Dear Dr Carey: Financial ineptitude has plunged the church into a crisis unlike anything since Cromwell, says the Labour MP. He urges the archbishop to take a firm hand

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As chairman of the Church Commissioners, you immediately took the lead once the extent of the commission's record losses became known. Your prompt action led to the establishment of a group to report on the causes of the fiasco and what should be done.

Most people applauded such resolute leadership. But ever since then it looks as though your efforts at reform have been sidelined. Why, for example, was Coopers & Lybrand appointed to carry out the technical side of your investigation? It was auditor to the companies set up by the commissioners in partnership with the property developers, which led to the catastrophic losses. Instead of asking questions as to what went wrong, Coopers & Lybrand should have been helping to answer them.

The Church of England now faces a crisis unlike anything since Cromwell's Protectorate. All those people who spoke so foolishly about the liberating effect of the losses should hold their tongues. The reckless use of the church's historic assets may well lead to less generous increases in clergy pensions, cuts in the already modest clergy stipends, or the employment of fewer clergy.

Cromwell knew that the way to break the church's influence was to destroy the parish system, whereby each local area has its own priest. Gambling with borrowed money on property deals looks like succeeding where Cromwell failed.

The permanent losses of income resulting from the commissioners' recent stewardship - or lack of it - could be made good by increased giving by the laity. My guess is that they will be unwilling to do so unless the following actions take place.

1. The architects of this affair should publicly apologise. It is important to grasp the difference between a proper apology and acts of recrimination - against which you have rightly spoken.

2. The untruths should stop about the causes of the losses. It is not due to the slump. It is due to gambling with borrowed money and getting it wrong.

3. Sir Michael Colman, the new First Church Estates Commissioner, needs 100 per cent backing for his efforts to reform the commissioners. He impressed the Commons Social Security Select Committee members when he appeared before them. He realises that the laity are not going to give money to the commissioners after their recent record. But here lies the greatest danger.

The Church of England claims to be a national church that is both comprehensive in its views and in its geographical coverage of the country. Fashions in churchmanship come and go. At the moment evangelicalism dominates. This would not matter very much if there was no financial crisis.

The evangelical parishes are, generally speaking, the richest, not only in having more members, but in attracting people of considerable wealth. More of this group must see that they have a responsibility to the Church of England as a whole. They must help the poorer parishes.

This horrendous crisis offers you the chance to show determined leadership. Your first move cannot be faulted. An effective follow-through is urgently required.

(Photograph omitted)

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