The point being made is that the Prime Minister should be given two names by the Commission, that one of them should be the Archbishop of Wales and the other should be a conservative of one kind or another. Then Mr Blair has a real choice. The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
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Wales or not?
The question which now confronts the Church of England
Easter is, for many, a period of reflection. For the 16 men and women who constitute the membership of the Crown Appointments Commission, this Easter may witness more reflection than usual. This body must produce two candidates for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury and put them forward to the Prime Minister. With the selection this week to head that body of Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Britain's most senior family judge, the process of serious scrutiny will start shortly. The election has already attracted rather more attention than that which eventually produced the name of George Carey 11 years ago. The Church of England may consider this publicity to be a distinctly mixed blessing.
The composition of the Commission has been carefully scrutinised, in a manner akin to the lost art of Kremlinology, for indications of factional balance and personal allegiance. There are some members who can be identified as "liberal", "evangelical" or "conservative" but it is not clear whether this will necessarily determine their preferences. The term "liberal" embraces both political liberals and those who are liberal in their interpretation of theology. The phrase "evangelical" covers a multitude of virtues. The label "conservative" is not necessarily synonomous with that of Anglo-Catholicism. The personal virtues of the candidates may be enough to enable them to overcome the doubts of those thought to be associated with a different ecclesiatical tradition.
At the start of what might be described crudely as this "contest", three main contenders were identified. These are the Most Rev Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester and the Right Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London. The passage of three months has slightly altered perceptions of their prospects. The low-profile taken by the Archbishop of Wales has done him no harm while the most overt campaigning associated with supporters of the Bishop of Rochester have compounded uncertainties about his suitability. The Bishop of London remains an impressive man, but his relative hostility to women priests is a potentially fatal handicap. These developments suggest that the bookmakers have been wise to amend the odds and make the Archbishop of Wales their favourite.
He is certainly an intriguing candidate. He combines an exceptional intellect with the common touch which often eludes the senior clergy. While he is undoubtedly liberal, even radical, in social and political spheres, his theological opinions are stoutly conventional. There might be some in the Church of England who agonise over whether the resurrection is a literal truth or an ingenious metaphor but the Archbishop of Wales is not one of them. This clarity of belief may allow him to appeal to Anglo-Catholics within the Church, even if they worry about his views on the War on Terror or his endorsement by The Guardian.
It would be unfortunate if the Commission did not seriously consider placing the Archbishop's name on the shortlist to be sent to Downing Street. They must also contemplate whether the possibility of the next occupant of the see of Canterbury intervening in political controversies and perhaps prematurely forcing the vexed matter of homosexuality and ordination on to the Anglican agenda demands that they provide Tony Blair with an insurance policy. That might best be achieved by ensuring that the alternative successor to Dr Carey is a figure who is not strongly associated with either the evangelical or the conservative camps. That would reduce what is otherwise a complicated affair down to a single, simple question: the Archbishop of Wales or not?