Medieval statutes split power to create recipe for deadlock

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The Independent Online
WITH a cast of characters ranging from the fraud squad to professional counsellors, the rows at Lincoln Cathedral dramatised the clash between 14th-century statutes and 20th-century standards which yesterday's report aims to resolve, writes Andrew Brown.

The cathedral's problems came to a head in the 1970s and 1980s with an attempt to cash in on its historic assets. It owns one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta, which it sent to exhibitions around the world to raise funds. This had the incidental advantage for the chapter clergy of requiring them and their wives and friends to accompany it.

Under the 14th-century constitution of the cathedral, power was shared between the dean and the other four members of the chapter. In practice this resulted in a state of permanent deadlock, with the four chapter members defending what they saw as their historic right to do nothing the dean commanded.

A run of successful tours came to an end in 1988, when the cathedral treasurer, Canon Rex Davis, took the Magna Carta to an exhibition in Brisbane, Australia, for six months. He also took his wife, his daughter, and a family friend. Financially, the trip was a shambles. Over six months, visitors to the exhibition contributed a total of pounds 938. The cathedral was left with a notional loss of over pounds 500,000, although most of this was paid for by the Australian government. In the end, the cost of the exhibition to the cathedral was about pounds 56,000.

This was enough to give the new dean, the Very Rev Brandon Jackson, the opportunity he needed. He leaked the story to the press as soon as he found out, in 1990. The rest of the chapter were outraged. The fraud squad was called in, and found nothing wrong. The Bishop of Lincoln carried out a formal investigation, and at the end of it called on the chapter to resign. They refused.

The head of student counselling at the University of East Anglia saw all five members of the chapter once a week for a year, without noticably improving relations among them. Today, Dean Jackson seems to be winning the war of attrition. Three of the original chapter members at the time of his appointment have retired, leaving only Canon Davis in place.

But yesterday's report, he says, may be too little, too late. 'I just wonder whether the system will be workable, when our bishops are already so overworked. It is quite right that a dean or a canon can be removed with six months' notice by a bishop if they're not doing their jobs. But by the same token, a bishop should be accountable too.'

(Photograph omitted)