Authority and Governance in the Roman Catholic Church

Roehampton University announced on 16 June that its Archives and Special Collections are now home to the ‘Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain, 1998–2002: The Queen’s Foundation Authority and Governance Archive’. The following post incorporates some edited extracts from the University’s press release as well as original material by BRIN.

Sponsored by Derwent (now Porticus UK) and established at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham, the Authority and Governance Project investigated the nature, exercise and experience of authority and governance within the Roman Catholic Church in England, Scotland and Wales. It was undertaken by an interdisciplinary group drawn from philosophy, theology, psychiatry, social welfare, and Church and business administration.

The project involved a series of conversations, interviews and conferences in which some 1,000 people from all walks of Catholic life, including laity, participated. Bishops, priests and seminarians were interviewed by NOP. The research was wide-ranging, encompassing controversial subjects that still face the Roman Catholic Church today, such as celibacy, the ordination of women and the sacramental involvement of divorced and remarried members of the Church.

Part of the project comprised a series of diocesan and parish case studies that looked at the local impact of governance and authority of the Church during periods of change or transition. Six (unnamed) dioceses were selected to form the basis of the research, four in England and two in Scotland, representing (according to multiple indicators) about one-fifth of the total strength of the Church in Great Britain.

The format of the parochial interviews with clergy and laity was conversational, with responses being generally recorded in note form, although there are also some taped interviews. The main areas investigated were:

  • the model of church as it operated locally in comparison to the official diocesan model
  • the engagement of the parish with diocesan structures and personnel and parish leadership
  • parish leadership, including lay participation and formation and mission

The archive is not yet fully catalogued, but there is a comprehensive box list. Access (by prior appointment) is subject to respect for the promises of anonymity which were given to individual respondents, dioceses and parishes involved in the research. For further information, contact

Some of the findings from the project were reported in a series of books from several publishing houses in 2000-01. The content of these was mostly qualitative. However, some quantitative data did appear in Philip Grindell’s chapter on diocesan structures and resources in Diocesan Dispositions and Parish Voices in the Roman Catholic Church, editor: Noel Timms, Chelmsford: Matthew James Publishing, 2001, pp. 25-62.

Grindell even included a table which computed the estimated total value of the Catholic Church in Great Britain at that time. The figure he came up with was £2,259,000,000, of which 34% derived from general net assets, 32% from functional church properties, 28% from school properties, and 7% from works of art and other treasures.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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