Volume > Issue > The Astronomical Cost of Priestesses In the Church of England

The Astronomical Cost of Priestesses In the Church of England


By Tom Watkins | May 2002
Tom Watkins (a pseudonym) is a former Anglican priest in England.

There are few educated and alert souls who would not be attracted by the beauty of the (Anglican) Church of England. Visitors to England marvel at the mellow medieval stone churches nestled in picturesque villages, where they have resided for ages. In Oxford and Cambridge the Church of England seems a cornerstone of the establishment, with college chapels and men’s choirs singing the services in the most exquisite musical tradition in Christendom. The cathedrals are glorious centers of historical and tasteful religion. To be Anglican in England is to share in probably the most sublime music, architecture, and liturgy in the world. But underneath the flawless exterior, the beautiful old Church of England is in deepening crisis.

The number of worshipers has plummeted so dramatically that the Church of England no longer publishes annual figures. The Church is currently led by an Archbishop of Canterbury who, because he is from a working-class background, attended a minor university and a fringe seminary, and is a low-church evangelical, is regarded with embarrassment by his colleagues and bewilderment by the English establishment at large. He has recently announced that he will resign his position on October 31, three years ahead of his scheduled retirement in 2005. The leadership of the Church presides over increasing doctrinal fragmentation, internecine wars between liberals and conservatives, and a constant struggle between the thriving but conservative Third World churches and the “pluriform” branch of Anglicanism known as the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., which is wealthy but not thriving.

The chaos is exacerbated by the continuing financial crisis in the Church of England. Since her enrichment from the despoliation of the Catholic Church at the Reformation she was for centuries the richest landowner after the monarch. But in recent years the Church Commissioners (the Anglican equivalent of the Vatican bank) have lost millions of pounds in bad property deals and disastrous investments. The grim picture is further exacerbated by the large compensation payments being made to the hundreds of clergy who have left Anglicanism — usually for Rome — since the 1992 decision to ordain women. No one is saying just how much money has been paid out in compensation, and neither the Anglicans nor the Catholics are publishing statistics about how many have crossed the Tiber in the last nine years.

The compensation plan works like this: Any full-time Church of England clergyman who was in office for at least five years prior to 1992 is entitled to compensation if he resigns over women’s ordination. If he is younger than 50 years old he is eligible for three years of graded payments: He gets full salary the first year, two-thirds the second year, and one-half the third year. In addition, he and his spouse are eligible for the full Church of England Pensions Board housing benefit. This means the Pensions Board will either buy a house for the couple to rent, or provide up to £75,000 toward an equity shared mortgage. The couple is eligible for this benefit for the lifetime of both the clergyman and his wife. If the Anglican minister is over 50 he is eligible for a whopping 10 years of compensation, equivalent to a full pension. He is also eligible for the lifetime housing benefit. The legislation says claims may be made up to the year 2004.

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