Published by Daily Mail
The time has come to select a new Most Reverend Father in God, by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan. The CVs have been sifted, references requested, candidates shortlisted, and Google consulted (just in case.. skeletons.. cupboard..).
The betting shops display the usual array of odds, with the favourites presently enthroned in the cathedrals of York, Liverpool, Durham, Norwich and Coventry. You can even get 200/1 on Richard Dawkins succeeding Dr Rowan Williams, of which there’s about as much chance as the Pope beatifying Martin Luther.
It is to the eternal credit of the Church of England that the Reformation was not marked by the imposition of a ‘Year Zero’ in the historical episcopacy. Thomas Cranmer was the last Archbishop of Canterbury to have been appointed by the Pope – the 69th in a line going back to 597 when Augustine of Canterbury became the first Apostle to the English. But Cranmer was also the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be appointed by the King, which was a logical corollary of the Monarch having become ‘the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England’.
Juggling the oaths of Papal allegiance and Royal supremacy was a theo-political balancing act beyond any diplomatic via media. In those days, an archbishop could not serve two supreme heads: the choice was between the Pope’s pallium or the King’s crown. Communion with the See of Rome was thereby broken, but in Henry’s reformed Church of England, a degree of catholicity was sustained: he was, after all, by the decrees of both Rome’s Pope and England’s Parliament, ‘Defender of the Faith’.
The Roman Catholic Church elects its popes by conclave – a gathering of eligible cardinals who commune to discern the will of the Holy Spirit. The Church of England selects its archbishops by committee – the Crown Nominations Commission, to be precise, which is composed of four women and 15 men (there’s gender equality for you). Their task it is to select a man (as it still must be) who will uphold the orthodoxy of the Christian faith, defend the rights and privileges of the Church of England, and sustain the unity of the Anglican Communion – all while guarding against the extremes of progressive liberalism and traditionalist conservatism (i.e., gay vicars and women bishops on the one hand, and the encroaching ‘Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham’ on the other).
The Royal Prerogative in respect of Episcopal appointments to the Church of England was neutered by the Scottish Presbyterian Gordon Brown: up until 2007, the Prime Minister had been constitutionally responsible for accepting (or rejecting) the Commission’s nominees, and then tendering advice directly to the Queen. It was then her task formally to nominate the Prime Minister’s choice. By the time the diocese’s College of Canons had met to ‘elect’ their new (arch)bishop, the Prime Minister, Monarch and Church had all effectively communed to discern the will of the Holy Spirit (which happened also to be the will of the Prime Minister).
As complex, convoluted and contrived as this process may have been, it represented the realities of an Established Church and a Constitutional Monarchy. But now, by virtue of the Labour’s ‘modernisation’, the Prime Minister is nothing but a conduit for the Crown Nominations Commission, and the constitutional position of the Established Church is thereby weakened.
David Cameron appointed former Conservative arts minister Lord Luce to chair the Commission, but that was and is the extent of his political involvement. Lord Luce will make known to No10 the preferred candidate, along with a reserve ‘appointable’ candidate, just in case their first choice should change his mind (or a previously un-Googled skeleton emerges from a dark corner of an unknown cupboard). David Cameron’s role is simply to pass that name on to the Queen, without any advice or comment, and Her Majesty duly appoints in accordance with the will of the Commission – i.e., the Crown Nominations Commission is advising the Crown, not the Prime Minister: a historic constitutional check and balance has been lost.
Of course, being the Church’s Supreme Governor, the Queen might reject the chosen candidate. But that’s about as likely as her withholding Royal Assent from a parliamentary bill: her constitutional function is to encourage, warn, advise and rubber stamp. Whoever emerges as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, all responsibility for his faults, failings and inadequacies must be laid at the door of the Luce Commission; not the Sovereign. As embarrassed as she may eventually be by the direction her new Archbishop takes her church, we must remember that her preferred candidate may never have even made the shortlist.
So, who will it be?
If the Commission wants to boost Anglican traditionalists, placate Africa, raise St George’s Day to an English national holiday and take a swipe at institutional racism, they’ll appoint John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. If they wish to hold a steady-as-she-goes via media, with interminably tedious increments in an inevitable direction, they’ll appoint Richard Chartres, Bishop of London. If they choose to accelerate the liberal trajectory, with a nod toward North America and an ‘inclusive’ mission which embraces all sexual proclivities and environmental causes, they could do a lot worse than James Jones, presently Bishop of Liverpool.
These aren’t the only possibilities, of course: while Sentamu is utterly colourful and wonderfully unique, you could replace the authoritative Chartres of London with Graham James of Norwich; and Jones of Liverpool could easily be supplanted by Cocksworth of Coventry. We are talking about the Church of England here: it isn’t going to be suddenly re-reformed or catholicised by anyone overnight.
If, however, the Commission is concerned to appoint God’s choice – a thoughtful and gifted communicator, deeply committed to upholding the orthodoxy of the Christian faith – ‘the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ – in the fraught context of cultural diversity, social upheaval, political cynicism and theological conflict, the lot must fall to Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham.
Unknown, untried and untested to some in the Church he may be, but he is by no means green when it comes an understanding of the ‘real world’ of business and high finance. And if the Son of God could choose poor, ignorant but inspired fishermen to lead His Church, it won’t be beyond the wit or wisdom of a businessman-turned-bishop to lead and inspire Her Majesty’s section of it; to guide the whole nation through the next decade of this secularising age of materialism, relativism and moral nihilism.