Letter: Senior Church of England appointments

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Sir: That the appointment of deans and provosts, bishops suffragan and certain residentiary canonries should be taken out of the hands of Downing Street has not been sought by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. They have said so, in response to the proposals of Sir William van Straubenzee's commission. Many in the church and nation will find the suggestions of the commission unwelcome.

They will weaken links between church and state and, if carried, lead to further pressures against the continued existence of private patronage, of which the Crown's patronage is the archetype.

Quite apart from all considerations of moral right, such patronage is frequently beneficial to the parish. The new scheme would be bureaucratic and expensive for the church to carry out in terms both of personnel and added costs borne ultimately by parish quota. Nor is there any guarantee that such an arrangement would lead either to better appointments or appointments in which either the public or the narrower church had more confidence.

We do not know what Downing Street does: that is of the essence of the Crown's discretion; but we have reason to believe that it does it rather well. A deanery, for example, is a great public office, and a dean is responsible for a great public building - it is right that the Crown's part should continue to be exercised in the traditional way, and certainly wrong that bishops should be encouraged to see deans or cathedrals in narrowly diocesan terms. Diocesanism is not a wholly benign influence on church life, and would tend to create a monochrome pattern in place of the variety of ministries which the life of the English people requires.

Mr Field's bold opposition to the proposals of the commission is noteworthy, and the archbishops may well shrink from acquiring responsibilities they have not sought and which would tend to undo the good they desire in the total pattern of the Church of England's life and work.

Yours faithfully,



The English Clergy Association


19 October