The season of ill-will

For the first time in 100 Christmases, Lincoln's Bishop stays away from his own cathedral
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The Independent Online
On the day of good will to all men, there was little to be found in Lincoln. For the first time in more than a century, the Bishop of that diocese refused to preach his Christmas sermon in his own cathedral.

Instead, the Rt Rev Robert Hardy took to the pulpit in the parish church of Welbourne, a village 10 miles south. It was the latest demonstration of struggles between the cathedral's dean, Dr Brandon Jackson, and almost everyone he works with.

The Bishop's theme was the futility of rushing around at Christmas time: we do not need to hurry to God; He has come down to meet us. The Bishop did not refer to any world troubles nor the scandals at his cathedral; he did not need to. The row is infamous, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and most the of cathedral staff urging Dean Jackson to resign.

Bishop Hardy had been scheduled to preach at the 9.30am service at Lincoln Cathedral yesterday. Instead, Canon Andrew Stokes gave a sermon, on ways to deal with anger. The message of Good Friday and the reconciliation between man and God describe how to deal with increasing anger, which manifests itself in problems like road rage, he said.

Rage has characterised exchanges between Lincoln's clergy in recent years. The appeals for resignations have become more and more desperate. Yet it all started so well. When Dean Jackson was appointed Dean in 1989, he came with a reputation as a moderniser and efficient administrator, which was, Margaret Thatcher had been told, just what the cathedral needed. "There'll be blood on the carpet before he's done," she is meant to have said when she chose him. The source of this story is uncertain, but it is almost certainly the dean.

He was an early media vicar and was religious adviser to Yorkshire Television 1969-79. In 1995, as he faced a consistory court over allegations of an improper relationship with a female parishioner, he was described by his friend the Bishop of Ripon as "the epitome of a Christian gentleman" and this seems to have been pretty much his own opinion too.

In the early years of his feud at Lincoln he was always available to visiting journalists, and told them far more than they could print. They were his main allies in his struggle against the sub-dean and treasurer, Canon Rex Davis, an Australian who had worked at the World Council of Churches and who had originally also been regarded as a moderniser.

His wife, Caroline, was a leader of the Movement for the Ordination of Women. But in the mediaeval constitution of Lincoln cathedral, he found a niche that suited him down to the ground. A fairly vigorous attempt to reform the cathedral's constitution had been made in 1529. It failed. Since then, nothing had disturbed the balance of power between the dean and the four residentiary canons who form the governing body of the cathedral with him. The essence of this balance is that everything important must be done by consensus. Neither the dean nor the rest of the chapter run the cathedral but each can stop the other running it; and neither can be removed except by death or a criminal trial. So far as we know, murder has not been attempted over the past seven tears. Everything else has been, from criminal proceedings to archiepiscopal exhortations.

Dean Jackson came from Bradford Cathedral, which has a modern constitution which means the provost, the equivalent of the dean, runs it. At Lincoln he needed a reason to force out chapter members he regarded as obstructive - which, it became clear, meant them all.

He thought he had found it when accounts came to light of a fund-raising trip to Australia that Canon Davis had undertaken in 1988. He took the cathedral's copy of the Magna carta, one of the four originals, with a party containing family members, to an international exhibition for six months. At the end of that time, the Cathedral had lost pounds 56,000 on the deal.

Dean Jackson called in the Fraud Squad and gave the story to the press. Canon Davis refused to resign, and reported him to the Press Council. The Bishop mounted an investigation which concluded after a year that the whole chapter should resign, with the Dean. All refused. The two men at the heart of the matter went to counselling together for a year. The counsellors gave up, as did the Fraud Squad. During the first years of the decade, Dean Jackson managed to rid himself of all the original chapter members except Canon Davis.

In an entirely related development, a commission under Lady Howe was set up to examine government of English cathedrals, and recommended reforms which will prevent any cathedral clergy hanging on to their jobs in the face of such universal appeals to go.

Then came the news that a former verger at the cathedral, Verity Freestone, had accused the Dean of a brief affair with her. He was acquitted after a three-day trial held in the oldest purpose-built lunatic asylum in Britain. At a press conference he accused the Bishop of being part of a conspiracy against him, and demand that he resign. The Bishop refused.

For most of last winter Dr Carey tried in secret to persuade both the dean and sub-dean to resign. Dr Jackson apparently agreed in principle, but demanded financial compensation and an assurance that Canon Davis would quit at the same time. This last condition appears to have been dropped. Last week his solicitor said he was negotiating a payoff with Lambeth Palace and that Dr Jackson will probably leave in the new year. "I'll believe it when I see it," said a member of the bishop's staff. Asked whether Bishop Hardy gave good sermons, Mary Jackson, wife of Dean Jackson, said: "If I said what I thought, I wouldn't want you to print it."