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 Issues | Local Church | Suspensions

Suspension of a Benefice and the Rights of Presentation

See also our leaflet for parishes on Suspensions

Response to a question on behalf of the Legal Advisory Commission. The following text is extracted from the record of Questions at the General Synod in February 2009.

Miss Prudence Dailey (Oxford Diocese) asked the Chairman of the Legal Advisory Commission:

Has any advice been given as to the circumstances, if any, in which it is permissible for a bishop to suspend all livings that become vacant in his diocese on the basis of pastoral reorganization within the diocese generally and without reference to any proposals in relation to the parish or benefice concerned?

The Vicar General of Canterbury (Chancellor Timothy Briden, ex officio) responded: I should make clear that I am answering this Question as nominee of the chairman of the Legal Advisory Commission.

The Legal Advisory Commission has not given advice on this issue and is not aware of any other central body having done so. However, section 9, paragraph 24 of the Pastoral Measure Code of Practice, issued by the Church Commissioners, recommends that the use of the power to suspend should in the main be confined to benefices where pastoral reorganization is under consideration or in progress and, occasionally, where a change of parsonage house is planned. The code also states
that suspension should not be applied for any longer than is necessary and that care should be taken to allay any fears on the part of clergy, patrons or parishioners that suspension is being used to exclude the rights of patrons.

The relevant paragraphs of the code are as follows:

‘Suspension of presentation
‘In June 1992, the House of Bishops passed a resolution:
“That this House;
(a) resolve to continue to act within the limits of the Pastoral Measure 1983 and its associated Code of Practice;
(b) note that sector ministry posts which are coupled with a suspended benefice come within the scope of pastoral reorganisation envisaged by the Measure;
(c) confirm its intention to work with and take account of the views of the registered patron and the parish even when presentation to a benefice is suspended.”.

‘The reference by the House of Bishops to sector ministry posts being coupled with a suspended benefice will normally refer to a benefice that has become too small to justify having a full time incumbent of its own but where reorganisation is not immediately required because of an opportunity for pastoral care to be undertaken by a priest with other
diocesan responsibilities.

9.22 The bishop is required to obtain the consent of the Diocesan Pastoral Committee and to consult the patron (as defined in s.87), the PCC(s), the rural dean and lay co-chairman of the deanery synod concerned before using his powers under the section to suspend (for not more than five years) a patron’s right of presentation to a vacant benefice. It is recommended that the formal consultation be undertaken by letter. The bishop is required, when he carries out these consultations, to give his reasons for proposing suspension or extension of suspension and to
advise any person to be consulted that he may, within 28 days, request a meeting with the bishop or his representative, to which all those to be consulted must be invited to attend. It will be apparent that the bishop should not have made up his mind before carrying out these statutory consultations; it is recommended that his letter to those who have to be consulted should indicate that the matter is open and that he is consulting them so that he can take their views properly into account when he comes to make his decision.

9.23 Suspension may be terminated by the bishop with the consent of the DPC. Suspension may also be renewed for a further period or periods with the same consent and following similar consultations, but only before the expiry of the suspension period. If a suspension period is not renewed before its expiry, no further suspension of presentation to a benefice is allowed during the relevant vacancy (but see 9.29).

9.24 It is recommended that use of these powers should, in the main, be confined to benefices where pastoral reorganisation is under consideration or in progress and, occasionally, where
a change of parsonage house is planned (see 8.6). Suspension should not be applied any longer than is necessary. Care should be taken to allay any fears on the part of the clergy, patrons and parishioners that suspension of presentation is being used to exclude the rights
of patrons.’

Later in the exchange

The Bishop of Chester (Rt Revd Peter Forster) asked:

Could the Chancellor explain why the advent of common tenure will make this process so different?

The Vicar General of Canterbury replied:

Common tenure as it were overtakes the legal basis upon which the arrangements under the Pastoral Measure were in operation and therefore it represents something of a legal sea-change. It is anticipated that in future, when common tenure is in operation, this sort of exercise is going to be much less common and indeed it will be very much easier, under the new legislation, to sort these matters out without recourse to section 67 of the Pastoral Measure.

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