A WELSH BISHOP.
PA.A CORRESPONDENCE which was printed in the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday, presents a Welsh Bishop in what, in the present condition of the Principality, is a strangely unfortunate light. The Established Church has no popularity to lose in Wales. She is not greatly loved by the Welsh people, and no allowance is likely to be made for her weak points. As the object of much hostility, she ought to be very careful not to give occasion for unfavourable criticism. If she cannot always act so as to win the good-will of those who are without, she might at least avoid unseemly contentions between those who axe within. The Bishop of Llandaff has seemingly for- gotten this simple rule. He has quarrelled with a curate, and he has done so in a way that gives the curate very fair ground of complaint. The regulations in force in other dioceses, and presumably in force in the diocese of Llandaff, provide that a curate shall not be arbitrarily dis- possessed of his curacy. In cases where incumbent and curate do not part by mutual agreement, there are certain formalities to be complied with. An incumbent may not give his curate the necessary six months' notice to quit until he has obtained the Bishop's formal sanction in writing ; and before signing the notice, it is stated to be the Bishop's "invariable rule to communicate personally or by letter with the curate." No doubt the occasions on which a Bishop would think it right to refuse this sanction are of rare occurrence. A curate who cannot get on with his incumbent had for the most part better look for work elsewhere. But the express requirement of the Bishop's signature, and the "invariable rule" that before affixing this signature the Bishop shall "communicate personally or by letter with the curate," show that the Bishop's share in the transaction is not a mere formality. The incumbent cannot give the curate notice without the Bishop's written permission. The Bishop does not give this written permission without com- municating with the curate. If he were meant to give it as a matter of course, there would be no need for either of these provisions. The Bishop's signature might be printed on the blank form, and the notice be given as a matter of course whenever the incumbent thought fit. The two rules, taken together, invest the Bishop's action with a quasi-judicial character. He is to hear the curate as well as the incumbent, and on the evidence of both to decide whether the signature which is to make the notice operative shall be given or withheld.
The correspondence in the Daily Telegraph relates to a notice given by Mr. Parsons, the Rector of Penarth, to his curate, Mr. Plater. For this notice, the written sanction of the Bishop of Llandaff had been asked and obtained ; but the Bishop had not thought it necessary before giving it to communicate, either per- sonally or by letter, with Mr. Plater. This omission is the more remarkable because the ground assigned for giving the notice was one in regard to which Mr. Plater had a special right to be heard. Mr. Parsons, as we learn from the Bishop's own account of what passed between him and the incumbent, had stated that Mr. Plater's doctrinal views were so different from his own and from those which he regarded as orthodox, that his continuance in his office could not fail to be injurious to the spiritual welfare of the parishioners. It does not appear that the Rector had ever told the Bishop what Mr. Plater's doctrinal views were ; perhaps, for a reason we shall mention directly, he felt a difficulty in doing so. He confined himself to the assertion that Mr. Plater's views were not his views, and consequently were wrong ; and upon this point the Bishop apparently thought that Mr. Parsons must be the best judge. 'Of what use,' he may have reasoned,' can it be to ask whether Mr. Plater admits the charge ? Even if he denied it, I should still be bound to believe Mr. Parsons's evidence. He must at least know what he himself believes, and how far Mr. Plater's statements express that belief.' The Bishop of Llandaff seems to have overlooked the second part of the indictment preferred by Mr. Parsons against Mr. Plater.
His accusation against him is not only that his views are not as identical with those of his Rector as a well- disposed curate's views should be, but that they are not orthodox. Surely this is a point on which Mr. Plater might have had a word to say. As it is, he is dismissed from his curacy on the ground of heterodoxy, without, so far as appears, the Bishop's having so much as heard what his peculiar heterodoxy is. Had he been called upon to give an account of his views, he might have convinced the Bishop of Llandaff that they were perfectly orthodox, and that if they were not the views of the Rector of Penarth, so much the worse for the Rector. But the Bishop gave him no such chance. No communication was made to him before the necessary permission was given ; and had he not, when the notice had almost run out, written to ask the Bishop what he had done to displease him, none would have been made to him afterwards. The Bishop's own explanation is that Mr. Plater, on receiving an informal notice from Mr. Parsons more than two months before the issue of the formal notice, had first written to ask for an interview, and then by the next post written to withdraw the request. But Mr. Plater might naturally have thought that, as the informal notice had been given without the Bishop's sanction, his request for an inter- view was premature. The episcopal sanction might, after all, be withheld ; and at all events, as an "invariable rule" bound the Bishop to communicate with him before giving it, he would have ample opportunity for explanation afterwards.
Why Mr. Parsons omitted to state what his curate's views were, and preferred to say what he thought of them, may be gathered from Mr. Plater's last letter to the Bishop. "As a matter of fact," he says, "Mr. Parsons has never been in church when I have occupied the pulpit. His evidence against me is hearsay evidence." Possibly Mr. Parsons's absence may have been due to an over-sensitive dread of staining his doctrinal purity. To listen to a heterodox curate may, in his estimation, be but a form of touching pitch. Or he may have argued that in this instance hearsay evidence is really the best evidence. It is not the impression which a curate's sermons make on an incumbent that is of import- ance, but the impression they make on the congregation. Both, indeed, have the remedy in their own hands. They need not be in church when the curate occupies the pulpit. But heterodoxy may be dangerously attractive ; and the ser- mons which keep the incumbent away may only serve to draw the parishioners in greater numbers. Unfortunately, however plausible this reasoning may have appeared to the Bishop and the incumbent, the conclusion in which it landed them in- volved a gross practical injustice. Mr. Plater has been con- demned unheard. That is not a result that can be regarded without grave dissatisfaction in the present position of ecclesi- astical affairs in Wales.