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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 16:37 GMT
Canterbury may seek black archbishop
canterbury cathedral
Might a bishop from the developing world preside at Canterbury cathedral?
By BBC News Online's Alex Kirby

In a radical departure from tradition, the Church of England is considering choosing a leader from the Third World.

It is trying to decide whether a future archbishop of Canterbury could be found among the ranks of bishops in developing countries.

The move comes as part of a review of the future development of the archbishop's role and responsibilities.

The review team is consulting church members about several possible options, and plans to report next summer.

The team is chaired by Lord Hurd, the UK's former Conservative foreign secretary, and its members include Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth secretary-general.

Multi-faceted

It was appointed earlier this year by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.

In a consultation paper, the team identifies six main roles for the archbishop.

He is head of the diocese of Canterbury, metropolitan (senior bishop) of the southern province of the Church of England, and "primate of all England" - the country's senior religious figure, as leader of the established church.

carey
The present archbishop, Dr George Carey
In the UK and abroad, he represents Anglicans to members of different faiths. This part of the job has involved Dr Carey in work to strengthen the Anglican presence in the Balkans to help reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.

Beyond that, he is the leader of the Anglican Communion, the worldwide body of 70 million believers who largely share the Church of England's doctrines.

And the archbishop is sometimes expected to represent a range of religious groups in dealings with secular institutions, including the European Parliament, the World Bank and the United Nations.

The consultation paper notes: "There are some who would insist that in future the diocese of Canterbury should be open to members of the Anglican Communion outside England, given that the Communion has changed and is now worldwide, multicultural and multiracial."

If the review team does recommend to Dr Carey that the post should be opened up in this way, it will be open to him to accept or reject its advice.

Local talent

If he decided to accept it, there would be several practical difficulties. The first is that the Church of England already has a number of able bishops who were born outside the UK.

Wilfred Wood, the bishop of Croydon, is from Barbados. John Sentamu of Stepney is from Uganda, and Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester comes from Pakistan.

All are highly regarded and have served the church for many years, yet none is spoken of as a potential candidate for Canterbury.

figure in mitre
The archbishop's role is changing
If the Anglican Communion wants to reflect its multicultural nature and yet has no more senior role to offer men like these, it will appear hypocritical.

But race is not the only problem. The church could also be heading for a gender clash.

Under the Church of England's existing laws, only men can be bishops. But a number of other Anglican churches have women bishops.

Men only

Without a change in those laws, any attempt to find an archbishop from overseas would have to make it clear that women were not eligible.

The review team says that "obligations have been added and none taken away" from the archbishop's historic role.

The search for a new definition that satisfies everyone is likely to prove impossible.

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