Tweeting the next Archbishop of Canterbury
There have been announcements of this ‘extensive’ process in the Church Times, the Church of England Newspaper and The Times (which says a lot in itself), inviting
But this is a curious way to choose an Archbishop of Canterbury. What happens if the majority of letters/emails/tweets/Facebook comments insist on the appointment of someone who desires reunification with Rome? Or the incorporation of the birth of Mohammed into the Church’s liturgical calendar? Or amendment to the Act of Settlement? Or fervent support of ‘gay marriage’? O, hang on...
His Grace does not know if this consultation is to be of the same manner as the ‘consultation’ presently being undertaken by HM Government on ‘gay marriage’ (ie, a non-consultation). But it is bizarrely being trailed as admitting ‘more transparency’ as a prelude to the thoroughly shrouded, secret and closed selection process. Indeed, the election of popes is more open and democratic.
Anybody (quite literally – though there’s no prerequisite that you even need a body –) is welcome to comment ‘on the challenges and opportunities that should be taken in to account in considering the appointment’ of ++Rowan’s successor. You are encouraged to email (by Monday 30th April) firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to one of the following:
Sir Paul Britton,Ordinarily, His Grace would exhort his readers and communicants to make their wise and discerning contributions via one of these means. But, frankly, he doesn’t want to waste your time. This is not ‘transparency’, and neither is it a ‘consultation’. Nor should it be. The responsibility for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission and them alone.
Prime Minister's Secretary for Appointments
c/o Honours and Appointments Secretariat
Ms. Caroline Boddington
Archbishops' Secretary for Appointments
The Wash House
Since Gordon Brown amended the Constitution, thereby altering (indeed, weakening) the constitutional relationship between the Church of England and the Executive, the Prime Minister and other ministers are no longer advisers, and consequently conduit, to the Crown. Frank Field MP has long argued for the Prime Minister’s continued involvement in the process, on the grounds that any attempt to diminish the involvement of the Crown in Church appointments would lead to disestablishment by default. However, his argument did not prevail: it is now the task of the CNC to submit the name of a preferred candidate (and a second appointable candidate) to the Prime Minster who is constitutionally responsible for tendering that advice directly to the Queen. This is no longer the Prime Minister’s advice, but that of the CNC: the Prime Minister’s role has been reduced to that of a postbox. Basically, the Crown Nominations Commissions is advising the Crown; ie, the Crown is advising the Crown. The Prime Minister no longer possesses the unfettered right to advise on ecclesiastical appointments, and so a crucial ‘check’ or ‘balance’ has been lost.
Jim Callaghan observed as far back as 1976:
There are… cogent reasons why the State cannot divest itself from a concern with these appointments of the Established Church. The Sovereign must be able to look for advice on a matter of this kind and that must mean, for a constitutional Sovereign, advice from Ministers. The Archbishops and some of the bishops sit by right in the House of Lords, and their nomination must therefore remain a matter for the Prime Minister’s concern.Professor Vernon Bogdanor wrote in 1995:
In the case of the appointment of archbishops and bishops, there is an even more powerful reason why the prime minister must be the person to proffer advice. It is that the archbishops and the senior bishops sit as of right in the House of Lords. Therefore, for as long as the Church of England remains established and remains an Episcopal church whose archbishops and senior bishops sit in parliament, the State cannot divest itself from its concern with senior appointments…Indeed, His Grace would say that for as long as there are bishops in the House of Lords, their appointment ought to be subject to a degree of political and democratic accountability. But these arguments are long past: we are where we are. Yet the current pretence of democratic consultation is disingenuous. This Commission is composed of learned and experienced individuals, each of whom will have their own proclivities, biases and theological preferences. And each of them will be abundantly aware of ‘the challenges and opportunities that should be taken in to account in considering the appointment’. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be there. And since they are, no number of emails, letters and tweets demanding the appointment of a bishop who believes in and faithfully adheres to The XXXIX Articles will sway them. In fact, all demands for an Archbishop in the mould of Margaret Thatcher (but with testicles, obviously; and without breasts, to avoid confusion) will be ignored. The Commission as constituted is a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the theologically liberal and politically left-leaning, and their choice of Archbishop will naturally reflect this. Perhaps Gordon Brown knew this in 2007 when he surrendered the Royal Prerogative.
It remains to be seen if David Cameron will accept the CNC’s preferred candidate, but there’ll be an almighty stink if he decides to intervene. Especially after such an ‘extensive consultation process’ to set out the desired profile of the new Archbishop. Basically, the CNC’s preferred candidate will already be the choice of the Prime Minister's and Archbishops' Secretaries for Appointments. The ‘results’ of ‘consultations’ will be utterly peripheral.
Of course, Her Majesty, being the Church’s Supreme Governor, could veto the chosen candidate and instruct the Commission and the College of Canons of Canterbury Cathedral to elect another. But that is not remotely likely: the Sovereign cannot be embarrassed by the failings of the next Archbishop of Canterbury, and so cannot appear to have made decisions based upon her own personal preferences.
Frankly, the Scottish Presbyterian Gordon Brown has bequeathed the Episcopal Church of England something of a dog’s breakfast.
And no Tory in the Cabinet either understands or cares.