as he shall then call unto him shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same’.

It has been suggested that this rubric was aimed at preventing, not superstitious veneration, but profane consumption, i.e as part of the vicar’s Sunday lunch.  The 1552 Prayer Book had sacrilegiously provided that ‘if any of the bread or wine remain [whether consecrated or unconsecrated], the curate [the vicar] shall have it to his own use’.  (See Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, ed T Briden, 4th ed 2013, p.93).  But the 1662 rubric still provides no authority for reservation.

The 1662 Prayer Book provides a special service for ‘Communion of the Sick’, but this clearly requires the priest to consecrate the bread and wine ‘[at] a convenient place in the sick man’s house’, and to receive the Sacrament himself.  It does not authorise him to bring pre-consecrated bread and wine.

In 1899 the 2 Archbishops jointly opined that reservation was unlawful, even for sick Communion.  The combination of

(1) Article 28

(2) the Prayer Book’s requirement of immediate consumption and

(3) lack of any evidence that reservation was practised after the Reformation

all pointed to this conclusion.

The Revised Prayer Book of 1927 proposed that, ‘to secure that any sick person in his last hour may not lack the benefit of the … Sacrament, … the priest, if the Bishop shall so permit, may … reserve so much of the consecrated bread and wine as is needed for the purpose’.  The 1927 rubrics were careful to make clear that the Sacrament ‘shall be reserved only for the Communion of the Sick … and … for no other purpose whatever’, i.e not for adoration.

A supporter of the Revised Prayer Book made the reasonable point that ‘at the present time the whole [Communion] service has to be read [to the sick person] and that the priest has to communicate himself.  No one can think it right that a priest should be forced to communicate 30 or 40 times a week’ (House of Commons Official Record, volume 218, column 1222).

However, Parliament was unmoved by the difficulty and rejected the Revised Book.  Protestant prejudice against reservation was apparently a major cause of this.

For their part, the ecclesiastical courts held that a tabernacle (a receptacle in which the Sacrament is reserved) was forbidden by the famous Ornaments Rubric.  In St. Mary, Tyne Dock (1954) Probate 369, the Chancellor correctly held that ‘If [a tabernacle] is not [authorised by the Ornaments Rubric] then the bishop’s sanction cannot save it, for the consent of the bishop cannot render an illegal church ornament legal’ (p.371).

In Lapford Church (1954) Probate 416, the Chancellor suggested that the Ornaments Rubric could be circumnavigated by reserving the Sacrament in an aumbry (a receptacle discreetly cut into the church wall, less showy than a tabernacle, and less suggestive of adoration).  He explained that ‘for a long time now, an aumbry has been treated as not constituting an ornament at all, but as part of the furnishings of the church’, and therefore permissible.

The Lapford case actually concerned the introduction of a tabernacle, not an aumbry, so the Chancellor refused a faculty.  However, the Court of the Arches granted the faculty on appeal, confidently asserting that its ratio decidendi was ‘common sense’: (1955) Probate 205, at p.214.  The Court accepted that ‘All the deviations and additions contained in the [Revised Prayer] Book remained, strictly speaking, illegal’ (p.213), but also observed, no doubt correctly, that ‘the [1662] law as it stood was evidently too rigid … the power of enforcing compliance with the law rested with the bishops’ (p.213-14).

So, if the bishops declined to enforce the law on their clergy on account of its rigidity, and indeed positively approved unlawful practices, then this was nothing to do with the ecclesiastical courts.  On the contrary

‘The duty of a diocesan chancellor … is ancillary.  He is not responsible for reservation: but if he finds that reservation is in fact practised with the sanction of the bishop … it is his duty to see that the provision [illegally] made for keeping the consecrated bread and wine is both safe and seemly’ (p.214).

On this view, the protection of the illegally reserved Sacrament is more important than adhering to the law.  Casuistry rather than common sense.

The modern canon regulating sick Communion, canon B37(2), is ambiguous.  It provides that, if a sick or housebound person ‘is desirous of receiving the most comfortable Sacrament … the priest … shall … visit him, and … reverently minister the same’.  This wording, of course, allows scope for holding an entire Communion Service where the sick person is, or administering pre-consecrated bread and wine.

The 1662 regime of public worship was finally brought to an end by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974.  The Ornaments Rubric and the rubric requiring immediate consumption ceased to have the force of law.  Meanwhile reservation has ceased to be controversial, and now seems to be practised universally.  It is impossible to imagine Parliament objecting to it today.  And with the 1662 regime gone, the General Synod can legislate by canon, which does not require Parliamentary approval.

Yet reservation is still unregulated by ecclesiastical law.  No Measure or canon provides for it.  It remains a matter for the discretion of the ecclesiastical courts and bishops on a case by case basis.

There are a number of possible explanations for this.  Perhaps there is concern that any legislative recognition of reservation would contradict the Church’s doctrine, or appear to do so.  The practice should therefore be managed on an informal, unwritten basis (like remarriage after divorce).

There may be a mistaken belief that the Ornaments Rubric still is part of the law, notwithstanding the Worship and Doctrine Measure.  In St Thomas, Pennywell (1995) Family 30, Chancellor Bursell seemed to labour under this misapprehension.  He granted a faculty for a ‘Sacrament house’, not on the basis that the Ornaments Rubric was no longer law, but on the basis that the law no longer interpreted the Rubric with its previous rigour.  (This case is discussed in ‘Liturgy and the Faculty Jurisdiction’, filed below, under category ‘Liturgy and the Law’).

Or maybe the Church is simply content leave the practice of reservation to the ecclesiastical courts.  Certainly this does not seem to have caused any significant practical difficulty since 1974.  However, it is arguable that care and custody of ‘the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing’ demand formal legal recognition and regulation.

The Easter Offering: Duty and Charity

[At] the Offertory, so many as are disposed, shall offer unto the poor men’s box every one according to his ability and charitable mind.

And at the offering days appointed, every man and woman shall pay to the Curate [i.e the incumbent] the due and accustomed offerings.’  (Book of Common Prayer 1549, rubric)

There seem to be 2 widely held assumptions concerning the Easter offering, that:

(1) it is the collection taken at church services on Easter Day and

(2) the proceeds are part of the incumbent’s official income, at least if the incumbent wishes to claim them.

The 1549 rubric quoted above suggests that this assumption is mistaken.  The rubric indicates a clear distinction between the Easter offering and the normal offertory collection, including the collection taken on Easter Day.  The Easter offering is separate from, and additional to, the offertory collection.

Moreover, the two payments are different in character.  The offertory collection is a voluntary charitable donation for the relief of poverty.  The Easter Offering, by contrast, is a ‘due’ payment, not a gift determined by charitable disposition.  A due is a duty (just like a duty on imported goods).  The Easter Offering is a compulsory payment, a tax payable to the incumbent.

As the rubric implies, Easter was not the only ‘offering day’ in the middle ages.  Phillimore relates that there were originally 4 offering days in all, Christmas, Easter, Whitsun-Pentecost and the feast of the dedication of the parish church (Ecclesiastical Law, 2nd edition 1895, p.1243).

However, from 1552 onwards, Easter is the only offering day referred to in the Book of Common Prayer.  The revised rubric provides that

‘yearly at Easter, every parishioner shall reckon with his parson, vicar or curate … and pay to … him all ecclesiastical duties, accustomably due …’.  The word offering no longer appears.

This revised wording, of course, makes more explicit the compulsory nature of the payment, and its difference from the voluntary donation for the poor.

Phillimore suggests that the Easter duty was a common law right of all incumbents (p.1243).  Therefore an incumbent did not have to prove his right to payment.  An Easter offering was a larger payment than the common law duty, but it was payable only if the incumbent could prove an immemorial custom in the parish for payment of the offering (i.e a custom dating from 1189, very difficult to prove).

Victorian legislation permitted individual parishes ‘to enter into a parochial agreement for the commutation of Easter offerings’ (p.1244), i.e to cancel the parish offering in return for payment of a one off lump sum to the incumbent.

Although reference to Whitsun as an offering day was removed from the Prayer Book in 1552, Pentecostals (Whitsun offerings or duties) may have continued after that time.  The Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 provides that Pentecostals ‘shall cease to be exigible’ (demandable) (s.82(3)), but does not mention the Easter duty / offering.

The Easter duty / offering referred to in the Prayer Book has not been generally abolished, but it has been effectively destroyed by inflation.  The common law duty was a mere twopence a head (2d), so would now be impossible to enforce in practice.  An immemorial offering (if it can be proved) will only be worth a few pence more.  Common law and customary payments may not be adjusted for inflation (see the case of Bryant v Foot (1867) 2 Law Reports Queen’s Bench 161).

On our analysis, therefore, the incumbent’s only legal right is to the compulsory, though negligible, Easter duty.  He has no a priori common law right to keep the voluntary Easter collection for himself (any more than collections taken on other Sundays).  Even though it was removed from the rubric as long ago as 1552, the word ‘offering’, with its connotation of voluntary donation, has served to conflate the two payments artificially, encouraging a perception that they are one and the same.  However, they are clearly distinct in law.

The rubric concerning the offertory collection has changed since 1549.  It now provides that ‘the money given at the Offertory shall be disposed of to … pious and charitable uses’.  This, of course, allows a broader scope of use of the money than that available in 1549.  The money can now be applied to many uses other than the relief of poverty.  However, it is hard to argue from this that the incumbent’s personal benefit constitutes a ‘pious and charitable’ use.

The Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 empowers the parochial church council (‘the PCC’) ‘jointly with the minister to determine the objects to which all moneys to be given or collected in church shall be allocated’ (s.7(iv)).   If they cannot agree, the bishop decides instead (s.9(3)).

This power was originally expressed to be ‘subject to the directions contained in the Book of Common Prayer as to the disposal of money given at the offertory’.  The incumbent and PCC (and the bishop) therefore remained bound by the rubric.  They could decide how, exactly, the collection money was to be spent, but it still had to be spent on pious and charitable uses.

This restriction on the use of the collection money was removed in 1988, so the incumbent and PCC are no longer bound by the rubric at all.  However, it is arguable that, even in its amended form, the 1956 Measure does not confer an unfettered discretion on the incumbent and the PCC.  It suggests that the collection money must still be applied for the benefit of ‘objects’, i.e purposes or causes, rather than the benefit of particular people.

It has been pointed out that the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer applies only to the collection taken at Holy Communion.  The Prayer Book makes no provision for collections taken at Morning and Evening Prayer and other services.

In the case of Marson v Unmack (1923) Probate 163 the Court of the Arches suggested that ‘Collections … other than … the offertory, may lawfully be made for objects determined by agreement between the incumbent and the PCC.  Such objects may be and … ought to be announced to the congregation before collection …’ (p.169).  Again, the reference is to ‘objects’, and the Easter collection is not specifically discussed.

Apart from the wording of the 1956 Measure, it is arguably inconsistent with the incumbent’s trusteeship of the collection money for him to be able to determine that it should be paid to himself, even with the agreement of the PCC and the bishop, and even if the congregation is fully informed.  There is a clear conflict of interest.  A trustee may not profit from his trust.

If the incumbent’s claim on the voluntary Easter collection has no basis in common law it obviously requires a statutory basis.  It might therefore be appropriate to amend the 1956 Measure to provide this.

Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law (3rd edition 1993) suggests that nowadays incumbents do not bother to claim the Easter collection, ‘since such offerings merely result in a pro tanto reduction in the [stipend] paid by the diocese’ (p.92).  Thus the stipend is simply reduced by the amount of the Easter collection money so the incumbent is no better off.

The Terms of Service Regulations 2009 confirm that an incumbent’s right to be paid the national minimum stipend is not absolute, but is subject to ‘any [other] income received by the office holder from other sources which is related to or derived from the duties of the office’ (reg 11.1).

Nevertheless the question of the Easter collection may still be relevant, even if incumbents no longer benefit personally.  A large sum of donated money is at stake.  If the incumbent makes a purported covenant or assignment of the Easter collection (to the diocese or elsewhere), this will be invalid if he is not entitled to the money in the first place.  (Nemo dat quod non habet).  Likewise, any decision on the allocation of the money, taken under the powers conferred by the 1956 Measure, may be flawed if it is influenced by the mistaken belief that the incumbent has a legal claim on it.

Unprecedented Confusion: A Tribute to Chancellor Bursell

Re Sam Tai Chan (2016) Durham Consistory Court, Chancellor Bursell QC

The erudite and informative Law and Religion UK blog (to which this blog is ever indebted for both information and inspiration) has helpfully drawn attention to this recent faculty case.  The judgment appears on the website of the Ecclesiastical Law Association (accessed 12th September 2016).

The Worshipful Chancellor Bursell QC’s singular contribution to the public understanding of ecclesiastical law has been discussed in other posts (e.g ‘The Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer’, and ‘Liturgy and the Faculty Jurisdiction’, filed under category ‘Liturgy and Law’).  This case is another egregious example of it.

The Chancellor permitted a Chinese lady to exhume the body of her late husband for reburial elsewhere.  She, at least, has reason to be grateful to him, though other less fortunate petitioners for exhumation may not have.

When deciding exhumation cases, consistory courts have for many years followed guidance given by the Court of the Arches in the case of Blagdon Cemetery (2002) 4 All England Reports 482, without any apparent difficulty or controversy.  The guidance was given because guidance given by the Chancery Court in the earlier case of Christ Church, Alsager (1998) 3 Weekly Law Reports 1394 was considered unsatisfactory.

The Chancery Court is the Archbishop of York‘s provincial court (Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, s.1(2)(a)).  It is therefore the principal court of the northern province, the Province of York.  The Durham Consistory Court, over which Chancellor Bursell presides, is also in the northern province.  The Court of the Arches, of course, is in the Province of Canterbury, the southern province.

It was for this reason that the Worshipful Chancellor found it necessary to disturb the tranquil operation of the post-Blagdon faculty jurisdiction.  He acknowledged that his intervention might prove ‘inconvenient’ (cf para 12).  But the exhumation case raised ‘the question … as to how rules of precedent apply within the two provinces’ (para 8).

After a lengthy discussion of the subject of judicial precedent in the ecclesiastical courts, he concluded that ‘in so far as the northern province (sic) the Alsager test [i.e the guidance given by the Chancery Court in the Alsager case] still prevails’ (para 22).  Canterbury and York are separate provinces, and they remain separate ecclesiastical jurisdictions.  The Court of the Arches has no superiority over the Chancery Court.  This means that northern consistory courts are not ‘bound’ by the Blagdon guidance, only southern ones.  On the contrary, the northern courts are bound to follow the Alsager guidance.

The Chancellor modestly forbore to mention that he was himself a member of the Chancery Court that decided Alsager, and was therefore a co-author of the unsatisfactory guidance.  He seemed to resent the Court of the Arches’ criticism of the guidance (cf para 22)  (Which is understandable, of course).  He also had a dig at some fellow northern chancellors who meekly followed the Blagdon guidance instead of adhering to the Northern Precedent (paras 13 and 14).

It is argued that the Chancellor misunderstood the doctrine of judicial precedent.  A precedent is what the court decides, not what it says, in the particular case.  Stare decisis, not stare dictis.

What, exactly, did the Court of the Arches decide in Blagdon?  The Court granted an exhumation faculty because the consistory court, which had refused exhumation, ‘did not address this [case] specifically in terms of the bringing together of parents and child in a family grave … the exercise of the [consistory court’s] discretion was flawed in so far as it was based on an erroneous evaluation of the facts in this respect, and … in the way [it] treated the lapse of time as determinative’ (para 39).

The consistory court in Blagdon had refused exhumation because it was following, or trying to follow, the Alsager guidance.  The guidance had confused the chancellor and led him into error.  The Court of the Arches therefore issued its own guidance.

Thus the only discernible ‘precedents’ in Blagdon are that

(1) a long lapse of time between a burial and an exhumation request should not be determinative of an exhumation petition, and

(2) a discretionary decision should be set aside if based on an erroneous evaluation of facts.

The guidance given in Blagdon had nothing to do with the Court’s decision on the particular case.  The decision was merely the occasion for issuing the guidance.  The guidance was issued to assist consistory courts to avoid erroneous decisions, and hence avoid the need for future appeals.

Thus the Blagdon guidance did not engage the doctrine of judicial precedent.  The guidance is just that – guidance.  It does not ‘bind’ the consistory courts of either province.  It merely seeks to assist them to avoid errors and appeals.  Guidance is not binding precedent.

Chancellor Bursell was therefore not obliged to follow the Blagdon guidance, if he did not want to.  (Whether he was wise not to do so is quite another matter, of course.)  He was free to follow his own guidance in Alsager.  Indeed a chancellor in the southern province could choose to follow the Alsager guidance and ignore the Blagdon guidance.  Or a chancellor could choose to ignore both.

Bursell’s judgment reveals a second misunderstanding about precedent.  The doctrine of judicial precedent does not apply to the grant or refusal of faculties at all, because this is not a judicial function, even though it is exercised by courts and judges.  The grant or refusal of faculties (which are licences or permissions) is an administrative or pastoral function, not a judicial one.  It is an administrative discretion.  (See post ‘Doing Justice to Faculties’, filed below).  Administrative discretion should be exercised fairly and consistently.  Clear guidance will assist this.

It is true that Bursell is far from being alone in these confusions.  The doctrine of judicial precedent is widely misunderstood.  Court judgments are often read and interpreted as if they were legislation.  And ecclesiastical judges seem unable to grasp that the faculty jurisdiction is administrative, not judicial (just as they cannot grasp that ecclesiastical courts are governed by English law and not ‘canon law’).

However, Bursell’s judgment is of poor quality, even apart from its basic confusions.  It strongly suggests that Bursell used the case merely as a convenient peg on which to hang his flawed thesis on judicial precedent.  The facts of the case and the reasons for the granting the faculty are not adequately stated.

The Chinese lady’s husband died in 1978, but the Chancellor did not require an explanation of why exhumation was not sought until nearly 40 years later.  Lapse of time may not be determinative of an exhumation case, but it is still relevant to the case.  The lady sought exhumation because the original burial was ‘a mistake by virtue of mis-information’ (para 5), but the mistake and the mis-information are not described.

Moreover, the Chancellor did not grant the faculty on the basis of a mistake, but because ‘the different ethnic approach to burial within the Chinese Christian Church provides a good and proper reason for exhumation’ (para 27), but again this ‘ethnic approach’ is not described.  Yet non-Chinese Christians whose petitions for exhumation are refused might be interested to know what it is.

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.

Designated Offices and Common Tenure

Although equal security of tenure for all beneficed and licensed clergy is the general rule under the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009, there are exceptions.  S.2(2) of the Measure makes clear that ‘common tenure’ is not incompatible with ‘appointments of limited duration’.

The only such appointment which is specifically referred to in the 2009 Measure concerns that of a priest-in-charge during a vacancy in the benefice.  The licence of a priest-in-charge may be revoked when the vacancy comes to an end (s.3(4)).  However, the Measure also provides that the bishop may revoke a licence granted to a person ‘in connection with employment under a contract of employment’ (e.g a school or hospital chaplain), if the contract is terminated by the employer (s.3(5)).

The Regulations issued under the 2009 Measure provide further categories of appointments of limited duration.  These are stated at Regulation 29.  Such appointments may be either

(1) for a fixed term (which may, however, be extended for a further period or periods indefinitely) or

(2) terminable on the occurrence of a specified event.

Some temporary appointments are fairly obvious.  They include

(1)  a post created to cover a colleague’s authorised absence from work

(2)  a post created as part of a mission initiative (mission initiatives are temporary in nature) and

(3)  a licence granted to an office holder who is above the retirement age of 70.

 However, Regulation 29 also provides for 3 categories of ‘designated office’ that are of limited duration:

(1)  Training posts.  These may arise where the office holder (e.g a recently ordained curate) is required by the bishop to undertake initial ministerial education.

(2)  Posts subject to sponsorship funding.  Such a post may arise where any part of the office holder’s remuneration ‘package’ (i.e stipend, pension, accommodation, expenses) is funded or supplied from outside the official Church (‘defrayed by a person or body other than a diocesan board of finance, parsonages board, parochial church council or the [Church] Commissioners’ (29(4)).  The post might need to be terminated for financial reasons if the sponsor withdrew support.

(3)  Probationary offices.  These may arise

(a)  where the office holder is returning to the Church after a career break (‘has not held any ecclesiastical office in any place during the [preceding] 12 months’ 29(5)) or

(b) where the office holder has a bad disciplinary record under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 or the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, or was removed from his previous office under the capability procedure introduced by the 2009 Measure (29(6) and (7)).

Training and sponsorship posts (1) and (2) can only be licensed offices, not benefices.  Also, the office of team vicar may not be designated as a sponsorship post.  However, it would be possible, on the wording of Regulation 29, for a benefice to be designated as a probationary office. 

Regulation 29 is silent as to any procedure for the designation of offices.  It does not specify who does the designating, or how, or when.  Moreover, it provides only that offices ‘may’, not must, be designated as such.  This suggests that a particular office need not be designated as a training, sponsored or probationary office, even if it matches the description of one.

Although Regulation 29 is vague, it must be clear from its context that an office can only be designated by the bishop, or at least with his agreement.  The bishop confers title to the office, whether beneficed or licensed.  If an appointment is to be of limited duration, this fact must be recorded on the ‘statement of initial particulars of office’ to which the new office holder is entitled (reg 3(5)(j)).  The statement must be prepared by a diocesan officer nominated by the bishop (3(1)(a)).

The initial statement must be given to the office holder not later than one month after he takes up the office.  The Terms of Service Regulations also envisage that particulars of office may change after the office holder has been appointed.  In that case, the office holder is entitled to another statement ‘containing particulars of the change’ (Reg 6(1)).

It may be very unlikely in practice, but the vagueness of Regulation 29 suggests the possibility of a misunderstanding over the designation of a particular office.  The office holder might accept an office before realising that it is designated and therefore of limited duration.  The bishop might change his mind and designate an office after the office holder has been appointed, thereby reducing the office holder’s tenure.

A disappointed office holder could then have recourse to the diocesan grievance procedure required by the Terms of Service Regulations (reg 32), but this may not be a very attractive option as the grievance procedure is controlled by the bishop.

Clerical Capability

The Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009 suggests 3 procedures for removing clergy on account of their unfitness for office:

(1) the prosecution of ‘reserved’ offences against doctrine, ritual and ceremonial, under the unrepealed provisions of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963

(2) proceedings under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 and

(3) the capability procedure, or procedures, provided under the 2009 Measure itself (s.3(3) and (6)).

The capability procedures are described as ‘procedures to assess the performance of office holders, including remedies for inadequate performance’ (s.2(2)(d)).  Under the Terms of Service Regulations 2009, capability procedure takes the form of ‘an inquiry into the capability of an office holder to perform the duties of his or her office’ (reg 31(1)).  The bishop may instigate an inquiry ‘if he considers that the performance of an office holder affords grounds for concern’.  Any inquiry must be conducted in accordance with a statutory Code of Practice (reg 31(3)).

The 2009 Measure does not completely abolish the old class distinction between beneficed and licensed clergy.  However, it seeks to provide that, once they are beneficed or licensed, all clergy will enjoy the same security of tenure and be subject to the same professional discipline.  This point is made by describing the terms of service under which beneficed and licensed clergy hold office as ‘common tenure’ (s.1(3)).

However, it has been argued elsewhere in this blog that ‘common tenure’ is endangered by the confused relationship between the Clergy Discipline Measure and the capability procedure, i.e procedures (2) and (3) above (see posts filed below under this category).

The statutory Codes of Practice concerning the 2003 Measure and the capability procedure are not reassuring on this point.  The Clergy Discipline Code suggests, ominously, that the boundary between discipline and capability procedure

‘will need to be determined on a case by case basis.  It is in the interests of justice for there to be flexibility between the capability procedure under the [Terms of Service] Regulations and disciplinary proceedings under the [2003] Measure, so that cases are dealt with in the most appropriate way’.  (paras 259-60, emphasis supplied).

It is argued that this view is mistaken.  On the contrary, ‘the interests of justice’ demand consistency and certainty.  Clergy discipline, like all professional discipline, is a penal, quasi-criminal jurisdiction which exists to maintain professional standards and public confidence.  This demands that everyone, both the subjects of the jurisdiction and the public, should know what to expect and that the subjects of the jurisdiction should be treated the same.

The Clergy Discipline Code suggests that it is for the bishop to decide whether a complaint should be pursued under the 2003 Measure or under the capability procedure (para 261).  The Capability Code provides that the person appointed by the bishop to oversee a particular case (usually the archdeacon) may suspend a capability inquiry if he decides that the matter should be dealt with under the 2003 Measure or the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 (para 22.1).

Neither Code provides for the accused clergyman to have a say in the matter.  The only protection afforded to him is that both Codes agree that he should not be subject to disciplinary proceedings and capability inquiry at the same time.

The danger is that the ‘flexibility’, or rather, the arbitrary ‘case by case’ approach which results from the uncertain boundary between the Clergy Discipline Measure and the Terms of Service Measure will undermine the common professional discipline that was the raison d’etre of both Measures.  Different clergy will be treated differently in respect of the same alleged misconduct.  Worse, accused clergy will only be able to defend themselves in the ecclesiastical courts if their bishops and archdeacons permit them to do so.  The uncertain boundary may cause the capability jurisdiction to become larger and larger as that of the ecclesiastical courts becomes smaller and smaller. 

What is the correct purpose of the capability procedure, if it is not to trespass on proceedings under the Clergy Discipline Measure?  One obvious use for a capability procedure is to assess an office holder’s medical fitness.  It is not misconduct to be in poor health.  The Terms of Service Regulations expressly provide for a medical capability procedure (cf reg 28).  Another use of the capability procedure is to address pastoral difficulties between an office holder and his parishioners.

In the case of Bland v Archdeacon of Cheltenham (1972) 1 All England Reports 1012 the Court of the Arches firmly held that disciplinary proceedings cannot be used to resolve a difficult pastoral situation by removing an incumbent who has alienated his parishioners but cannot be got rid of by other means.  In the wake of that case, the Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure 1977 was passed. 

The 1977 Measure introduced a procedure whereby incumbents and team vicars could be removed from office or subject to special restrictions, if it was found on inquiry that their conduct had contributed over a substantial period of time to a serious breakdown in pastoral relations.  ‘Serious breakdown’ was defined as a situation which impedes the promotion of the Church’s mission in the parish (s.19A).

Unfortunately the inquiry procedure provided by the 1977 Measure was so lengthy and expensive that it was hardly ever used.  The case of Cheesman v Church Commissioners (1999) Privy Council 12 records that the Bishop in the case was forced to abandon proceedings against the Rev Mr Cheesman on account of their sheer length and expense (p.20).  The Bishop complained bitterly that the 1977 Measure was ‘a deeply flawed piece of legislation’ (quoted at p.22).  The Privy Council itself acknowledged that ‘It is [the Measure’s] structure which makes the implementation of the 1977 proceedings so cumbersome and uncertain in outcome’ (p.6).

As mentioned, the 1977 Measure applied only to incumbents and team vicars.  This was long before common tenure was introduced.  Licensed clergy who fell out with their parishioners would simply have their licences terminated.

However, s.11(6) of the Terms of Service Measure provides that the 1977 Measure does not apply to any clergy who are subject to common tenure.  This means that the 1977 Measure will soon become obsolete (to the extent that it is not already!) as all clergy will eventually be subject to common tenure. 

The effective repeal of the 1977 Measure under s.11(6), and the decision in Bland, imply that pastoral breakdown will in future be addressed by the capability procedure.

This may have implications for clergy who take advantage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to enter into homosexual ‘marriages’.  We have argued elsewhere that such clergy are safe from the ecclesiastical courts as the law now stands.  However, they may not be so safe from the capability procedure.  It is arguable that the procedure could be used to remove them from office if inquiry were to show, at least to the satisfaction of the Church authorities, that their status had caused pastoral difficulties.

Clergy Doctrine and Same Sex Marriage

In an earlier blogpost entitled ‘Clergy Discipline and Same Sex Marriage: Inappropriate Conduct?’, we argued that for a clergyman to enter into a same sex ‘marriage’ would not constitute disciplinary misconduct as the law now stands.  Clergy who enter such marriages should be safe from the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 unless and until the General Synod changes the law to make it a specific disciplinary offence to do so.  (This post is filed below.)

However, it has been argued elsewhere that same sex marriage by clergy would or might constitute an offence against doctrine, a so-called ‘reserved matter’, cognisable under the unrepealed provisions of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963.

The informative ‘Thinking Anglicans’ website has reported (3rd August 2014, drawing on an article in The Guardian newspaper) that this argument is favoured by supporters of gay marriage, in the belief that the 1963 Measure will afford greater protection for clergy than the 2003 Measure.  The 1963 procedure for reserved matters is cumbersome, and has never been used to date.  The penalties are also milder: ‘no censure more severe than monition shall be imposed unless the court is satisfied that the accused has already been admonished … in respect of another [similar] offence’ (s.49(3)).  (Perhaps this means that a clergyman could only be removed from office after entering a second gay marriage!)

Nevertheless, if the Thinking Anglicans / Guardian report is correct the said supporters are gravely mistaken.  They forget why the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 was passed in the first place.  Far from protecting clergy, the 1963 jurisdiction, if it applies, will render them much more vulnerable.

Before the Clergy Discipline Measure, only beneficed clergy enjoyed the protection of the ecclesiastical courts.  They could not be removed from office, or penalised in any way, unless the courts found them guilty of an offence.  Licensed clergy, by contrast, were at the mercy of their bishops.  If the bishop was satisfied that a licensed clergyman had misconducted himself, he could simply revoke the licence, without reference to the courts.  The bishop was both prosecutor and judge. 

Licensed clergy were understandably unhappy about this (especially as the secular law also denied them protection from unfair dismissal).  They started to join trade unions.

It was therefore one of the principal ‘selling points’ of the Clergy Discipline Measure that it granted the same disciplinary rights to licensed clergy as those enjoyed by beneficed clergy.  Thus s.8(2) of the Measure provides that ‘In the case of a minister licensed to serve in a diocese by the bishop thereof, the licence shall not be terminated by reason of that person’s misconduct otherwise than by way of [disciplinary] proceedings’, i.e the proceedings provided by the Measure.

This means that, if same sex marriage is not a conduct matter governed by the 2003 Measure but a reserved doctrinal matter governed by the 1963 Measure, the protection afforded by s.8(2) will be lost.  S.8(2) only applies to misconduct alleged under the 2003 Measure, not to offences against doctrine under the 1963 Measure.  Beneficed clergy may be alright, but licensed clergy will again be at the mercy of their bishops, just as they were before the 2003 Measure.

However, it is argued that a clergyman entering a same sex marriage is plainly not a reserved doctrinal matter.  Offences against doctrine under the 1963 Measure are intellectual in character.  They concern the expression of religious opinions that are contrary to the Church’s teaching.  Getting married is obviously not an expression of opinion, even though it may be motivated by religious opinion.  It is an act, a matter of conduct. 

Almost any serious misconduct alleged under the 2003 Measure ‘unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in holy orders’ (e.g committing adultery, getting drunk, being rude to people) will involve some contravention of the Church’s teaching.  That is precisely why the conduct is unbecoming and inappropriate.  However, contravention of the Church’s teaching by misconduct does not turn a conduct case into a doctrinal case.

The ecclesiastical jurisdiction over doctrinal offences is discussed in another post entitled ‘The Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved: England’s Inquisition’, filed under the category ‘Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction’.

Clergy Discipline and Same Sex Marriage: Inappropriate Conduct?

‘it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in Holy Orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives’  (House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance)

‘Disciplinary proceedings under this Measure may be instituted against any [ordained minister] alleging … conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders’ (Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, s.8(1)).

Although the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 effectively forbids the solemnisation of homosexual ‘marriages’ in church, it does not forbid clergy from entering into same sex marriages.  However, the House of Bishops of the General Synod has just issued a robust statement entitled ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’, affirming that ‘the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged’.  The statement was published, appropriately enough, on St. Valentine’s Day, 14th February 2014 (accessed on the Church of England’s internet website the following day).

The statement does not explicitly threaten disciplinary action against clergy who take advantage of the 2013 Act to enter into same sex marriages.  However, the assertion quoted above, that to do so ‘would not be appropriate conduct’, may contain a broad hint (reinforced by being printed in bold text on the internet).  The words ‘appropriate conduct’ echo s.8(1) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, also quoted above.

Of course, the House of Bishops is not able to decide authoritatively if making a same sex marriage constitutes misconduct under the 2003 Measure.  The Measure confers that power on the disciplinary tribunals constituted by the Measure, and on the higher ecclesiastical courts (cf s.17 and s.20).  The House can only express the collective or majority opinion of its members.  Nor is the House even in a position, collectively, to institute disciplinary action against clergy.  That is the individual responsibility of each diocesan bishop (cf. s.12).

Criminality and Immorality

As the accompanying Code of Practice points outs, the Clergy Discipline Measure provides no further definition of ‘unbecoming or inappropriate’ conduct (para 28).  However, the legislative history of s.8(1) may give some indication of its intended scope.

In the presecular era there was probably little distinction between law and morality.  Behaviour considered immoral was generally also illegal, at least if done in public.  The 1662 Ordinal (and its predecessors) give opportunity to object to the ordination of a deacon or priest on the ground of a ‘notable crime‘.  Writing in the early 18th century, John Ayliffe suggested that ‘All the causes of deprivation [of clergy] may be reduced to these three heads … want of capacity, contempt [of the ecclesiastical court] and crimes‘ (cited in Combe v De la Bere (1881) 6 Probate Division 157 at 163).

Clergy lifestyles were regulated by canon 75 of 1603.  Canon 75 provides that clergy ‘shall not give themselves to any base or servile labour, or to drinking or riot, spending their time idly … playing at dice, cards or tables, or any other unlawful games’.  Canon 109 deprecates ‘adultery, whoredom, incest or drunkenness … swearing, ribaldry, usury and any other uncleanness and wickedness of life’, whether by clergy or laity.  In the early modern period, the ecclesiastical courts were known affectionately as ‘the bawdy courts’, because they exercised criminal jurisdiction in respect of such behaviours.

In the late 19th century ecclesiastical law was amended to take account of the growing divergence between secular law and Christian morality, in order to preserve clergy discipline.  The Clergy Discipline Act 1892 was passed ‘for better enforcing discipline in the case of crimes and other offences against morality committed by clergymen’ (recital).  It provided that clergy were liable to ecclesiastical discipline for ‘an immoral act, immoral conduct or immoral habit’ (s.2).  It further provided that these forms of immorality ‘shall include such acts, conduct and habits as are proscribed by [canons 75 and 109]’: ‘shall include’ suggests that immoral behaviour is not limited to that suggested by canons 75 and 109.

Then the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 provided an ecclesiastical offence of ‘conduct unbecoming the office and work of a clerk in holy orders’ (s.14).  ‘Unbecoming’ may be a rather broader term than ‘immoral’.  The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 seems to broaden the scope of clergy discipline still further, with its phrase ‘conduct unbecoming or inappropriate’, in s.8(1).

Is the wording of s.8(1) broad enough to discipline a clergyman for entering into a same sex marriage?  The purpose of the 2003 Measure was to provide a disciplinary regime for clergy similar to that of secular professions such as doctors or lawyers.  The old terminology which suggested that the ecclesiastical courts exercise a ‘criminal’ jurisdiction over clergy was dropped.  The standard of proof of misconduct was also lowered from the high criminal standard to the civil standard (s.18(3)).  Nevertheless, the Clergy Discipline Measure is still penal, or quasi-criminal, in character.  This means that s.8(1) must be interpreted restrictively or narrowly.

Homosexual acts may be capable of constituting misconduct under s.8(1).  This is clear both from the plain wording of s.8(1) and its legislative history.  However, it does not follow from this that entering into a same sex marriage would contravene s.8(1).  Modern ecclesiastical legislation makes clear that the clergy cannot justify their immoral behaviour merely because such behaviour is no longer illegal.  The law has permitted or tolerated homosexual acts for many years now.  However, as a result of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, same sex marriage is not merely an act that the law permits or tolerates.  It is a status that is positively conferred by law.

It is therefore hard to argue that the law should regard as immoral, or even as unbecoming and inappropriate, the acquisition of a status that the law itself confers.

Doctrine and Discipline

Such an argument is also contradicted by the Court of the Arches’ decision in Banister v Thompson (1908) Probate 362.  The decision, like the House of Bishops’ pastoral guidance, concerned a marriage that was valid in English law but contrary to the Church’s teaching, in that case marriage to a deceased wife’s sister.  Canon Thompson refused to give Holy Communion to a parishioner, Mr Banister, who had made such a marriage.  When disciplined for this, he relied on the ecclesiastical jurisdiction to refuse the Sacrament to an ‘open and notorious evil liver’.

The Court did not deny that Mr Banister’s marriage contradicted the Church’s teaching.  It even admitted the difficulty: ‘the recent Act [legalising marriage to a deceased wife’s sister] seems to recognise a distinction between the civil and ecclesiastical aspects of marriage, and to alter the law as to the one without purporting to affect the law as to the other … This … creates some difficulty for those who are concerned with its administration’ (p.389).

Nevertheless, the Court firmly rejected Canon Thompson’s defence and upheld Mr Banister’s right to receive Holy Communion.  It was ‘impossible to say that these persons [Mr and Mrs Banister], lawfully married … can … be so described [as open and notorious evil livers] merely because they are living together as man and wife’ (p.390).  The Church’s teaching per se was not sufficient to justify the legal sanction.

It is true that the facts of Banister v Thompson were different from those addressed by the House of Bishops.  The case concerned a lay parishioner’s right to the Sacrament, not a clergyman’s tenure of office.  However, it makes the point that the law cannot very well condemn someone for making a lawful marriage, even if the marriage contradicts the Church’s teaching.  The accusation ‘conduct unbecoming or inappropriate’ is couched in milder language than that of ‘open and notorious evil liver’, but the potential consequences (removal from office, prohibition for life from officiating as a clergyman) are still severe.

The House of Bishops’ statement suggests that ‘The effect of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 … [is that] there will, for the first time, be a divergence between the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer’ (para 9).  Banister v Thompson, which is now more than 100 years old, reminds us that this is not the case.  The 2013 Act has undoubtedly widened the ‘divergence’ between Church and state concerning marriage.  However, the divergence  began at least as early as 1857.  By permitting the dissolution of the marriage contract by divorce, and remarriage after divorce, the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 effectively denied the Church’s teaching that the marriage contract, once validly made, is indissoluble except by the death of one of the spouses.

Ecclesiastical law responded to the divergence by imposing disciplinary penalties on clergy who became involved in divorce proceedings.  Today the Clergy Discipline Measure makes clear that clergy who are divorced or separated for adultery or unreasonable behaviour are liable to penalties (ss.30 and 31).  Clergy are also required to disclose divorce and separation orders involving them (s.34).

However, there is still no law to forbid a clergyman who has been divorced from marrying again, even though his former spouse is still alive, or from marrying a divorced person.  There is a general rule that a person who has been divorced and remarried etc may not be ordained, but still nothing to prevent a divorced person who has already been ordained from remarrying.  Even the general rule forbidding ordination is no longer absolute.  A bishop may now obtain a faculty from the Archbishop to permit the ordination of a divorced and remarried person, or the spouse of such person.  (See canon C4(3) and (3A) of the Canons of the Church of England.)

Thus, if a clergyman is to be disciplined for making a same sex marriage, the court may want to know why such a marriage constitutes ‘inappropriate conduct’ under s.8(1) of the Clergy Discipline Measure, when a second marriage following divorce apparently does not.

For these reasons it is suggested that s.8(1), despite its broad wording, is still not broad enough to discipline clergy for making a same sex marriage that is lawful under English law.

This conclusion does not deny the force of the House of Bishops’ statement qua pastoral guidance.  As the statement says, ‘[clergy] getting married to someone of the same sex would … clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England’ (para 26).  The teaching is found in Canon B30 and in the Book of Common Prayer, which are cited in the statement.

Thus for clergy to make same sex marriages is indeed unbecoming and inappropriate in the context of Canon B30 and the Prayer Book.  However, the disciplinary offence of ‘conduct unbecoming or inappropriate’ must be understood in the context of the Clergy Discipline Measure, and not (at least not directly) in the context of Canon B30 and the Prayer Book.  The Clergy Discipline Measure itself must be understood in the context of English law, of which it is a part.

Discipline and Pastoral Care

The case of Bland v Archdeacon of Cheltenham (1972) 1 All England Reports 1012 makes clear that disciplinary proceedings should not be used as a device for resolving a pastoral difficulty, however genuine and serious.  The Rev Mr Bland was found guilty of various ecclesiastical offences and sentenced to be deprived of his benefice.  His cantankerous behaviour had alienated the parishioners to such an extent that his Sunday services were attended only by his housekeeper.  The chancellor therefore held that ‘it is my duty to pass sentence pro salute animarum, for the good of souls, which includes both [Mr Bland] and the souls of [his parishioners] … the convicted clerk and the cures where he was working [should] part company now for ever’ (p.1021).

However, the Court of the Arches strongly disapproved this decision, as based on ‘a wholly wrong approach’.  It held that ‘The paramount consideration in selecting the appropriate sentence for an [ecclesiastical] offence … should be the gravity of the offence.  Censure of deprivation … should never be pronounced in respect of an offence which does not merit such censure merely because it is highly desirable to part an incumbent from his parish and there is no other administrative method of removing him from his benefice’ (p.1021-22).

Of course, the Bland case was not concerned with the Church’s teaching.  However, it was concerned with the relationship between ecclesiastical discipline and pastoral care.  Clergy who enter into same sex marriages create a pastoral problem, for the reason identified by the House of Bishops.  They may not drive their parishioners from the Church as the Rev Mr Bland apparently did, but they still cause the Church’s teaching on marriage to be misrepresented or obscured (cf Pastoral Guidance, para 24).

The Court of the Arches’ dictum in Bland, emphasising that an ecclesiastical penalty must be determined according to the gravity of the offence, reinforces its decision in Banister v Thompson.  How can a lawful marriage be regarded as a ‘grave offence’, or indeed as any offence?

The obvious legal solution to the pastoral difficulty is to amend the law, and so bring clergy discipline into alignment with the Church’s teaching.  This would require new legislation making it a specific ecclesiastical offence for clergy to enter into same sex marriages.

Any amendment of the Clergy Discipline Measure to include such an offence would, of course, require the approval of Parliament, which might not be forthcoming in the present climate of opinion.  However, the General Synod has a common law power to legislate by canon, inherited from the Convocations, which does not require parliamentary approval (see Synodical Government Measure 1969).

It has been suggested that canons made under this common law power are not binding upon lay people, but there is no doubt that they are capable of binding the clergy.  The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 also confirms that ‘No Canon of the Church of England is contrary to s.3 of the Submission of the Clergy Act 1533 [ie. no Canon is contrary to the secular law] … by virtue of its making provision about marriage being the union of one man with one woman’ (s.1(3)).  The phrase ‘provision about marriage’, not being limited to the Church’s teaching on marriage, would seem to be broad enough to encompass a new disciplinary canon forbidding clergy to enter into same sex marriages.