Church body set to elect new archbishop of Canterbury

Thu, Sep 27, 2012, 01:00

THE BODY responsible for choosing Rowan Williams’s successor as archbishop of Canterbury met yesterday amid great secrecy and speculation that an Old Etonian former oil executive may become the 105th man to sit on the throne of St Augustine.

As the 16 voting members of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) gather at a secret location for a final two-day meeting, Justin Welby, the bishop of Durham, has emerged as one of the leading candidates to take over when Dr Williams stands down at the end of the year.

Aged a relatively young 56, Dr Welby, an evangelical, was made a bishop only in November after a successful spell as dean of Liverpool. His lack of experience in the church could work against him, but could be outweighed, say some, by his experience of the world outside it. He is viewed as a thoughtful and able communicator – something which, after a decade of Dr Williams’s less accessible style, is high on the list of candidates’ desirable qualities.

Others tipped to be among the frontrunners include Graham James, the liberal Anglo-Catholic bishop of Norwich, and Christopher Cocksworth, an evangelical who, now 53, became the youngest diocesan bishop in the Church of England when he was enthroned at Coventry in 2008.

James Jones, the bishop of Liverpool who recently won praise for his chairing of the panel into the Hillsborough disaster cover-up, has also been mentioned, as have Nick Baines, the bishop of Bradford, and Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford.

The two most senior candidates – John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, and Richard Chartres, the bishop of London – have age and experience both on their side and against them.

They have numerous different qualities to recommend them, but by the time of the next Lambeth conference in 2018 Chartres will have passed the Church of England’s retiring age of 70 and Sentamu will be fast approaching it. Once it has made its decision this week the CNC, which is chaired by the former Tory minister Lord Luce and comprises clergy and lay people, will submit two names to Downing Street.

Because of changes made by Gordon Brown when he was prime minister, these will now consist of one name actively advocated by the commission and a second which it would find acceptable.

The name will then be presented to the Queen for approval. The timeframe is unclear, but Lambeth Palace is expecting an announcement in early October. – (Guardian service)