Editorial: Canon Ian Ellis's call for transparency over Church of Ireland bishops' expenses needs the public support of other Anglicans

News Letter editorial on Saturday November 11 2023:
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For years, a former editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette has sought clarity around bishops’ expenses.

Canon Ian Ellis first asked the trust that handles Church of Ireland (CoI) finances, the Representative Church Body, about the matter in 2016. They are, he says, stonewalling.

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Canon Ellis says there is no suggestion of impropriety, but that as a matter of transparency he should be able to delve further into the figures. As someone who edited the weekly CoI newspaper for the better part of 20 years, Canon Ellis has more authority than most to pursue this matter.

On the one hand, some observers might say this is a matter for Anglicans, such as Canon Ellis, rather than outsiders. On the other, church leaders (including CoI) are not remotely shy about issuing high minded declarations about what others, in particular politicians, should do about various matters of public importance. They recently “told” the five main parties to get back to Stormont (an unspoken instruction to one political party). So it is not unreasonable to expect the highest levels of probity and openness from them on a matter such expenses.

The church says that elected bodies, such as the Synod, have the authority to seek further explanations on their financial statements. Are they doing that? Why do other Anglicans lack the courage to support Canon Ellis publicly in his call for transparency?

It is not enough to assume that respectable people in positions of authority in admired institutions always handle the money of that institution well. We know from Westminster expenses that many otherwise honourable figures do not. By being more transparent about bishops’ expenses, the church would dispel any notion that there is reason to be concerned about the culture of not disclosing that information. The traditional virtues include one of poverty, so openness about usage of church funds is a fair demand.