Church Embarrassed By Sun's Living Wage Revelations, But Won't Back Down

The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted the revelations that some jobs in the Church of England are paying below the Living Wage - despite its calls to the contrary - are "embarrassing".

However, Justin Welby said the church had been clear the "move towards" having the Living Wage paid across all parishes, cathedrals and diocese was a gradual process which would take time.

The Archbishop dealt head-on with a story on the front page of The Sun newspaper revealing that Canterbury and Lichfield Cathedrals were offering posts under the living wage, which is £7.85 an hour outside London.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Addressing business and church leaders in Birmingham today, the Archbishop said: "For those Sun readers you will have seen I feature on the front page."

Referring to a pastoral letter issued to parishes last week by the church's House of Bishops, he drew attention to the passages it contained calling for the Living Wage to be adopted.

"We talked about the need to move towards that, and Archbishop of York John Sentamu carefully said that we need to move towards paying the Living Wage," he said.

"The 'move towards' bit got left out, and The Sun points out that Canterbury and Lichfield Cathedrals are advertising for a post, paying below the Living Wage."

He added: "It's embarrassing, of course, I won't say otherwise. But in the light of transparency, which I welcome, I will say we are a complex institution and every parish church and cathedral is an independent charity, as is every diocese. We don't have a centralised method of control. I'm not very keen on centralised control where, from far away, you tell people what to do."

He said change to a living wage would come "gradually", because each of the independent charities lacked the resources to move more quickly. "As charity they have to do that gradually," he said. "You'll see that - and you'll see the accusations of hypocrisy, but make up your own mind as to what it is."

Earlier, the Archbishop had drawn laughter from delegates by pointing to the handful of 105 holders of his current office who had been killed or died while in post.

Telling the story of Thomas Becket, there was mirth when he suggested the late archbishop - who was beheaded - might have been considered to have dabbled in "aggressive tax avoidance" by dying. In a reference to recent criticism of the House of Bishops' 53-page letter to the parishes of England, which urged congregations to vote in the general election, he also answered those who accused the church of meddling in politics.

"It has been strongly disapproved of by some and strongly approved of by others - principally those who read it," he said. However, he added: "We are not party political "I'm not saying which is the wrong way or right way to vote."

Earlier, the Dean of Birmingham, Catherine Ogle, also drew laughter from the attendees in referring to Archbishop's appearance in the national newspapers.

She said: "There have been 105 Archbishops of Canterbury - many have been canonised, some of them have been beheaded. Looking at his press coverage, I imagine daily life for an Archbishop feels somewhere between the two."

Delegates were at the city's International Convention Centre to hear the Archbishop, as part of the Good Chaplaincy event.

In a statement, the Church of England said the need for a "phased implementation" of the Living Wage was recognised by its Living Wage Commission report, chaired by the Archbishop of York, when published last year.

The report "welcomed employers seeking to implement the pay level progressively".

A spokesman for the Church added: "What is important is that those who can, do so, as soon as is practically possible.

"The vast majority of those employed by or sub-contracted to the Church's central institutions are already paid at least the Living Wage and all will be by April 2017. Each of our 12,000 parishes, dioceses and cathedrals is a separate legal entity with trustees and has to act in the light of its own circumstances.

"As charities churches require time to increase giving levels prior to ensuring delivery of the Living Wage."

The spokesman said: "We are grateful to the Sun and others for highlighting the sound principles behind the Living Wage and for enabling us to reiterate our own commitment and hope for it to be paid to all people in work."