News & Insights // Carey hits at church repair cost 'scandal'

The Archbishop of Canterbury called yesterday for an end to the "scandal" of the Church having to devote a sixth of its annual budget on maintaining its historic buildings on behalf of the nation.

Dr George Carey said the Church's ministry was being hampered by having to devote £120 million of its £750 million annual expenditure to keeping cathedrals and churches in good repair.

He said: "It is scandalous that we have to pay so much for buildings we have inherited on behalf of the nation. We are not able to serve as effectively because of it."

He said the country would have to come to the help of the Church, which had to be "freed of the burden of the nation's heritage".
The Archbishop said that he feared the time would come when dioceses would have to make choices between either maintaining their ministries or their buildings. But he hoped congregations would not simply "walk away" from churches that had become too costly to maintain.

He said: "The Church's problem is this: most of the buildings are Grade I- or Grade II-listed, and we have to buy the best quality buildings for repairs. It is local congregations who are bearing this crushing burden."Dr Carey, who retires on Oct 31, revealed that he had approached successive governments about the burden on the Church, which he characterised as "penalising the past". He also said he had held private discussions with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

"As a son of the manse, he is sympathetic," Dr Carey said, though he added that the Government viewed the matter of permanent changes to the VAT system as being one for Europe.

Dr Carey added: "So we have been in touch with the office there. But it's a very frustrating business dealing with Brussels actually... It's so attenuated."

Dr Carey said that he remained optimistic about the situation because the Government "realised the value of the Church to society". He said: "From a governmental point of view they don't think of this as a very significant sum of money. What is £100 million to the Government?"

The Archbishop spoke after a meeting of the Archbishops' Council, the Church's "cabinet". It has been widely criticised as secretive and a monument to Dr Carey's reputedly insatiable appetite for bureaucracy.Yesterday the council tried to reverse such bad publicity by inviting journalists to witness its deliberations for the first time.

They heard a rosy account of vocations, training, finance and ministry in the Church. However, Dr Philip Giddings, an elected member of the House of Laity and a lecturer in politics at Reading University, went "off-message" to say that he thought the Church was still perceived as "middle aged, middle class and suburban/rural".

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, who is the foremost evangelical contender to succeed Dr Carey at Canterbury, said that the Church had to learn how to be "more welcoming".

By P J Bonthrone