And what shall we do about Canterbury?

Like Father like successor?
(Photo: Church Times)

Lapinbizarre asks (Comment, below) whether Richard Chartres could become Archbishop of Canterbury given his track record (or lack of it) in relation to the ordination of women.

I wonder whether a bigger question is whether, in the new Anglican polity, the next (or any future) Archbishop will be English or British? Is the Pope Italian?

And, bigger still, but not new: what powers should the Archbishop wield?

When the Communion is bound together by a confessional document it will no longer be held together by being in communion with the See of Canterbury nor, as a matter of fact, by having roots in historical association with the Church of England.

On the other hand the Archbishop of Canterbury will become a powerful presidential, papal, leader of the whole Communion. His (or her?) word will be increasing directive rather than advisory.

The present incumbent has created powers for himself by making assumptions and acting in accordance with those assumptions, even when they had no rationale in the pre-existing understanding of Anglican polity and relationships.

The lesson has been learnt: act with authority and people will follow. Never mind if the Archbishop has no clothes, clothes will come to him. No future leader of the Communion is ever likely to give up the powers Rowan has accrued, they are much more likely to want to extend them.

Now why, under these circumstances, would anyone who is not British automatically accept the historical anomaly of a State-appointee as head of the Communion? Why would any organisation want to limit its pool of candidates to a tiny fraction of the potential leaders available? And what about the politics of knowing yourself or your favoured leader permanently excluded from the top job on irrelevant criteria?

I see three options:

  • take the power of appointment away from the British State and the English Church and grant it to the Communion as a whole. This would necessitate disconnecting the post from the remaining legal and effectual roles within the Church of England. Or
  • take the title away from England and grant it to whoever is appointed leader of the Anglican Communion. Then the English roles remain as they are now but the post is called something else: Bishop of ________ [fill in the blank]. Or
  • keep the present arrangements but take the Communion powers away from the Archbishop of Canterbury and make the role ceremonial. This could be done without disturbing the arrangements in England. The Communion powers would be given to some new post, perhaps time-limited or subject to recall. This would be my preference. The Archbishop of Canterbury could then be chosen for their spiritual qualities and wisdom; someone else for their capacity to use power faithfully.
Each option raises the question of who the electorate would be for the effective leader of the Communion. The options are: the Primates, the ACC, or the Bishops whether assembled in Conference or otherwise. I don't suggest a wider franchise (lay people voting! who's church is this?) not because of the practical difficulties (which would be immense) but because I can't see Anglicanism becoming democratic.

I once spent some time studying Anglican ecclesiology. One, cynical, conclusion I came to was that we make organizational changes for a whole range of reasons - and afterwards we construct a theological rationale for it. I''ll take bets: within 2 years of the Covenant being adopted (if it is, and however many do so) I predict several serious publications to show it was God's will all along.

1 comment:

  1. The last time round Chartres said publicly that he would ordain women as priests if he became Archbishop because the office required it.