Habgood attacks constitutional change in Church: The General Synod of the Church of England: Andrew Brown reports on proposals designed to change the way senior appointments are made

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The Independent Online
THE General Synod yesterday heard a crushing attack on the process of 'disestablishment by stealth' from the Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood.

Dr Habgood criticised proposals to remove the prime minister's influence on the appointments of Cathedral deans and provosts which had been put forward by a working party chaired by Sir William van Straubenzee.

'Some people might receive the impression, however misguidedly, that some other agenda is being put forward here, and that the real target of a constitutional change . . . is the long-term objective of removing the role of the prime minister in the appointment of diocesan bishops,' he said.

'The Queen is not Supreme Governor of the Church of England simply in a personal capacity. She is Supreme Governor by virtue of being Head of State. The fact is that if we want, as a Church, to retain a relationship with the state as symbolised by the Head of State, then there is no way of avoiding the constitutional machinery of the state. I therefore urge Synod to stop wandering about in this particular minefield.'

Bishop Colin Buchanan, the Church's most senior advocate of disestablishment, said that the report had been finished off by Dr Habgood's intervention. He compared the working party's labours to the efforts of the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, which, he said, had spent 18 months sailing into battle, only to be sunk in three hours as soon as it met the Japanese fleet.

Sir William claimed that it would make no great difference if the Queen were to make appointments on the advice of the two archbishops rather than that of the prime minister. 'Both Archbishops and, indeed, the Bishop of London, are invariably sworn of the Privy Council. Both have a right of audience with the Sovereign,' he said.

The Synod gave a mixed welcome to the other recommendation of the working party's report, to bring greater openness and democracy into the way that suffragan bishops and deans were chosen.

Prebendary Donald Barnes, of London, recounted how the previous Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, had overruled the advice of all seven of his area deans in appointing one area bishop on ideological grounds. The present arrangements concentrated 'too much unfettered power in one person,' he said. He wanted all such posts filled by election, as they are in the rest of the Anglican communion.

But the Very Rev Eric Evans, the Dean of St Pauls, speaking as 'a relic of the ancien regime', said that the removal of political patronage 'ignores what the church has meant to the English nation.

'I am terrified of the Church of England having more and more of a ghetto mentality. Deaneries and Crown Canonries are the last bastions of the eccentric. If you want dull and monochrome deans designed by committee, then you must go for this report.'

(Photograph omitted)