Clergy back state's role in church appointments: Archbishop of Canterbury makes key intervention. Andrew Brown reports from the General Synod

Andrew Brown
Monday 11 July 1994 23:02

THE Church of England's General Synod in York yesterday voted overwhelmingly not to weaken its links with the state after the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, told the General Synod it 'could not sensibly' vote to change the system by which a prime minister chooses bishops. The motion was rejected by 273 votes to 110.

Dr Carey was speaking in a debate started by the Rt Rev Colin Buchanan, an assistant bishop in the diocese of Rochester. Parliament, said Bishop Buchanan, was 'not Christian, not theological, not accountable to anyone for its decisions'.

Bishop Buchanan's motion called only for a change in the system by which bishops are chosen, but he is known as an advocate of disestablishment.

Dr Carey responded that 'We should use the fact that the Church of England bishops are national, not merely ecclesiastical figures. In recent months in the House of Lords, bishops have contributed a Christian view on issues including euthanasia, the blasphemy law, the use of human embryos in research, overseas aid, and the needs of coal mining communities . . .'

Bishop Buchanan focused his attacks on the fact that diocesan bishops are chosen by prime ministers from a shortlist submitted by a church committee called the Crown Appointments Commission. 'We as a synod do not know that any bishop of any diocese was in fact the person desired by the Commission,' he said. Bishop Buchanan has never been a diocesan bishop, only a suffragan or assistant, who are chosen directly by other bishops. 'There may be bishops who know they were number two on the list, and they must be embarrassed . . . The rest of us cannot know. Because the discretion is there, and because the confidentiality is total, the suspicion attaches to every diocesan on the bench - that he is Mrs T's or Mr Major's arbitrarily preferred politically motivated choice.'

The Provost of Southwark, the Very Rev David Edwards, proposed an amendment asking for the archbishops to set up a commission to review the workings of church-state relationship.

This was attacked by Dr Carey as entailing 'years of constitutional navel-gazing' at a time when the church was already damaged by its long wrangling over the ordination of women and by its financial difficulties. This motion also was lost.

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