Religious Affairs Correspondent
Leading clergymen yesterday criticised radical plans for reforming the government of the Church of England, warning that it would create an unrepresentative autocracy.
A meeting of the General Synod, at Church House, Westminster, was told that the changes - proposed by a committee chaired by the Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Michael Turnbull, and enthusiastically backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey - would place "very considerable power in the hands of a largely unelected body that does not appear to be answerable to the Synod or anyone else", according to Canon John Stanley, prolocutor (chairman) of the clergy of the York Archdiocese.
He asked whether the National Council, the new central committee which the Turnbull report proposes, will be able to "give a two-digit sign to the synod? ... If you give a body power, it will take it", Canon Stanley said.
The two archbishops would appoint eight of the 15 members of the proposed National Council, which would take over the executive functions of the synod and of the Church Commissioners.
"The patronage of the two archbishops will give them enormous influence and power," said Canon Stanley. "This will be felt throughout the Church. Are we moving towards a powerful centre which will not hear what people in parishes are saying?"
His remarks were greeted with sustained applause.
Dr Philip Giddings, vice chairman of the House of Laity, said: "The concept of a National Council, largely appointed and not fully accountable, needs fundamental reform. It seems to me remarkable that the commission should propose an additional layer of government, more centralisation, and less accountability."
However, Bishop Turnbull defended his proposals vigorously and a delaying motion, which would have postponed further consideration of the report until June next year, was defeated by 239-267 votes.
"I really do not see a grab for autocratic power or anything like it," Bishop Turnbull said.
"I do not accept loose allegations that we were motivated by trendy or even out-of-date management doctrine from the business world. The Church at national level clearly needs to work better as one body, not as some kind of dismembered jellyfish."
The most enthusiastic support for his proposals came from Philip Lovegrove, of St Albans, who poured scorn on the idea that the National Council would form a centre of power.
The Synod agreed to take note of the Turnbull report.