Comments: proposals for constitutional reform

For those of us across the water, how do lay and non-bishop clergy voices get heard in this process? I trust there is a process, and I'm not surprised that it isn't spelled out in this kind of document. I'm just interested in how another province does this.

This, of course, is where we Americans get into discussing whether the word "appointment" is apt for bishops of the Episcopal Church. There is no such centralization of the process in bishops taking office here. So, this is a place where we don't necessarily understand each others's processes.

Posted by Marshall Scott at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 5:21pm BST

For diocesan bishops: each diocese has a statutory standing committee, called the 'vacancy in see' committee. Some members of this are ex officio, e.g. suffragan bishop, dean, chairs of house of clergy and laity; others are elected by the diocesan synod by houses. When there is a vacancy the committee meets to draw up a statement of needs, diocesan profiles etc. They also elect some of their number to sit on the Crown Nominations Commission. The other members of this Commission are either ex officio (the archbishop of the province) or elected by the General Synod by houses. The Commission meets and its goal is to provide two names to the Prime Minister, which may, if they wish, be placed in order of preference. The PM can then recommend one of these names to the Crown for nomination to the vacant see; or if he does not like either of the names he can ask the Commission to provide two more names.

The proposal in the green paper is that the Commission be asked to propose only one name, and that the PM invariably advises the Crown to nominate this person.

Suffragan bishops: the diocesan bishop may utilize whatever process he wishes, at the end of which he puts forward two viable names to the Crown -- via the archbishop of the province who in turn forwards the names to the PM. The PM invariably advises the Crown to nominate the first name on the list. The green paper proposes that there be no change in this process. What is needed here, I think, is a limitation on the patronage exercised by diocesan bishops so that there is a requirement for the involvement of laity and clergy in the selection of names by the diocesan bishop.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 5:32pm BST

Well, it all seems perfectly sensible - if hardly earth-shattering. The bigger question is whether the General Synod will use this opportunity to re-examine the whole internal methodology of appointments and the question of whether the balance between widespread consultation and the deciding cabals is right or whether, in the currently vogueish phrase, it needs 'rebalancing'!

Posted by jeremy pemberton at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 5:52pm BST

To provide more detail in reply to Marshall's question, our colleague Peter Owen has a page which deals with this:
http://peterowen.org.uk/articles/choosing.html
I notice he last revised it in February 2006. If anything has changed since then, I am sure he will tell us here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 6:30pm BST

Interesting reaffirmation of establishment:

"the Government reaffirms its commitment to the position of the Church of England by law established, with the Sovereign as its Supreme Governor, and the relationship between the Church and State. The Government greatly values the role played by the Church in national life in a range of spheres"

I suspect the Queen has something to do with this; I don't think she would favour disestablishment and this is one of the few matters still within her personal sphere of influence.

On the other hand, nothing is said about the House of Lords, or bishops within the House of Lords. Recent comment has suggested that Gordon Brown favours a wholly elected House of Lords. That would presumably mean no bishops. This statement does not assure them of their seats in the House of Lords.

Posted by badman at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 6:44pm BST

Sigh: this is all still beyond me.

Why can't the CofE just *disestablish*, and be done with it?

[With perhaps some govt subsidy, to keep the ancient buildings up]

Come on over to "the separation of Church & State", UK: the water's fine! :-)

Posted by JCF at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 7:46pm BST

And is anyone considering that these clerics might be openly elected before their name is submitted - or is that too much?

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 8:09pm BST

I have reviewed my article on Choosing diocesan bishops linked above. I have made one minor correction (in one place I had the number of diocesan members on the CNC as four; the correct number is six). I have also added the requirement that at least three of the diocesan members must be lay people.

So far as I am aware the article is correct, but I am open to correction. Changes to procedures that do not require action by General Synod are often announced in GS Misc papers which I may not see as they do not always appear on the Church of England website.

I have also added a link to the official "Briefing for members of Vacancy in See Committees" dated January 2004.

Posted by Peter Owen at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 9:54pm BST

Well, the only real difference that these proposals would have made in recent years is - no George Carey as ABC.

Wow! There must be a God after all....

But seriously - the reason the CofE doesn't disestablish is simple - if they did so, they would be another small Christian denomination which few people go to, and they would lose their link with the broader community of non-churchgoers, which, however, tenuous still exists.

It does vary from area to area - Liverpool is a predominantly Catholic city, for example (and RC attendance is going the same way as ours!) - but I don't think there is any enthusiasm for disestablishment

Posted by Merseymike at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 10:54pm BST

Thanks so much for the information.

To give credit where due: while the last step is "appointment," there is certainly representation of the laity and of non-bishop clergy in the process of nomination. It's a different process, but I wouldn't see it as unrepresentative, unless the Prime Minister chose to be an active participant. I was particularly struck that in filling an archiepiscopal vacancy the Chair of the Crown Nominations Commission must be a lay person, and the General Secretary of the ACO is a non-voting member. While the General Secretary couldn't speak *for* the Communion, he might speak *to* the state of the Communion, and to current issues.

Posted by Marshall Scott at Tuesday, 3 July 2007 at 11:46pm BST

Well, the only real difference that these proposals would have made in recent years is - no George Carey as ABC.

My Significant Other and I were invited (along with many others) to contribute to the 'soundings' in Bath & Wells when John Bickersteth retired in the 80's. Guess who we got.....

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 12:08am BST

Oddly this move could delay the appointment ( when approved ) of women bishops. Look at the Church of Ireland...women bishops approved 1990/1? and not one senior ranking woman, dean, bishop or even archdeacon.

Posted by Robert Ian Williams at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 6:03am BST

common sense....we should not have outside political views interfering in CoE decisions - we have too much internal politics already!

Posted by NP at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 8:54am BST

The commitment to Establishment and the Royal Prerogative is very welcome. At least the CofE wont be able to sign up to a covenant that commits it to 'obeying' or 'conforming to' the wishes or directives of the Primates' Meeting.

The Prerogative stills remains a prerogative - at the end of the day the Queen can appoint who she likes, as she did when she insisted on moving Donald Coggan to Canterbury. Any covenant that required the Queen to seek the approval of the Primates for 'her' choice would be illegal.

Posted by Terence Dear at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 8:56am BST

"we should not have outside political views interfering in CoE decisions"

And we should be protected from external political interference by the Instruments of Communion. (The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction...)

Posted by Hugh of Lincoln at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 10:56am BST

The most significant part of this announcement in my opinion is not the change regarding diocesan bishops. It is the proposal to have "different arrangements for Cathedral, parish and other Crown appointments in the Church". The Pilling report, which is to be debated at General Synod next Monday considered whether it wished to recommend changes in this area made only quite minor recommendations.
It now looks as if that whole area will have to be revisited.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 11:12am BST

'The Prerogative stills remains a prerogative - at the end of the day the Queen can appoint who she likes, as she did when she insisted on moving Donald Coggan to Canterbury. Any covenant that required the Queen to seek the approval of the Primates for 'her' choice would be illegal.'

I wonder what evidence you have for this comment about Donald Coggan. The royal prerogative is rarely exercised without ministerial advice. In ecclesiastical matters it is confined to appointments to St George's Windsor, Westmninster Abbey and other 'royal peculiars'. Otherwise it is exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister, and one would certainly expect this to be so in the nomination of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As yesterday's Green Paper makes clear, the advice is tendered by the PM, and it is up to the PM whom he chooses to rely on for advice. If he chooses to listen only to the Crown Nominations Commission that is up to him; if he or it chooses to allow other primates a voice then that too is up to him. I fail to see how it would be illegal.

(I do not say that I would think it a Good Thing. That's a different matter. I am querying the legality or otherwise of the PM taking any advice that he wishes in advising the Crown.)

Simon K

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 12:31pm BST

"The royal prerogative is rarely exercised without ministerial advice."

I must dispute this. The royal perogative is NEVER exercised without ministerial advice.

In this regard, the constitutional systems in the UK and Canada are identical.

In a recent Canadian case, the vice-regal person (who exercises HM's powers on her behalf) took advice as to what she must do if the Premier did not proffer the necessary advice to issue the writ for a general election prior to the expiration of the Legislature's five year maximum term. The constitutional advice proffered was that the only action she could take in absence of advice was to dismiss the Premier and to appoint another Premier who would offer the necessary advice. For the Lieutenant-Governor to issue a writ of election without advice was deemed intolerable.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Wednesday, 4 July 2007 at 4:54pm BST

On the tension between the polity of The Church of England and The Covenant:

The appointment of bishops will be one of the "essential matters of common concern", on which the C of E will be required to "have regard to the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy".

The question is: how much weight is given to structures which are so far 'merely' advisory?

Posted by Hugh of Lincoln at Thursday, 5 July 2007 at 12:23am BST

In 1963, the Queen personally chose Sir Alec Douglas-Hume (then Lord Hume) as Prime Minister without regard to ministerial advice. My comment about Donald coggan is based on personal knowledge - I'm afraid I can't evidence it.

Of course, it isn't only a matter of the Queen taking advice from her Ministers. The convention works the other way too; Ministers are required to have regard to any advice that the Monarch chooses to offer them. And, when the person offering you advice has been in the job for 55 years it is wise to take note of that advice.

But the issue of ministerial advice isn't the point I'm trying to make. In my opinion, it is the signing of a covenant that would make the Royal Prerogative answerable to a higher, extra-territorial authority, however benign, that would be illegal.

One of the arguments in favour of our unwritten constitution here in the UK is that conventions can be adapted to suit changing needs. That is all that the new Prime Minister is seeking to do. However, I believe the proposed covenant as currently envisaged by many would require an Act of Parliament, in much the same way that EU Directives have to be enacted into UK law. I don't think that such a process would be plain sailing.

Posted by Terence Dear at Thursday, 5 July 2007 at 8:50am BST

'In 1963, the Queen personally chose Sir Alec Douglas-Home (then Lord Home) as Prime Minister without regard to ministerial advice. My comment about Donald Coggan is based on personal knowledge - I'm afraid I can't evidence it.'

I'm not sure what 'personal knowledge' means! Does it mean you have some real inside knowledge, or just that that's what you think happened.

As for the Lord Home case, he was not 'personally chosen' by the Queen. On the contrary, soundings were taken amongst the Cabinet, and it was the advice of the outgoing PM, Macmillan, that Lord Home be his successor (though it is arguable that the Queen was not duty-bound to accept Macmillan's advice on this topic). All this is well-documented.

Appointed without ministerial advice -- yes to some extent. But not 'without regard' to ministerial advice. And certainly not 'personal choice' or a free exercise of the royal will.

Simon K

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Thursday, 5 July 2007 at 10:19am BST

'I must dispute this. The royal prerogative is NEVER exercised without ministerial advice.'

Not so, not in the UK anyway. Only last week the Queen exercised her prerogative without ministerial advice, when she invited Gordon Brown to form an administration. Of course, by convention, the Queen didn't really have any choice over whom to invite.

However, I was thinking of two things. One I mentioned in my comment -- the appointment of some clergy to the royal peculiars such as St George's, Windsor, and Westminster Abbey. This is entirely without ministerial advice.

The other is the exercise of the royal prerogative in the appointment to a few orders of chivalry and other honours, namely Knights of the Garter, Knights of the Thistle, knights and other members of the Victorian Order, and members of the Order of Merit. These are entirely in the gift of the sovereign without ministerial advice, unlike all other honours which are given on ministerial advice. You might well not consider this to be particularly important (and I wouldn't necessarily disagree) but they are still public exercises of the royal prerogative without ministerial advice. Hence my use of the word 'rarely' rather than 'never'.

Simon K

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Thursday, 5 July 2007 at 10:38am BST

Simon - You make a valid distinction. These would all be areas which are considered in the free gift of HM. (I have several friends who are members in various degrees of the Victorian Order.)

However, in areas where HM (or her representatives in the Dominions) would normally act on ministerial advice, neither HM nor her representatives would act without advice.

I rather suspect that the last bit of advice HM received from Mr. Blair was that she invite Mr. Brown to come for tea.

The exception, as I noted (and as I believe has never actually come to pass) would be the case where the Premier refuses / neglects to provide necessary advice. In extremis, HM (or her representatives) can dismiss the Premier and invite a different Premier - most likely one who has promised to proffer the necessary advice. By it's very nature, this would constitute a constitutional crisis.

All that said, the point that set us off down this byway was that the Covenant would be illegal for the C of E because it would constrain the established church in ways specifically forbidden under law. On that, I am entirely agreed.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Thursday, 5 July 2007 at 5:44pm BST

These proposals are not good. Too much power in the hands of unelected Bishops. The involvement of the government's civil service (2 people work on appointments and consult widely, and most importantly amongst the laity as well) ensures balance and fairness. Bishops will appoint in their own likeness. The only acceptable alternative to the present way of doing things would be to have fully elected Bishops.

Posted by Neil at Friday, 6 July 2007 at 9:07am BST

And why not have "fully elected bishops?"

After all, in the fiction of establishment, doesn't HM actually nominate a candidate whom a compliant chapter then elects.

Instead, why not have a diocesan process whereby bishops are elected by a diocesan synod instead of the "Crown Nominations Committee? After all, although a well appointed CNC could be a committee of the great and the good, it could equally be a committee of agenda driven placeholders of no particular merit. At least with a diocesan synod, those promoting a corrupt agenda would have to work harder to fix the process.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Friday, 6 July 2007 at 5:58pm BST
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