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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?

  • http://twitter.com/paulawyd2011 paula mendez

    You are right, what an odd way to do things. I suppose it explains it all since its coming from the CoE…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=803881167 Ivica Jozing

    So, no church-state separation?

  • Andrew Reid

    I imagine you find the Vatican being an independent state absurd as well?

  • Anonymous

    The whole point of the Church of England is that its doctrine, law, and liturgy is solely determined by the British Parliament, and all its bishops are appointed by the supreme governor, the monarch, on the advice of the prime minister.

    The process for the appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury is no more and no less absurd and scandalous than anything else unique to the Church of England.

  • Berrienisd

    This is what happens when the king sets up his own church so that he can have all the honeys he wants.  You get state control of religion.  The whole thing’s not very surprising or profound, if you think about it.  You guys have the consequences of his choices as long as you’ll accept that state of affairs. 

  • Berrienisd

    No.  That’s the whole point.  This is historical.   Henry VIII resented the pope’s interference in his plans to repeatedly marry, so he set up a parallel church structure in England and booted the Roman church out.  The Anglican church is a shadow church set up to replace the Roman church so that it couldn’t interfere with the decisions of Henry VIII regarding his marriages among other things.  When he died, the thing was entrenched and it never reverted since it was then in power and part of the English establishment, worth keeping by the throne for the sake of English independence, I suppose. 

    It’s not an independent entity, really.  It’s always been a pawn of the English monarchy.

  • Berrienisd

    Correct.  It’s a national church, founded as a shadow entity, so that the crown could function as it wished free of Rome.  The prime reason that its arms spread past England is that the English colonized so many places and took this thing with it.

  • Berrienisd

    The subtitle here, “The decision is about politics, not prayer” is amusing, considering how the CofE was founded.  It was founded by a king over his difficulties in obtaining an heir to the throne, given his perceived marital difficulties and factual venereal disease.  It’s a state religion, ergo, all about politics…and it always has been.  Has this basic fact of history been forgotten, or is it only being denied yet again?

  • John Forbes of Corse

    And this from a member of a church where the bishops are chosen by a celibate old man in Italy, advised by a few other celibate old men. At least the crown appointments commission  which chooses English bishops is English, it also includes (or can include) lay people and women. Royal Supremacy ensured a lay voice in the Church, just as Synod does today – something systematically eliminated in the Italian Mission. You lot need a Reformation.

  • Berrienisd

    Is God English too, John?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t be silly. The whole reason for the existence of Anglicanism is political. It is the state department for sanctifying that which the state wishes it to sanctify (just you watch, it’ll be holding gay weddings by the end of the decade).
     
    It is wholly and purely a political decision.

  • JRMartyn

    In reply to Berrienisd

    I have read that a member of the House of Commons in the sixteenth or seventeenth century did state, in the House, that “God is English”!!

  • katrina.mcleod

    I don’t think it will matter much who the next AB of Canterbury is. Why are we so fascinated by the sub-Trollopean capers of Anglican pseudo-prelates? Are we jealous of their Oxbridge Colleges, their copes and their cushy retirement jobs? Pray for the lot of them; they can neither celebrate holy mass nor receive communion.

  • James

    Surely the election of a Pope is also a political decision, a question of internal Church politics, and substantially rigged in that the electors are all autocratically appointed by previous popes. The Holy Spirit must have an equally daunting task trying to work through either system!

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure the author is aware of the history of the Church of England, but seems to argue that it might move beyond that to something more accepting of the role of the Holy Spirit.

  • Benedict Carter

    Why should Catholics care how a heretical sect chooses its governors?

  • Anonymous

    Oh that happened. It was a disaster as you can testify. The Italian mission indeed. At least it was not built on the nether regions of a serial killing Monarch.

  • Parasum

    Isn’t it ?

  • Parasum

    There is no way of knowing it is “wholly and purely a political decision”, unless one knows that God does not work through the human beings who elect the Abp. It’s hard to see that there is much – if any – moral or theological difference between one set of human agents choosing a Pope, Patriarch, Moderator, Archbishop, or (as among the Samaritans) a High Priest, and another such set.

    What matters in Anglicanism – or in any religion for that matter is less what man does, or why, than what God does; especially as we have no way of knowing whether what happens, takes place despite our choices, or because of them. The power of veto over papal elections exercised by the Great Powers from the 16th century to 1904 may have prevented the election of some Saints – or of some far from saintly men: but since the elections that did not happen are purely hypothetical, it is impossible to know what would have happened had there been no such veto on candidates thought to be undesirable. The same logic applies to the C of E’s bishops.

  • John Forbes of Corse

    God’s not English but the Church of England is – it is not a branch office of a multinational. Irish, Scottish and Nigerian Anglicans have their own ways of choosing Bishops – as all Catholics did before the invention of papal provision. Et tibi, igitur, teigitur, I think there was a lot of action in the papal nether regions at the same time – but of course that doesn’t get in the way of the charism of infallibility!

  • John Forbes of Corse

    Pius IX condemned this proposition in 1851 and repeated it in the Syllabus, “The Church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal
    power, direct or indirect.” Sounds like he was claiming a lot of political power for the Roman Church.
    Better have the political power exercised by one’s own King or Parliament than by a foreign Prince in religious trappings.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t trust our secularised legislature and I certainly think it should have no role in formulating religious doctrine.

    My allegiance is wholly and undividedly with the “foreign prince” you describe.

    Evviva il papa re!

  • Anonymous

    Hear, hear!

  • Anonymous

    At least when the Holy Spirit guides the election of a pope the result is a bishop truly in the line of the apostolic succession.

    When the British PM stands in for the Holy Spirit in selecting the Anglican “archbishop”, he selects someone who is no bishop, but merely a state functionary, and whose position only exists because a previous king wanted to validate his adultery.

  • Anonymous

    English Catholicism is rather older and has much deeper roots in this country than Anglicanism.

    Many of us who are of ancient English lineage have no truck with that parvenu sect.

  • Anonymous

    “This thing” is an excellent term for it! What is it? It is neither church nor government department. It is a kind of surreal mix of the two.

  • Anonymous

    Catholics have nice copes too…

  • Anonymous

    I never said the Popes and the Mother Church were perfect, far from it. Just authentic and Apostolic. Two things the Anglican Communion are not and can never be.

  • Anonymous

    Oh dear, Tony Blair, and now David Cameron( TB in a blue tie)get to choose the Archbishop. That, surely, cannot fill you with hope?
    …..Sounds like exactly the opposite…

  • Anonymous

    Well said that man.

  • Nyankslawrence

    True it is absurd and scandalous.How can the Prime Minister choose the religious leader.
    Even the Bible says it when the Apostles were replacing Judas Iscariot,the Apostles confined themselves into the room and asked the Holy Spirit to come and show them the correct choice, hence Matia.
    Catholics do it well,and am proud of that.
    The Prime minister should not have the right to choose a religious leader at all.
    It`s absurd and scandalous for sure.

  • Nyankslawrence

    Mr.Andrew,Vatican must look at that scenario because the way how the church of England is set really scares.
    How can the Prime minister select the Archbishop?
    Why don`t they use the Bishops to do so such that they at least forward the name to the Prime minister or the Queen.
    The church is full of Politics.

  • Nyankslawrence

    Good point Mr.Nytor

  • Nyankslawrence

    Mr.Jame.never in the Catholic church there is no politics because it is done by the Cardinals,and they are supposed to do it in a conclave whereby even the journalists are not allowed to get any information from there.
    Besides when the cardinals are choosing the Pope,they are guided by the Holy Spirit.

  • Apostolic

    Yes, the Italian Mission of St Augustine of Canterbury, sent by Pope Gregory, and the faith of England for over a thousand years before your Reformation

  • South Saxon

    The Faith arrived on this island before Augustine. There were three dioceses founded by the Romans. 

  • Martin Shaw

    I could think of something more scandalous. Cormac Murphy-O’Connor securing jobs for the boys in the Hierarchy of England and Wales!

  • Apostolic

    You forgot about Joseph of Arimathea’s arrival in Avalon, which goes back even further….Not! Get real.

  • Apostolic

    No reputable historian, of whatever denomination, takes seriously the Roman Yoke view of CofE history which is just a throwback to Elizabethan attempts to provide an ancient pedigree to a new invention. Your version may be comforting stuff for earnest and dedicated, if not historically very astute, sidesmen and tour guides, who have daily to explain their “historical continuity” in former Catholic cathedrals, abbeys and university buildings across the land, but wholly unconvincing. 

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Yes

  • Apostolic

    No reputable historian, of whatever denomination, takes seriously the Roman Yoke view of CofE history which is just a throwback to Elizabethan attempts to provide an ancient pedigree to a new invention. Your version may be comforting stuff for earnest and dedicated, if not historically very astute, sidesmen and tour guides, who have daily to explain their “historical continuity” in former Catholic cathedrals, abbeys and university buildings across the land, but wholly unconvincing nevertheless.

  • Apostolic

    As Evelyn Waugh, himself a former Anglican noted, no matter how “worldwide” the Anglican Communion presents itself, based largely on the former territories of the British Empire, and no matter how “autonomous” its provinces, it could never be anything more than a “national church”.

  • Apostolic

    Yes, in practice this is true, with disastrous results.

  • Cmatt

    For His own indescrutable reason, God  gives us sometimes the leaders we need, and sometimes the leaders we deserve.

  • Arthur

    sate appointmnts are something the C of E has learnt from the RC churchy. General Franco diectly appointed bishops by his own diktat with bso reference to taking soundings. this was true of moarchs quite widely in the Catholic world. the Archbishop of Westminster is appointed with the approval of the Duke of Norfolk.
    Bishops used to be scholars and Rowan Williams has fulfilled that role very well. His theology is close to that of Pope Benedict , “Anglican” Pope if we look at his theology. SomeRC bishops And Anglican bishops in England are hapless beaurocrats: what vchesterton might have called the New Unhappy lords. Both Roman and Anglican methods are capable alike of making inspired choices- Michael Ramsey, Cadinal Hume and Rowan Williams- but both also are capable of appointing dross.

  • theroadmaster

    It does seem absurd that the Prime Minister of a national government should have the deciding vote about the successful candidate who will occupy the premier position as head of a Christian Church in any country.  It seems that when Henry V111 nationalized the Church, he unfortunately was to intertwine it so closely with the government establishment in terms of the monarchy and parliament, that the anglican communion, within a  couple of centuries ceased to be an effective counter-cultural force which held those in power to account.  The Catholic Church on the other-hand is a trans-national, global spiritual presence which does not depend on the prerogative of states to decide on appointments to bishoprics or other clerical positions.  Anglicanism is indeed a creature of Britain and will be forever circumscribed by it’s cultural restrictions to that Island and it’s former overseas colonial territories.

  • Anonymous

    Its strange, the C of S does the same thing in Scotland. Like they had any continuity with anything.

  • Arthur

    …and isn’t he?

  • Arthur

    I’m cancelling my sub to the Herald after this lefty anti British tripe!

  • Apostolic

    Yes, and why stop at equalizing the Succession to include females (and allowing the Royal Family to marry Catholics, provided this doesn’t result in a Catholic Supreme Governor of the CofE, as James II/VII was) Why not also include children born out of wedlock, gay partnerships and test tube heirs, perhaps chosen by lottery sperm to create People’s Princes or Princesses? Just as long as the CofE is headed by a Protestant, a gay heir, originating in a Test Tube cannot surely be an obstacle? Why limit “equality” to Dave’s proposed measures?!!!