Leading Articles: A better way to manage our living cathedrals

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THE administration and control of Anglican cathedrals, like their architecture, have grown idiosyncratically with the centuries.

Anglican cathedrals, unlike those of the Roman Catholic Church, are not under episcopal authority. Many officials are appointed, under anomalous procedures, to responsible posts as a reward for past services. Most have jobs for life. The result is often inadequate management; sometimes amusing, on occasion distressing.

For example, the bizarre conflicts within the Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral, and the attempts by the Dean and Chapter of Hereford to sell the Mappa Mundi, are the stuff of which Trollopean novels could be written. But, as the report of the Archbishops' Commission on Cathedrals makes clear, there are contemporary problems facing the 42 Anglican cathedrals that call into question their purpose.

These problems include the need to raise large sums of money to maintain costly buildings (many of which are of great spiritual importance, physical beauty and national significance), and the overwhelming growth of tourism while religious observation is in decline.

York Minster has 15,000 tourists a day during the summer season, but does not charge for admission. Meanwhile, the attempt by St Paul's to control its flood of tourists by charging pounds 3 a head outside service times has backfired; tour operators schedule their visits for the free periods when worship is supposedly paramount. Salisbury had to abandon a deal with McDonald's that would have paid for the cathedral's printed material. As for merchandising, all cathedrals have shops which raise a total of pounds 6.5m a year.

Given the financial imperatives, the commission was wise to start from the assertion that a cathedral is 'the seat of the bishop and a centre of worship and mission'. It is not a heritage centre nor a marketing opportunity. Visitors should be welcomed and funds raised, but not at the expense of religious purpose.

It was also wise of the commission not to insist that bishops assume full authority over 'their' cathedrals. Such a change would have gone against the belief that lay involvement is to be encouraged. And, by reserving for cathedral clerics a number of places on the proposed governing councils, the committee has probably ensured that the latter will not derail these overdue reforms.