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The process for choosing the Archbishop of Canterbury is absurd and scandalous

The decision is about politics, not prayer

By on Monday, 19 March 2012

Conservative favourite Dr John Sentanu

Conservative favourite Dr John Sentanu

Here is a headline that you do not want to read on a Sunday morning, whatever your religious allegiance: “Tory MPs urge Cameron to choose traditionalist as next Archbishop of Canterbury: John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is a Tory favourite.” 

The article reveals that two Tory MPs have favoured the Observer with their ideas about the succession for Canterbury; luckily enough there is also the following paragraph:

Tony Baldry, a Tory MP and church commissioner who is answerable to parliament over the activities of the Anglican church, urged his colleagues not to allow the process to find a new archbishop to become dominated by evangelical and liberal “labels”. He said: “I very much hope this doesn’t turn into some sort of contest between labels. It will be a long process and we need to be thoughtful and prayerful.”

Mr Baldry is right: the question of who should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury is one that should involve spiritual discernment. That is traditionally what the College of Cardinals are supposed to do when they go into conclave to elect a Pope. Historically it has not always been like that, but when politics has overshadowed prayer, it has been recognised as a scandal.

This article reminds us that the Prime Minister ultimately appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury. True, there is a search committee, that presents the Prime Minister with two names, and he has to choose the first name, but Mr Cameron will have the last word on the matter. I find this absurd. Parliament has authority over the Church of England, and I find that absurd too, even if Parliament has delegated most of its powers to the General Synod. Of course, if Parliament had no such powers over the Church of England, then the Church of England would not be a national Church. But I also find the concept of a national church absurd. But then I would, being a Catholic. But surely most Anglicans must be uncomfortable with the way the new Archbishop is to be chosen?

Incidentally, the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be primus inter pares in the Anglican Communion, but the involvement of Anglicans from beyond the borders of England in the process seems to be minimal.

We will know pretty soon whether Archbishop Sentamu will be in the running: if he is part of the Crown Nominations Commission, it will rule him out; if he declines to serve on the Commission, it will be tantamount to declaring his candidacy. But whichever way, can we please stick to the thought and prayer and keep the MPs involvement to a minimum? And can we please abandon the idea that any candidate for the job is the candidate of one or other political party?

  • John Byrne

    In view of the popularity of a certain nationality for the office of Pope (until very recently), some take the view that God must be Italian.

    Of course God is a Catholic, is he not?  And obviously a “traditional” one. That goes without saying.

  • John Byrne

    I was going to mention the Generalissimo, but you beat me to it Arthur.

    But talking of  Francisco Franco y Bahamonde reminds one of the shame that the Catholic church will carry for many years, for being the religious wing of European Fascism.

  • Peter Bolton

    How very rude for a Catholic paper to comment on the process. I’m appalled.

  • Apostolic

    And was not Our Lord “rude” when he cleared the Temple?

  • Apostolic

    Prime Ministers of religious beliefs, non-conformists like Harold Wilson, and some of no belief (like Attlee) have been in charge of this process of appointment for decades.For some years in the 1940s, appointments in the CofE were effectively routed through a lapsed Catholic atheist and son of an Irish Fenian, Brendan Bracken, whose prime ministerial friend, Winston Churchill, cared little for the detail of Christian doctrine. “You choose, Brendan”, Churchill used to say. And Bracken, who retained a fascination for ecclesiastical patronage despite his atheism, duly obliged. 

  • Fergus Rossmore

    It would have been better, I think if you had suggested that choosing the Archbishop of Canterbury is absurd and scandalous, to me, rather than making the wider generalised suggestion that choosing the Archbishop of Canterbury is absurd and scandalous to everyone, because it is not. I once asked a rector why he had chosen to be a vicar and he replied in the very best 19th., century logic: “It gives a fellow something to do, and you do meet the oddest of people”. That summed up the Church of England to me.When watching HM The Queen giving her speech in Westminster Hall it is very clear that The Crown and The Church of England is not really about persons, but it is ‘an enigma’. The whole idea of middle class country vicars riding bicycles and their women’s institute wives and eccentric bishops in gaiters are just a passing phase of something outstandingly great:.. ENGLAND…It has always been accepted that it was the habit of the ruling classes to send the fool of the family into the church to talk interminable nonsense and later become a bishop. This foolishness now applies to the middle classes. So there is nothing new in your contention about the absurdity of the Church of England. The whole structure of the Church of England has always been illogical. ….However, the point is that it works because nobody takes it too seriously, especially the clerics of the Church of England… Roman Catholics could learn a great deal from this approach.

  • Fergus Rossmore

    That is totally true. …I believe that the Roman Catholic approach to religion and the teaching of Jesus Christ is most sincere…..However, the ethos of the Anglican Communion (The Church of England) is concerned with conformity to the ideals and concept of The Crown. ….The ideologies of The Church of England have little to do with teaching of Jesus Christ and are deeply concerned with the Divine Right of British Kings (The Monarchy). ….All other arguments are worthless because the work of God is seen as a totally English concept as in the words of William Blake’s poem: “A New Jerusalem”.

  • Alastaircook

    To be honest after reading comments on this site I am disgusted by some so called Christians. Catholics or Anglican does it matter? We all worship one God and follow one bible in that bible it tells us how to choose our priests and our leaders and who we should worship! If we are doing it wrong but believe in God it is for him to correct. You who are putting your brothers down need to repents and ask for forgiveness. Amen praise the Lord Almighty.

  • flazatty

    Fr. Lucie-Smith:  You write, “[b]ut I also find the concept of a national church absurd. But then I would, being a Catholic.”  It is painfully obvious that you are ignorant of the Eastern Catholic churches, which are organized primarily on national lines.  Each of the Eastern Catholic Churches is in full communion with the Apostolic See at Rome.