Deans question power of diocesan bishops

25 October 2007

by Bill Bowder

Gathering: deans, canons and mission representatives from 37 cathedrals and greater churches met in Coventry Cathedral last week for the “Mission Shaped Cathedrals conference

Gathering: deans, canons and mission representatives from 37 cathedrals and greater churches met in Coventry Cathedral last week for the “Mission Shap...

PROPOSALS to concentrate more power into the hands of diocesan bishops was opposed this week by three former deans.

The Deans Emeritus of Durham, Wells, and Rochester said that deans had been part of the Church’s system of checks and balances since the Reformation.

Last week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York published a consultation paper in response to the Prime Minister’s proposal that the Prime Minister should no longer exercise any element of choice in recommending appointments to senior ecclesiastical posts. In future, the paper said, the Church would forward only one name to convey to the Queen when diocesan bishops are appointed.

The Archbishops are asking for responses to the paper to be sent by 7 December.*

In the selection of cathedral deans, the paper said that the Prime Minister’s Office would no longer lead the process of recommending a new dean. The paper recognised that a cathedral was the mother-church of the diocese, but that it is “the relationship with the bishop that is the defining characteristic of a cathedral. As a matter of principle it seems to us questionable whether, with the Prime Minister’s Office no longer in the lead, anyone other than the diocesan bishop should oversee the process.”

But, in their letter to The Times, John Arnold, Dean Emeritus of Durham, Richard Lewis, Dean Emeritus of Wells, and Edward Shotter, Dean Emeritus of Rochester, say that canon law laid down that deans were part of the government of the Church.

“Deans have been part of a system of checks and balances in the English Church, at least since the Reformation, when papal powers were divided between the Crown and the Archbishop of Canterbury,” they wrote.

“If the Crown wants to repudiate its responsibility in this regard, some other method of appointing deans should be found, because deans have a community rather than a purely ecclesiastical function.”

The Archbishops’ consultation paper builds on the recent Pilling report (News, 16 July).

The report says that the Crown Nominations Commission should continue to be the group that searches for a new diocesan bishop. It would carry on identifying “two appointable candidates”, but only one name would be sent forward.

The Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary (currently Caroline Boddington, the wife of the Bishop of Derby) would lead the consultation process, but there would be “direct input” from a non-voting member” who would be able to ask “uncomfortable questions”.


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