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EDITIONS
Friday, 14 June, 2002, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Choosing an archbishop
Lambeth Palace and statuary BBC
The Queen must approve final choice of archbishop

The race is hotting up to decide who will be the new spiritual leader of the Church of England.

There are unofficial signs that an announcement could come within a few weeks.

But the role of the Church in choosing the next archbishop of Canterbury is limited.

The crucial decision will be taken, possibly for the last time, by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Dr George Carey
Dr George Carey will retire in the Autumn
The search for a new man is necessary because the present holder of the office, Dr George Carey, will retire at the end of October.

His successor will inevitably be a man, because the Church of England, although it has women priests, has not yet agreed to accept women as bishops.

The average time taken to find a new archbishop, church officials say, is around nine months.

'Secret meeting'

That would mean no announcement till shortly before Dr Carey leaves office, and possibly even afterwards.

Meanwhile, church leaders are taking soundings to see who would be acceptable to most members of this very broad church.

The formal part of their work happens in a meeting of the Crown Appointments Commission, chaired by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who was nominated by the prime minister.

The commission's 13 voting members, all practising Anglicans, are joined by two advisers without a vote, the prime minister's and the archbishop's appointment secretaries.

The commission meets in secret, on an unknown date, and draws up a long list of up to 14 names, most of them likely to be serving bishops of the Church of England.

It reduces this to a shortlist of five names, and finally selects two, each of whom must have the support of two-thirds of the voting members.

These names are then sent to Mr Blair, who chooses one and informs Buckingham Palace of his preference, asking for the Queen's approval.

No interviews

Critics say the process is anything but transparent - potential candidates are not interviewed, and there is a limited chance for ordinary worshippers to say who they favour.

It is also disliked because ultimately the choice is made by a politician who may not be a church member, or even a Christian.

Mr Blair is however a practising Anglican.

One of the toughest challenges for the new archbishop will be whether the Church of England should continue to be the established state church.

If it were not, it could select its own bishops, an increasingly attractive prospect for many Anglicans.

They think it might also make more sense for a church which is struggling to make much impact in England itself, but which has 70 million members worldwide.

Then the pool of potential archbishops to choose from would be very much larger.


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