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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 December, 2004, 11:50 GMT
Hope on faith
On Sunday, 12 December, 2004, Sir David Frost interviewed The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Dr David Hope
The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope

DAVID FROST: And we're now introducing the Archbishop of York, the second most important man in the Church of England.

But he's giving it all up, the Palace, the chauffeur, the influence, to become a local vicar in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

Early this week I went up to Bishopthorpe Palace near York and I began by asking the Archbishop was he sad to be leaving all this behind?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well, over the last nine years it's been an enormous privilege to be here. It's a wonderful sight, glorious site. And of course all the heritage and history from the 13th century.

But the size of it is pretty daunting, and I think I shall be quite glad to move into something ... downsize into something a little bit less large.

DAVID FROST: Downsizing is really interesting as you could be starting a whole trend with people who want to get back to basics I suppose. Is it because of officialdom and bureaucracy become irksome after a time, and you want to get away from the trappings?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well I think deep down it's a response to what I believe to be the call of God, actually to be a parish priest. And the fact that I happen to have become Bishop and Archbishop is a kind of a little bit of a surprise really, I suppose. God has these little surprises up his sleeve and I've always felt I'd like to finish my ministry as I began it, as a parish priest.

But also I think there is something, I mean increasingly these days we are bound, weighed down with bureaucracy, and that's just as true in the church as anywhere else. And so I think I shall be quite glad to be rid of all of that.

DAVID FROST: And in fact the Church of England says it's going to sell off more and more properties and so on, to raise some cash. It's not going to sell this place is it?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well I hope not.

DAVID FROST: And it's not going to sell your house in Ilkley?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well I hope not, not before I get to it I hope, no.

DAVID FROST: Is it a good plan that?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well I think the church has to look seriously at its responsibilities because at the end of the day increasingly the money in order to fund places like this is actually coming out of the collections of the parishes. On the other hand I have found in all the sort of ...

I mean the chapel of 1241 established by Walter de Graham and that long heritage, part of our Christian heritage, part of the heritage of Bishopthorpe of York itself. I would find it very difficult to just let all that go. I mean I think that really would be yielding unnecessarily really, to the financial pressures at the present time.

DAVID FROST: And this Christmas we're going to have the bizarre situation in a way that 70% of people in this country describe themselves as Christians, only a million a week go to church, more will come at Christmas. Do you believe that people who don't go to church except perhaps on Christmas Day, are Christians?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well, I think it depends on how they actually understand it for themselves to be honest. But I still ... I mean I'm still encouraged by the numbers who come. I mean here we have a story which is nearly 2,000 years old, still resilient, exciting, mysterious as ever. And it draws people.

People who are searching, people who many have been ardent Christians and fallen away. I mean it's very difficult to kind of judge people's motives but they come, and they come in their thousands. And my hope is that they will receive something actually of, and perceive something of the life of Jesus Christ through their attendances.

DAVID FROST: And can I be a Christian if I don't believe in the virgin birth?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well I believe that the virgin birth is part of the commitment which we have in the creed. I believe that very firmly. I mean I think it's there in Luke's gospel. There again, I wouldn't want to expel anyone from the church if they felt that that particular doctrine was a difficulty for them.

DAVID FROST: Do you think we're a Christian country?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: I think that ... I think I'd really want to question that. Large numbers of people still describe themselves as believing in God, large numbers, actually significant numbers, still would say that they are Christian.

Now how they then express that Christianity I think, has changed enormously. But I think I'd be a bit hard pushed to saying we were a Christian country despite that.

DAVID FROST: Because of what really?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well because I think there are sort of secularist tendencies, the fact that again that the sort of commitment to the Christian church is less than it was.

DAVID FROST: Do you think there is a serious likelihood of a schism as a result of what happened with the gay bishop elected and consecrated in the United States?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: I think it's extremely difficult to tell. I think what will be key will be the sort of responses that now begin to come in following the publication of the Robin Eames Windsor report.

The churches of the communion are being asked to as we are, to make a response to the primates of the communion by February.

Now I think that will be a fairly crucial meeting. Quite what decisions they will make I wouldn't like to predict but I think that a good deal turns on that, as to whether there are likely to be some serious consequences in terms of splits.

DAVID FROST: Would it actually matter if there were two Anglican churches in the world, I mean would that be simpler? You'd have the conservative wing and then you'd have the wing who believed in all these gay marriages and all of that stuff. And would it matter if there were two?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well I think it would because I think actually the eulogy of the church for the sake of the world is really quite fundamental and important. I mean one of the agonising prayers that Jesus himself prayed was in Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. Praying that they all may be one. And I mean I do think that's a fairly necessary crucial message, particularly for a world which is so divided.

The real question is how far is it possible to contain within the one church, these various diversities of view? And how far can you push that diversity, and it's very clear that you can only push it so far, and that there will be limits. Inevitably there are limits.

DAVID FROST: Do you think that we're going to have, on the question of women priests, are we going to have flying bishops again?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well it certainly is a solution and I think that it's held ... I mean I personally think that the whole question of the Episcopal visit of the flying bishops have actually held the church together in a much more constructive and creative way, than say in the United States of America where they haven't had the flying bishops. So I think some such arrangement will be necessary if and when the Church of England proceeds to ordain women to the episcopate. Very definitely.

DAVID FROST: Do you think ... can you foresee a day when that happens?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Oh I would have thought it's probably fairly inevitable. It seems illogical to say that you can ordain a woman a priest and then say you are not going to go on potentially at any rate, to ordain a women to the episcopate.

DAVID FROST: With the current situation with David Blunkett and the concentration on visas and things like that. Do you regret, as a moral leader, that there hasn't been more discussion of the fact of a man having an affair with a married woman, and all of that, the moral side of that? Or do you think that's a good sign that we are respecting privacy in these matters?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well the point is being made isn't it, that that's a purely private matter that shouldn't be allowed to intrude into the work as Home Secretary. And on the whole, on the whole I would tend to agree with that, but it does seem to me, I would want to enter a caveat, I don't think it's altogether quite so easy to have clear blue water between what you might call the private and the public.

And I would therefore want to raise some questions, I think, about the impact of the private in the public sphere, and I don't think you can extrapolate those two quite so easily, actually, so I think one impinges on the other.

You may remember Lord Nolan's principles of public life and the two words or rather the one word out of that "integrity" seem to be quite crucial here. And also the other word "trust", which is around quite a lot. And increasingly one senses that people are beginning to feel that well, you know, how can you trust, what about integrity. And I think those are big moral questions for us.

DAVID FROST: And when we invaded Iraq, you were very supportive of that initial move. But you're now disillusioned about it.

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Yes, I think a large number, as with a large number of other people because the really persuasive arguments were that (a) that it was very clear there were weapons of mass destruction, and secondly the sort of 45-minute threat.

That I think, many of us were perhaps at the time hesitant. But I mean it was those sorts of arguments made so very forcibly and with the background of intelligence which actually as it were pushed you over the brink to say, well yes, we're prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. But I think it's become very clear that both those claims were not true. And therefore, yes, one has become very disillusioned by that.

DAVID FROST: And tell me something, Archbishop - David - would you say, looking back on your thoughts and so on, would you say that you believe in God, or that you know there's a God? Do you know there's a God or do you just believe there's a God?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: I both believe and know for myself that there is a God.

DAVID FROST: And how do you know that for yourself?

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK: Well, because in terms of the ministry which has been entrusted to me. I have seen ways in which I believe God has worked through people, through groups in various places, I believe that certain things to have been the work of God and indeed in my own, I think in my own personal life, my own prayer, I believe that God has been present and has helped me through and seen me through.

NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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