A presentation will be given to the
General Synod on the progress regarding the review of the clergy terms of service. The
most controversial proposals to date have been related to changes in clergy
freehold and the property relating to freehold.
We are grateful to John Masdin of
the English Clergy Association for permission to publish the following article
on clergy freehold and some of the changes being consiidered.
of Service Review - John Masding
Synod ought not to be bamboozled
by the wrong-headed and disingenuous persistent recommendations of the Clergy
Terms of Service Review Group. The recommendations to change the ownership
of Parsonage Houses are not appropriate. The Group’s earlier report The
Property Issues Revisited (GS1593) was debated by the Synod in November 2005.
It took account of the reservations expressed by Synod during the February
debate and replaced them with recommendations that the parsonage house should
vest in the Diocesan Parsonages Board (and not, it is said, be accessible to
creditors in the event of the DBF's insolvency) and that decisions about the
houses of parochial clergy should no longer be taken by committees with more
general finance or property responsibilities. Is this plausible, and right?
Quite apart from the asset-stripping implications, most parsonages having been
locally provided effectively by Patrons and Parishioners, or earlier Incumbents
themselves, there will be untoward consequences. First, people would be less
inclined to bequeath or donate monies and estates to local Churches when they
saw how easily General Synod could legislate to expropriate property. Second,
in the event of legal proceedings over the debts or bankruptcy of a diocese
or its Board of Finance, it is far from certain that the Courts would not be
persuaded by urgent creditors that a Diocesan Parsonages Board was just a device:
not truly an independent corporate body holding ring-fenced assets! Are we
not asked to be not a little naïve? Parsonages would likely go into the
pot of debt. To be inaccessible to diocesan creditors, Parsonages are safer
in their present ownerships by incumbent clergy. Third, the continued ownership
and control of their Freehold property by Rectors and Vicars as Corporations
Sole is some small consolation to vulnerable clergy, and in Natural Justice
modest compensation for the fact that they are not, like almost everyone else,
able to have the home security of a personal freehold property. Human Rights
are at stake. If the law obliges Incumbents to live in official residences
approved by the diocese, and not in private houses, they would be now doubly
the losers, possessing neither kind of security. They are already in a far
weaker position than Dignitaries, who are well empowered in Church decision-making
and lose less by not having freehold of their houses.
GS 1593 also recommended that “the vestigial (sic) legal estate in the
church and churchyard should continue to vest in the incumbent as ‘corporation
sole’. An amendment which would have had the effect of leaving the ownership
of the parsonage house with the incumbent as corporation sole was narrowly
lost by 11 votes.” The Group listed various rights and duties in relation
to Churches and Churchyards, curiously without stating the obvious implications
of freehold, which are well established in law. These facts were ignored. The
Incumbent is the only person entitled to the keys of the Church. He is the
only person entitled to go in and out at will. He has, under such law as may
apply, control of the Church’s use – although the Churchwardens
may legitimately comment on the use to which he puts the Vestries; and, if
rooms have been built attached to the Church on consecrated ground or in its
curtilage, they will be under the Incumbent’s control and the Faculty
will perhaps have asked the P.C.C. to record in its Minutes that it knows this,
and understands that in a Vacancy it will be not the P.C.C. but the Sequestrators
who exercise the Incumbent’s guardianship of his Freehold. The Review
Group’s assertion of vestigiality is as misleading as its assertion about
the equivalence of “defined rights and responsibilities instead of property
ownership – essentially the same protections will be afforded”.
King William III. Declared that one of James II.’s most notorious legal
transgressions had been against the Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford, who “were
turned out of their freeholds, contrary to law, and to that express provision
of Magna Charta, that no man shall lose his life, or goods, but by the law
of the land”.
It is not appropriate that General Synod should put legislation to Parliament
which would remove from the weak the small security of their goods, their undoubted
local Freehold – which is theirs for service of the people, a kind of
trusteeship for the good of the Parishioners at large – for no clear
and certain benefit to clergy or people, setting a dangerous confiscatory precedent
which later could be applied to other local Church properties such as Halls.
Chairman, English Clergy Association.
Previous Reports on this issue
Terms of Service Property Issues - November 2005