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Bishop Warns Of 'Serious Risks' To CofE Reputation After Cathedral Cash Crisis

Bishop Warns Of 'Serious Risks' To CofE Reputation After Cathedral Cash Crisis

By Ruth Gledhill
January 6, 2016

Twelve people have been made redundant at the Peterborough Cathedral as the bishop seeks to resolve a "cash flow crisis" at the historic medieval cathedral.

The Bishop of Peterborough launched an inquiry last autumn after the Early English Gothic former Benedictine abbey built in the 12th century, got into financial difficulties.

The cathedral was running at a "substantial" loss, most of its properties were mortgaged, there were no free reserves and serious levels of debt.

In the resulting "visitation charge", a legal document published today, Bishop Donald Allister says the redundancies were "necessary" along with some property sales. And he warns that more "tough decisions" lie ahead.

He also warns that the current independence enjoyed by England's 42 cathedrals poses "serious risks" to the reputation of the entire Church of England.

The cathedral, which will be celebrating its 900th anniversary next year, last year suffered a "cash flow crisis" as a result of problems far deeper than simply managing cash flow, he writes.

Cathedrals are normally the province of a dean and chapter, made up of both canons of the cathedral and, more recently, some lay members as well. Cathedrals also have larger bodies, councils, which meet twice a year to advise the chapter. The bishop has a right to preach in the cathedral and under his or her powers as visitor, can invoke other powers, discussed recently on the Law and Religion blog.

In his charge, the Bishop of Peterborough takes advantage of this.

He says the cathedral is the "mother church" of the diocese as well as the "bishop's cathedral". He says the bishop should be invited to attend and speak at chapter meetings and directs that he sent all copies of chapter papers.

"There has been a culture of small groups within chapter making decisions," he writes. He directs it instead to make its decisions corporately, to give lay members and part-time members with the full-time Canons, and to stop using the term "dean and chapter".

Bishop Allister also warns that the Church of England's reputation is at risk and calls for the laws surrounding cathedrals to be tightened up.

"The Peterborough situation has convinced me that the high degree of independence currently enjoyed by cathedrals poses serious risks to the reputation of the whole Church, and thus to our effectiveness in mission. A closer working relationship of cathedrals with their bishop and diocese would be of benefit to all, both practically and spiritually," he writes.

Canon Jonathan Baker, the Acting Dean, said: "While the cathedral faces many challenges, there are also some exciting opportunities for us to seize as we move into a new phase of serving the diocese and city of Peterborough."

A spokesperson for The Church Commissioners said: "We were made aware of the financial difficulties at Peterborough Cathedral last year and have worked with both the cathedral and Bishop Donald to provide support."

He added: "Cathedrals offer spiritual sanctuary for millions of people each year and are the jewels in the nation's heritage crown. The financial problems that have faced Peterborough Cathedral are being resolved. Together our 42 cathedrals will continue to serve their communities and prosper for the benefit of future generations."

Bishop Allister said in a statement: "This wasn't about attributing blame. It was to help the Cathedral get things onto a better footing for the future."


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