More than half of clergy think CofE establishment needs review

Posted: Thu, 31st Aug 2023

Nearly 12% of priests support disestablishment, survey finds

More than half of clergy think CofE establishment needs review

More than half of Church of England priests want the Church's established status to be reviewed, according to new figures.

A survey conducted by The Times found 53% of Church of England clerics think establishment should be reviewed. This is a significant increase from the last survey in 2014, which found 41% supported a review.

Clergy who question establishment include nearly 12% of priests who said Church should be disestablished – formally separated from the state.

Over 41% of clergy say the Church's established status "should be reviewed, with some elements of establishment retained and some abolished". Only 43% think the Church's status should be left unchanged.

The National Secular Society has said the figures underline the need for parliament to "take disestablishment seriously".

Most clergy want bishops' bench reformed, say Britain no longer a "Christian country"

The survey also indicated widespread doubt about the appropriateness of reserving 26 seats in the House of Lords exclusively for CofE bishops (Lords Spiritual, also known as the 'bishops bench'). Sixty per cent of priests back reform, including nearly 45% who say the seats should be opened up to other faith leaders, and over 8% who say their numbers should be reduced. Nearly 7% think Lords Spiritual should be abolished altogether.

Less than 37% say the bishops' bench should be left unchanged.

The survey, which analysed responses from 1,200 ordained serving priests, also found:

  • Over 73% think modern Britain cannot be called a "Christian country". The 2021 census found less than half the population of England and Wales are Christian, while the percentage of nonreligious people has risen sharply to 37%.
  • Approximately 67% predict church attendance will continue to decline.
  • A majority (53%) think the Church should allow priests to choose to conduct same-sex weddings, and 63% believe gay priests should be allowed to enter same-sex civil marriages. Nearly 65% believe the Church's teaching that "homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture" should be dropped.
  • Nearly 63% of priests think the Church should drop its opposition to sex outside of marriage.

NSS: Separating religion and state most "practical, sustainable and suitable approach"

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "It's encouraging to see support for reforms to remove the Church's privileges coming from within the Church itself.

"The issue of automatic seats for religious clerics in House of Lords certainly needs to be addressed, but extending the privilege to leaders of other faiths is wholly unworkable.

"The question of which faith communities would be represented, and then identifying and selecting individuals who could legitimately represent those faith communities, would be both extremely difficult and divisive.

"It would also add to the alienation of the rapidly growing numbers of nonreligious people.

"A clear separation of religion and state through disestablishment, including ending seats 'as of right' for religious leaders, is much more practical, sustainable and suitable approach for a modern pluralistic Britain.

"It's time for parliament to take disestablishment seriously and ensure mechanisms are in place to enable a clean break between Church and state."

Media coverage

Times Radio: Interview with NSS president Keith Porteous Wood (from 1:04:11)

TalkTV: Interview with NSS chief executive Stephen Evans

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Tags: Bishops, Disestablishment