If Rowan Williams resigns as Archbishop of Canterbury next year, possibly to take up a professorship in Cambridge, there will be intense speculation as to the identity of his successor. Two facts are unlikely to change, however. Firstly, even if the General Synod passes the necessary rule-change to allow the appointment of female bishops, the next Archbishop will be a man. Second, ordinary members of the Church of England will have very little say in the matter.
The process of choosing bishops and archbishops of the Established church is convoluted and arcane, but its underlying philosophy (like much in Britain) seems to be that some matters are too important to be left to the vagaries of a democratic process. Technically, senior posts in the Church of England are appointed by the Queen, in her capacity as Supreme Governor and Defender of the Faith, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (who isn’t required to have any religious affiliations at all). Some recent prime ministers, including Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, are rumoured to have intervened in the selection process. These days, however, the practice of submitting two alternative names to Downing Street has been superseded, which means that bishops and archbishops are now effectively chosen by an obscure committee….