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Prime minister to opt out of choosing Church of England bishops


The Church of England has welcomed Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s proposal to parliament to remove the prime minister from the process of choosing the church’s bishops in the future.

"I welcome the prospect of the church being the decisive voice in the appointment of bishops, which the [denomination’s] general synod called for 33 years ago," Archbishop of York John Sentamu said in a statement released on 3 July in the absence of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who is on study leave.

If passed, the proposal would mark a major change in the relationship between church and state in England, where the (Anglican) Church of England is the established church. The proposal is one of a series of constitutional reforms aimed at limiting the powers of the executive that Brown, who became prime minister on 27 June, presented to parliament on 3 July.

The established status of the Church of England means that the British sovereign is its "supreme governor" and appoints diocesan bishops on the advice of the prime minister.

Under the present arrangements, the church’s Crown Nominations Committee forwards two names to the prime minister, who normally recommends one of them to the monarch. However, the prime minister does not have to accept either name, and can ask for further nominations.

It is proposed that in the future the committee would present only one name to the prime minister, who would then forward that name to the monarch.

"I am grateful for the prime minister’s thoughtfulness and for his overt support for the role of the queen and the establishment by law of the Church of England," Archbishop Sentamu added.

The proposed constitutional changes make no mention of the 1701 Act of Settlement, which excludes non-Protestants from succeeding to the throne. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, was quoted by The Times newspaper as saying, "I am deeply disappointed at the statement from Gordon Brown. I remain deeply concerned that the Act of Settlement will continue to exist and believe it constitutes state-sponsored sectarianism."

(c) Ecumenical News International