Capability Consultation

The Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee has agreed to carry out a consultation about some possible improvements to the existing capability procedure.

This is in response to suggestions that the existing procedure is not fit for purpose because of

  • Difficulties in obtaining accurate, substantiated information about clergy performance
  • The length of time the procedure takes
  • The way that some clergy have been able to frustrate and delay the procedure.

Most clergy carry out their ministry to a high standard, and, where they fall short, are willing to co-operate with efforts to help them improve. The capability procedure is for that very small minority of clergy who are not carrying out their ministry to an acceptable standard, where attempts to deal with the situation without using a procedure have not been successful.

Capability is about ongoing underperformance not disciplinary issues arising from an act of misconduct or a mechanism for dealing with pastoral breakdown. The primary purpose of the procedure is to enable improvement rather than to remove someone from office, although that may sometimes be the outcome. The procedure involves:  assessing performance, pointing out where improvement is required, and giving help and opportunity to improve, seeing whether there has been any improvement, and, only when all else fails, removing someone from office.

Proposed changes
We have put together some proposals about how the procedure can be made more effective. This will involve trying to be fair both to clergy whose capability is under question, and to parishes where a priest is not providing an adequate ministry. Before we bring proposals to the Synod, we want to hear the views of the whole Church   – including clergy, bishops and archdeacons, diocesan staff, churchwardens and others - on our proposals, which will include some additional legal powers for the bishop.  Responses to this consultation will help us to ensure that the right checks and balances are put in place, for example, in the form of guidance to which the Bishop is required to have regard. If you would like to respond, please read the briefing note and then fill in the form below by the end of August.

Provisional Timetable
June 2018 - Consultation made available for completion on the Church of England website

July 2018 - Fringe meeting at Synod

End August - Deadline for responses to consultation

November 2018  - RACSC considers responses to consultation and makes recommendations to Archbishops’ Council

2019 - Work on drafting new procedure, additional legislation and additional material

February 2020 - Synod gives initial consideration to amending legislation with the other draft material being provided in the form of illustrative drafts.

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Part 1 - Additional powers for the bishop

We recommend that

  • Legislation should be amended so that the bishop will have power at any time (whether as part of the capability procedure or not) to appoint someone to gather information in a parish without requiring the consent of the incumbent or priest in charge
  • Parochial clergy and PCC members should be under a legal duty to co-operate with this process;
  • The bishop should be required to have regard to guidance before appointing someone for this purpose.
Do you support this recommendation?

We recommend that Bishops should have powers to carry out ministerial assessments and be required to provide for ministerial assessment in their dioceses, appoint ministerial assessors and to have regard to national guidance in carrying it out.

Do you support this recommendation?

We therefore recommend that legislation should be amended to give the bishop powers to issue directions to clergy, but only during the formal stages of a Capability Procedure, or when they have been signed off from work as sick but are trying to work. The bishop should be required to have regard to national guidance, when issuing a direction, and to ensure that any direction was a reasonable and proportionate response to issues raised in the assessment.  Clergy should have the right to appeal against a bishop’s direction to the same panel as would hear an appeal against a finding by a capability panel.

Do you support this recommendation?

We recommend that legislation should be amended to give the bishop power, during the formal stages of the procedure, or when the office holder is on long term sick leave or special leave, to appoint someone to a role, with similar functions to those of a bishop’s Pastoral Representative for a BMO, who is able to provide appropriate pastoral care to parishioners, report to the bishop, and act on his or her behalf when necessary. The bishop should consult the office holder, before appointing a Pastor, but the office holder’s consent would not be required.

Do you support this recommendation?

Part 3 - Involvement of the laity in the procedure

We therefore recommend that the PCC should elect two people (who may be the churchwardens but do not have to be) who will have responsibility for:

  • Consulting on, co-ordinating, and passing on feedback about an office holder’s performance made by individual members of the congregation
  • Acting as a point of liaison between (i) archdeacon and assessor and (ii) PCC and wider congregation
  • Approving details of amended role descriptions and objectives.
Do you support this recommendation?

Part 4 - Changes to the Procedure

We recommend that the preliminary stages of the capability procedure should involve the following:

  • Agreeing a role description and priorities
  • Preliminary assessment against (i) role description and priorities (ii) canonical and other legislative requirements and (iii) general expectations of priestly behaviour
  • If the office holder’s performance does not meet the expectations in the preliminary assessment, drawing up a preliminary improvement plan
  • A fixed period of monitoring to see if the office holder is able to achieve the objectives in the improvement plan.
Do you support this recommendation?

We recommend that each of the formal stages of the capability procedure should involve

  • Agreeing a revised improvement plan
  • Monitoring performance for the period of the improvement plan and obtaining feedback from the churchwardens and others
  • Producing a report for a capability panel
  • A decision by the capability panel, which will either stop the procedure or issue a warning
  • An appeal to an appeal panel, if further information has come to light or the procedure was not correctly followed
  • Moving onto the next stage of the procedure unless the appeal panel upheld the appeal
Do you support this recommendation?

We recommend the following changes to the composition of capability panels.

  • the bishop should appoint a number of panel members (clergy and lay) from whom the panel members might be drawn in each case (with the bishop chairing the final capability panel).
  • Appeal panels should ideally be chaired by someone with the relevant legal expertise, as their role is quasi-judicial. 
  • Capability panels should receive written reports from the assessor with input from the PCC representatives.
Do you support this recommendation?

Part 5 - Particular Issues

We recommend that the legislation should be amended to give the Bishop power to require an office holder to take special leave on health grounds provided that an occupational health adviser has been consulted about whether this is in the interests of the office holder’s wellbeing.

Do you support this recommendation?

We recommend that a separate consultation should be held on a procedure for enabling the bishop to carry out a review of pastoral relationships, where problems have been identified in the relationship between office holder and congregation, so that problems in the relations between the office holder and congregation can be identified and to establish whether:

  • Bullying is taking place (by either the office holder or members of the congregation)
  • There is the possibility of a short-term solution
  • A further investigation or a substantive review is required. 
Do you support this recommendation?

We recommend that:

  • The legislation be amended to enable (but not require) a second curacy given to a curate whose first curacy has come to an end before completion of their IME to be included in the category of probationary post allowed to be fixed term by regulation 29. Making the post probationary will be optional, as there may be other reasons than lack of capability for the need to have a second curacy
  • The capability procedure Code of Practice be amended to make it clear that it is possible for a curate, whose capability is already under question, to remain under the procedure, if he or she starts a second curacy, rather than the procedure having to start all over again at the very beginning.
Do you support this recommendation?

Part 6 - What is needed to support the process

We recommend that work should be carried out to provide additional material in support of the procedure as follows:

  • Additional codes of practice and guidance, to which those involved, and the subject of the procedure will be required to have regard, including:
    •  ministerial assessment,
    • information gathering,
    • directions made under the procedure,
    •  the appointment of a Bishop’s Pastor, and
    •  reviews of pastoral relationships
  • Guidance on the interpretation of the Canons to make it easier to determine whether canonical breaches have taken place
  • Guidance on preparing role descriptions, objective setting and improvement plans
  • Guidance on minimum standards of priestly behaviour, based on the Guidelines on the Professional Conduct of the Clergy and the Formation Criteria
  • Resources on obtaining feedback from churchwardens and congregations, based on good practice models for obtaining 360o feedback
Do you support this recommendation?

We recommend consideration should be given to reviewing and clarifying the role of MDR in dioceses to ensure greater consistency and enable dioceses to use it as part of the ministerial assessment if they wish.

Do you support this recommendation?

Part 7 - General comments


An assembly of clergy and non-clergy church members to discuss and debate church matters. They can meet as a deanery, a diocese or a General Synod.


A general term for the work of the church in worship, mission and pastoral care.


A senior member of the clergy responsible for an area called an archdeaconry. They share the pastoral care of the clergy and do much practical, legal and administrative work.