SMF's Response to the Simplification Group Report
Posted on the 22nd Jul 2015 in the category Resources
The Report of the Simplification Task Group can be viewed here. Their proposals affecting patronage are on page 29.
22 July 2015
Thank you for the invitation to respond to the proposals set out in the recent Simplification Group report. The Society for the Maintenance of the Faith (SMF) is a patronage trust that holds the right of presentation (for the most part jointly with others) to 84 livings across 29 dioceses.
Our particular concern is with Recommendation 17a," In relation to the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986: ... Provide for the right of presentation to lapse to the Diocesan Bishop rather than the Archbishop of the Province after nine months."This proposal would fundamentally upset the delicate checks and balances that allow the patron, the parishioners, and the bishop, each a proper role in the appointment of a new incumbent. As pastoral reorganisation brings about the combination of parishes into increasingly larger benefices, there is an ever diminishing number of benefices to which a presentation can be made by a private patron or patronage trust etc. without their having to exercise patronage jointly with the bishop as joint patron. In such cases the bishop will usually want to take the lead in managing the appointment process, and consequently, in many cases, the bishop already has an effective veto at an early stage. Furthermore, if, as is now proposed, the bishop could be certain of introducing a favoured candidate to a benefice simply by default after the lapse of nine months had elapsed, the temptation to draw out the process with this in mind might well prove too great to resist.
We note from Annex 1 to the Report that concern was expressed that the nine months lapse is in fact unnecessary. The SMF shares that concern, and is dismayed to find that no recommendation is made in the report to address it. If we actually were allowed the full nine months period in which to make a presentation we would be content, but increasingly we now find that the formal Notice of Vacancy is not issued until some weeks or even months after the benefice becomes vacant, ostensibly in order to allow the possibility of pastoral reorganisation to be discussed by the diocesan MPC. For example, the benefice of Brighton St Michael & Brighton St Paul, (Diocese of Chichester) of which the SMF is sole patron, became vacant on 30 November 2014, but it was not until 15 January that the Notice of Vacancy was finally issued, i.e. more than six weeks later. It is not suggested that there is any intent in such circumstances to frustrate the patron's ability to make an appointment in the specified time-frame, but that is often the outcome.
If the provision for the right of presentation to lapse after nine months must in fact be retained, we would nevertheless wish to propose a modest amendment to the legislation, so that the nine months' period should be deemed to commence not on the date of the actual vacancy, but instead on the date of issue of the formal Notice of Vacancy. This simple reform would both restore the legitimate right of the patrons to exercise their duties within a reasonable time-frame, and also allow the diocesan authorities time to consider necessary pastoral reorganisation without thereby making the patrons' task unnecessarily difficult.
The Reverend John Hanks
General Secretary, Society for the Maintenance of the Faith