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From: The Sunday Times Sunday 14th February 1999

Queen set to share power at Westminster Abbey


THE Queen's advisers are in talks with church leaders to end the monarch's exclusive control over Westminster Abbey, which has staged most of the coronations of the past millennium.

The abbey, built in 1065, is one of only two large churches over which the monarch has sole jurisdiction. Bishops have had no say over the affairs of Westminster since the reign of Elizabeth I.

However, the Queen is under pressure from a cross-party coalition of MPs to reform the arrangement after the controversy last year over the sacking of the abbey's organist, Martin Neary, by the dean, Wesley Carr.

Parliament is considering proposals to reform the way other cathedrals are governed after criticism that their deans and chapters are not sufficiently accountable to the church. MPs want similar safeguards at the abbey. It is understood that reform of the abbey was discussed at a meeting between Carr and the Queen last week. Church insiders believe that joint control between the church and crown through a new abbey council is a likely outcome. Some may see this as a weakening of the crown's hold over the church. However, the Queen is expected to retain sole control over the other so-called Royal Peculiars, which include the chapels royal and the chapel at the Tower of London.

MPs believe reform at the abbey would avoid any repeat of the bitter row provoked by Carr's dismissal of Neary for alleged financial irregular ities. After appealing to the Queen, a judicial inquiry cleared Neary of dishonesty but upheld the dismissal. Last week there was fresh conflict when Neary supporters tried to broker a deal that would have left him with the title "organist emeritus" and a full pension. No agreement was reached and negotiations are to reopen this week.

Lord Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, reportedly told a senior poli tician recently: "This has done more damage to the Church of England than any other event this century." Frank Field, the former welfare reform minister and a friend of Neary, is trying to negotiate a deal. He said: "A feeling of injustice continues to fester and damage the abbey. Events have already moved beyond farce into tragedy. The Queen is the Visitor of the abbey and the dispute is deeply unfair to her."

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