Ten Years into his Reign, is Carey presiding over a Church facing Ruin?

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Wed May 2 00:21:51 EDT 2001


Ten years into his reign, is Carey presiding over a Church facing ruin?

By Paul Vallely and Chris Gray
The Independent

Let's keep it all low-key, Dr George Carey told his friends and
officials, when they asked how he wanted to celebrate his 10th
anniversary as Archbishop of Canterbury, which passed largely
unremarked last week. It's not hard to see why.

A top-level summit has been called inside the Church of England as its
senior officials nervously await the publication of two major reports
on its steadily deteriorating finances - which could mean it will have
to sell off half its assets to pay clergy pensions and ask its ever-
dwindling congregations to put more than ever in the collection plate.

Next month the chairmen of the boards of finance of the Church's 43
dioceses will meet - together with the Church Commissioners and the
finance committee of the Archbishops' Council - to consider the two
reports. The first will reveal the extent of the church's pension
liabilities. The second will disclose the current value of the assets
of the institution which was once one of the wealthiest in Britain.

The provision of pensions to retired clergymen and their widows has
been a mess for some years now. In the 1980s the Church Commissioners
saw £800m wiped off the value of their investments, following a series
of disastrous property speculations. They also seriously miscalculated
the cost of clergy pensions. A rescue deal was done which passed
responsibility for pensions from the Church Commissioners to ordinary
parishes.

Yet church officials now fear that the position is continuing to
worsen. Assets held by the Church Commissioners were last valued at
£4.4bn but it is thought the forthcoming review will give them an even
lower value. That will mean that more than half will need to be sold
off over 60 years to meet the pension commitments to clergy who retired
before 1998.

To make matters worse, it has now emerged that many clergy pension
monies were invested in the troubled insurance company Equitable Life.
The former president of the mutual company, John Sclater, was until
recently the First Church Estates Commissioner and was, as such,
charged with the responsibility of managing the assets against which
the church pensions were secured.

Last month he resigned, just as he had quit the top job at Equitable
Life over the handling of a pledge to guarantee annuities to some
policyholders at the expense of others.

The cost of all this has now to be met by the money which ordinary
Anglicans put in the collection each week. After the devastating £800m
loss church leaders appealed for the people in the pew to be more
generous.

But though the amount put in the plate every week has risen from an
average of £4 to £6 per person, it is now estimated that churchgoers
will have to increase their giving again - by another £85m a year by
2003.

The trouble is that the total numbers of church members is continuing
to fall. Although 43 per cent of the population claim to be Anglicans,
nearly half never go to church, and only 24 per cent go once a month,
according to the latest survey. And those who do go are getting older -
and themselves becoming pensioners who cannot give as much as before.

The Church is also currently holding a review to decide whether or not
to turn clerics into paid employees rather than "servants of God" who
are given a stipend. It could save money on the perks of the clergy's
"job for life" status - ending free housing, car loans and expenses.
But it will increase the church's £175m wage bill - the 1,500 vicars
represented by the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union want the
basic salary to go up from £16,400 to £20,000.

As a result the Church Commissioners are already looking to make
savings elsewhere. They are casting an eye over the art treasures held
by the Church for centuries. One set of works targeted are paintings by
the 17th century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran that have hung in
Auckland Castle, the £1.5m residence of the Bishop of Durham, for more
than 250 years. The paintings, collectively known as Jacob and his
Twelve Sons, are valued at £10m and Spain's national art gallery is
known to be interested in acquiring them.  Bishops' palaces are also
under scrutiny. There was an independent review of episcopal spending
last year which raised eyebrows over the cost of chauffeurs and
hospitality budgets. Some of the more costly 114 bishops' palaces could
be sold off.  The Commissioners have even ventured into controversial
territory with a plan to triple rents at some central London homes
traditionally reserved for the low paid. It owns almost 1,600 houses on
the Octavia Hill estates around Waterloo, an area which is being
rapidly gentrified. But the plan to rent two-thirds of them at the full
market value has been attacked by local clergy who say it will break up
stable communities in an area that is becoming beyond the reach of all
but the rich.

But it is not just money troubles which have marred Dr Carey's 10th
year in office. Doubts are being expressed about the reform of the
church's central decision-making structures which he implemented two
years ago.

The aim was to modernise and bring in new management systems which
transferred more control to the centre and reduced duplication and red
tape. At its heart was the new Archbishops' Council, chaired by Dr
Carey and the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope. It meets monthly to
determine national management strategy.

Many church leaders feel it is still too soon to judge its success. But
critics have attacked it, saying Dr Carey is seeking to become the
equivalent of an Anglican Pope and complained that a review currently
being led by Lord Hurd, the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, is
another scheme to gain greater powers and more money for the
Archbishop.

Their critique was given unexpected support recently by Dr Hope who
cuttingly described the council, of which he is co-chairman, as
"Carey's curia". Its "top-down approach" he said was "altogether too
hierarchical" and "alien to an Anglican understanding both of the
Church and of its structures and authority".

All of which might sound rather grim to an outsider. But hope springs
eternal in the Christian breast. "We are concerned but not alarmed,"
one commissioner said yesterday.

Even so, it seems pretty obvious why Dr Carey thought it best to keep
his head down.

END




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