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Irish choose a new archbishop, and take just one day to do it

by
05 October 2012

by Gregg Ryan, Ireland Correspondent

PA

THE House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland has chosen Dr Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath & Kildare, as new Primate of All Ireland, after an all-day meeting in Armagh on Tuesday.

He becomes the Archbishop of Armagh, succeeding the Most Revd Alan Harper, who retired at the end of last month after five-and-a-half years in office.

Dr Clarke, aged 63 (above), is a widely respected theologian and noted author, with much international experience. Apart from a two-year curacy at Holywood, in Co. Down, his ministry has been in the Irish Republic, at posts that include a second curacy at St Bartholomew's, a high church in Dublin, Chaplain to Trinity College, Rector of Bandon, and Dean of Cork. He has been in his present post since 1996.

Under the C of I constitution, the 11-member House of Bishops elects a Primate from among its own number. The key is to choose someone who will be seen to represent the Church in two jurisdictions: Northern Ireland, where the majority of Irish Anglicans live, and the more sparsely populated Republic - which, paradoxically, claims to have a higher number of regular Anglican churchgoers per capita, and where the headquarters of the C of I are based, along with the national Cathedral, St Patrick's.

Archbishop Clarke inherits a Church that has changed in recent years. There has been strong growth in many parishes, particularly in the Republic, caused by a mixture of factors including immigration and an influx of disaffected Roman Catholics. In Northern Ireland, an already strong Evangelical culture has been vocal in the controversy over the Church's position on homosexuality.

Bishop Clarke's age is thought to have been an important ingredient in the choice. The 20-year term served by Lord Eames led some, rightly or wrongly, to identify the Irish Church more closely with the Northern Irish establishment than perhaps was fairly the case. This was reinforced by the appointment of Archbishop Harper, an Englishman, and left some in the Republic uncomfortable with the perception of a Church tied to the UK - though many would say this was unfair to a man who did his utmost to be chief shepherd to all. His time in office was relatively short, however.

He is father to two grown-up children, Nicholas and Lindsay, both medics. His wife Lynda died some years ago.

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