INDISCIPLINE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
THE Upper House of the Convocation of Canterbury spent its time very profitably last Tuesday. It had to deal with a grave scandal, and after some uncertainty and confusion, it dealt with it in a sensible and practical temper. The Lower House had presented a "gravamen ;" and though the ideas of the Clergy on the subject of grievances are not invariably those of the laity, on this occasion there was a real identity between them. In point of fact, the "gravamen" grew out of a very vigorous statement of lay opinion. On November 15th last, Mr. Justice Stephen passed sentence of penal servi- tude on a clergyman convicted of bigamy. Bigamy, though it Was the crime which had brought down this particular penalty on the prisoner, was really one of his lightest offences, and the Judge took occasion to compare the discipline of the Clergy with the discipline of other professions. "In any other liberal profession which you might have disgraced," he said, "you would have been speedily dealt with. If you had been a member of my profession, you would have been disbarred ; if a solicitor, you would have been struck off the rolls ; if you held her Majesty's commission in the Army, your services would have been dispensed with ; if you had been a medical man, you would under the new regulations have been struck off the Medical Register. But being a clergyman, you come out of penal servitude, you go into other clerical employment, and assume the position of one who is to teach, guide, and set an example to others." The Bishop of Bangor supplied some further particulars of this singular clerical career. The clergyman in question was at one time a licensed curate in his diocese, and while there first married a widow and then seduced one of his step-daughters. For this offence proceedings were taken against him in the Eccle- siastical Courts ; but before anything could be done, he was tried and sentenced to penal servitude for making a false entry in the registrar's book. Thereupon the ecclesiastical suit seems to have been stayed, and the Bishop of Bangor contented himself with giving notice of the facts to the Arch- bishop of Canterbury and to the provincial Bishops. These notices, however, did not prevent the clergyman, after his liberation, from finding occasional employment in the diocese of Worcester. The Bishop of that diocese did not know that he was so employed ; indeed, he only became acquainted with the man's existence and antecedents on reading the observations just quoted of Mr. Justice Stephen. From what was said by other Bishops in the course of the discussion and in Convocation, it seems that cases such as this are not un- common. These black shepherds seldom try to get employment in any one parish for more than a Sunday or two. Generally, the Bishop of London says, their performances are so unsatisfactory that they are not required longer. Of course, if the Clergy who employ them were more scrupulous, it would be more difficult for them to get duty. At any rate, they would be compelled to forge testimonials ; and this is an offence which might bring them in conflict with a more formidable law than that ad- ministered by any spiritual Court. But the Clergy are often in straits to find some one to take their work, and respectable clergymen do not like to be asked for their testimonials ; and, from one motive or the other, it seems easy for a man to be employed as a temporary curate without any one knowing anything about him except what he chooses to tell of himself. Even if the beneficed Clergy were to mend their ways in this respect, the cure would not be complete ; for testimonials may be quite genuine and yet very nearly worthless. There is evidently one of his ruling principles in politics—an intense are always men who deal with testimonials on the ptinoiple of•giving to him that asketh. The Bishop of Chichester's
remedy is that occasional employment should be given only to clergymen whose names are inscribed in a diocesan list, so that the scandals that now happen would be rendered impossible, except where fraudulent personation was added to a man's other offences.
But proposals of this kind do not touch the essence of the grievance. The grievance is not merely that disreputable clergy- men find employment, but that they continue to be clergy- men. It is this that excites Mr. Justice Stephen's surprise, as having no parallel in any other liberal profession. Towards the end of the discussion, this suggested itself to the Bishops.
It was monstrous, the Bishop of Exeter said, that a man who had committed a gross crime should still retain his Orders.
Every other profession can purge itself of such men,—why should the Church of England stand alone in its inability to touch them l In the end, a committee was appointed to "con-
sider the best mode of removing from the ministry persons proved by the judgment of a competent Court to have been guilty of offences which morally disqualify them" for the work. It ought not to be difficult to frame a statute which should have this effect. This is not a question of ecclesiastical dis- cipline properly so called. It has nothing to do with the constitution or functions of the Spiritual Courts. All that is wanted is a process by which the operation of a sentence passed by a Criminal Court shall be extended, and made to carry with it, almost as a matter of course, certain spiritual consequences. When a clergyman has undergone a conviction which, if he had been an officer in the Army, or a solicitor, or a doctor, would have involved the loss of his professional character, there can be no reason why he should be treated with exceptional leniency. The harm he can do by remaining a clergyman is at least as great as any he could do if he belonged to any of the callings which it has been thought necessary to fence round with greater stringency. Indeed, it is far greater • because the services which a solicitor or a doctor renders are chiefly intellectual services, while those which a clergyman has to render are chiefly moral. That a man has been con- victed of some disgraceful crime does not affect his opinion on a point of law or medicine, but it does very much affect his opinion on a point of morals or theology. It may be un- reasonable that it should do so ; and the Article which declares that the unworthiness of the Minister hinders not the effect of the Word, seems to go dead against it. But in matters of this kind people are guided by instinct far more than by either reason or argument ; and they feel that there are flaws in a man's practice which cannot fail to vitiate his preaching, Consequently, if it be inexpedient to allow a man to go on practising as a solicitor or as a medical man after he has served his time as a convict, it is still more inexpedient to allow him to remain in Holy Orders. The incongruity between his con- duct and his character is greater in the latter case, and the mischief which this incongruity is likely to work is greater. What is wanted is a provision that the fact that a clergyman has been convicted of such and such a crime shall be notified to the diocesan officials, and that, by a simple and inexpensive process, the Bishop shall be enabled to move the provincial Court to deprive him of his Orders. A discretion whether or not to put the law into execution might be vested in the Judge, and the rare cases in which a man sentenced to penal servitude is more sinned against than sinning might thus be provided for. No other precaution would be necessary, because a peccant clergyman would be exposed to no greater penalty than already falls to the lot of the peccant members of other professions. The provincial Court should be moved, as a matter of course, to degrade the offender ; and it should make the order prayed for, unless the offender could show reason why exceptional mercy should be extended to him. If there be any theological objection to a sentence of degradation, the same end might be attained by a perpetual prohibition to exercise any ministerial function. It is not, we thigk, too much for the Church to ask that so long as she remains estab- lished she should be allowed to protect herself against such gross and notorious scandals as these in which the offender referred to by the Bishop of Bangor has played so conspicuous a part.