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Will Brown hand back powers to the Church?

By the end of July Gordon Brown is expected to be installed in 10
Downing Street. Much is being made of his first 100 days as prime
minister and many political commentators has been speculating about the
early initiatives of his premiership, writes Christopher Morgan.

While
some of his close colleagues have recently tried to dampen down
expectations of the first 100 days others have said the Church of
England can expect to see some dramatic changes.

One of those it
is claimed could be that for the first time since the rein of King Henry
VIII the church will be given the right to choose its own archbishops
and bishops.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told senior
colleagues that he intends to give the church control over its own
senior appointments. At the moment the Prime Minister plays a major role
in the appointment of diocesan bishops and has the sole right to
nominate deans of most English cathedrals. Mr Brown himself hinted at
lifting control of the ecclesiastical appointments in a speech to the
Fabian Society last year. Until 1976 the church had no formal role in
the appointment of bishops at all, although it was consulted as a matter
of courtesy. Thirty years ago, however, James Callaghan then Prime
Minister established the Crown Appointments Commission, now renamed the
Crown Nominations Commission, which draws up a shortlist of two names
which it may offer in order of preference. The Prime Minister chooses
either of the names or seeks other names from the Commission. Tony Blair
used this veto at least once in 1997 to turn down both candidates
proposed for the diocese of Liverpool.

Sources close to Mr Brown,
who is a member of the Church of Scotland, indicated that he will
introduce the change by producing a memorandum of agreement with the
Church’s General Synod. One source said: "Brown does not need to
introduce any legislation or take up any parliamentary time in this
matter. He is simply altering convention."

The present Crown
Nominations Commission would remain but present only one name to Downing
Street which the Prime Minister would then pass on to the Queen for her
final appointment. In the case of cathedral deans it is said that Mr
Brown will invite the bishop of the diocese to consult with his senior
colleagues to produce one name which again he will then pass on to the
Queen. However the Chancellor’s advisors are not so clear about these
intentions. It is expected however that he would leave untouched the
appointment of deans of Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel,
Windsor, in which the Queen still plays an active role. As "royal
peculiars" the monarch remains the ultimate authority rather than a
bishop.

While the Queen is supreme governor of the Church, the governorship is
in practical terms in the hands of the serving Prime Minister. If these
changes come they would be viewed as historic steps and would certainly
be regarded as the beginning of a "disestablishment by degrees".

Enthusiasts
for a lessening of these ties will press the Church to grasp with open
hands any new initiative which comes from Gordon Brown.

Could he
be thinking of the Church of Scotland model in which the church retains
an established status but without any interference in clergy
appointments? The Scottish church is entirely self-governing.

Independence
for the Bank of England came swiftly in Mr Brown’s first 100 days as
chancellor. Is the Church of England expecting a similar announcement
about its future?

Full story at Religious
Intelligence
.

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