Bishops 'should stop living in palaces': Canon calls for modest lifestyles at General Synod as Carey says Church is living beyond means. Andrew Brown reports

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CHURCH of England bishops should stop living in 'magnificent palaces' with chauffeurs, gardeners and handymen, a canon told a General Synod debate on the church's finances yesterday.

Canon John Stanley, of Liverpool, urged that the Church Commissioners stop supporting bishops in their present magnificent palaces. 'I am aware how difficult it would be to get rid of some of them, but are they appropriate to the role of a bishop in today's Church? Would not a more modest residence speak more clearly of the priorities of the Gospel?

'Bishops lead a very pressurised life, but I still think it is right to ask if it is necessary for them to employ over 30 chauffeurs, not to mention gardeners and handymen.'

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said the Church was living beyond its means in the wake of an pounds 800m drop in the value of its assets and must cut costs. He said the Church's financial difficulties posed a greater challenge than the crisis over the ordination of women.

The synod was debating a report on the problems of the Church Commissioners, who lost pounds 800m on property speculation in the late Eighties.

The Archbishop warned that if the Church carried on living beyond its means, problems could become unmanageable: 'We must act now to ensure they do not become so,' he said.

The first task was to cut pounds 20m from the Church Commissioners' expenditure within the next three years, while parish giving needed to rise by 15 per cent.

John Smallwood, a former Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, said that though he had been a member of the Commissioners' Board of Governors since 1968, he had repeatedly had requests for information blocked by the assets committee, which made the investment decisions.

He criticised the report into the debacle produced by the accountants Coopers & Lybrand this summer, which, he said, had accepted the theory that the assets committee had been put under pressure by the synod and the general purposes committee.

'At no time did the general purposes committee and board apply pressure to create income, and Coopers have misread or misinterpreted,' he said.

'There was some surprise in the 1980s about the amounts being made available, and the speed of growth. When questions were asked, we were told, 'there's plenty of income around'; when a colleague asked, 'When will it stop?', the answer was, 'I can see no reason why it should ever stop.' It has now stopped.'

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Waine, who chaired the Church's inquiry into the debacle, said that there were three main reasons for it:

The commissioners' assets committee increased an already large exposure to property . . . by borrowing to finance speculative property development;

The assets committee failed to ensure that they had regular and accurate reports . . . to enable them to control commercial property developments adequately;

The commissioners have taken on commitments to finance clergy benefits which are in excess of the commissioners' financial capacity. Bishop Waine apologised for the Church Commissioners' failings.

The synod voted overwhelmingly for a motion calling for a review of the Church's overall organisational structure and 'recognising that a renewed emphasis is required on the need to shift from dependence on the Church's historic assets to realistic and proportionate giving to the Church by all its active members, and close scrutiny of expenditure at all levels of the Church.'

(Photograph omitted)