PM hires civil servant to help choose bishops and advise on Church

26 June 2008

by Bill Bowder

THE PRIME Minister has asked a senior civil servant to help in the process of choosing Church of England bishops, despite his stated reluctance to be directly involved in state patronage. The most recent General Synod had appealed to the Prime Minister to remain part of the process (Synod, 22 February).

Paul Britton, a high-ranking civil servant in the Cabinet Office, will be the new Appointments Secretary for senior ecclesiastical appointments. He started work two weeks ago.

Mr Britton, who is 59, and an Anglican who worships in the parish church in Tonbridge, said during the week when he took up his post that the Prime Minister had decided to have no direct involvement in the appointment of non-ecclesiastical posts, but had made an exception in the case of bishops and other senior clergy.

The previous Appointments Secretary, William Chapman, who had been in the post since 1999, left in March to be policy director of Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation.

“William worked full time on appointments. Now the non-ecclesiastical appointments have been hived off, and the Prime Minister has said he does not want to be directly involved with them,” said Mr Britton. But he would continue to be involved, through Mr Britton, with the appointments to senior ecclesiastical posts.

The main difference between his job and Mr Chapman’s was that the church work would form only part of his new responsibilities. As director general of the Domestic Policy Group in the Cabinet Office, and as head of the Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat, his main job was to support the Cabinet and brief the Prime Minister. There would be times when the church work would be only a small part of his work, but other times when it would loom large.

Mr Britton said: “I am going on Friday with Caroline Boddington [secretary to the Crown Nominations Commission] to start the process of taking soundings for the new Bishop of St Albans, and then I go to Bedford the following week, so it is not as though I am not involved. I will cover the appointment of bishops, and advise the Prime Minister on Church-state matters. I don’t have time to cover the appointment of cathedral deans; so a colleague of mine will do that.”

Emma Boggis, a senior civil servant in the Economic and Domestic Affairs secretariat, who is also an Anglican, will assist Mr Britton over Crown appointments to cathedrals, and take part in the selection process for Crown deaneries. Work on parochial appointments would remain with another civil servant, Nick Wheeler, Church House said in a General Synod briefing paper.

The Archbishops have welcomed the new arrangements, the Synod paper said.

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